On January 22, 2002, then Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) senator Evo Morales was expelled from parliament, accused of being a “narco-terrorist”. Exactly five years later, as the nation’s first indigenous president, Morales gave his first annual report to parliament. This time it was not Morales who exited prematurely.
Morales began his speech by thanking those who had expelled him in 2002, particularly senator Luis Vasquez Villamor, then from the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, now representing the right-wing party Podemos. “Thanks to these people I am here today, they were my campaign managers.” Angered by these comments, just minutes into Morales’s speech the Podemos bench left the room.
They were not the only ones to leave upset. US ambassador Phillip Goldberg did not take kindly to Morales’s demand for the legislative body to pass a bill requiring US citizens to obtain visas before entering the country, as Bolivians must do to enter the US, for reasons of “dignity, reciprocity and security”.
At one point in his speech, Morales said his critics “should be worried because this little Indian won’t be leaving office easily”.
Outside, thousands of indigenous campesinos (peasants) and workers gathered to celebrate the day with Morales, waiting for him to deliver his report to those who had brought him to power.
A poll published in the main La Paz daily, La Razon, a year after Bolivia’s powerful indigenous movement took control of parliament, showed that Morales’s approval across the major cities was 59% — higher that his historic 53.7% vote in the December 2005 elections. The rate was higher in the countryside, where Morales’s main support base is.
This reflects the support that
A year of indigenous power
This strong support is in large part due to the progress made on one of Morales’s key election promises — the nationalisation of hydrocarbons. Having overthrown two presidents in their struggle to regain control over their natural resources, particularly gas, over 90% of Bolivians approved when Morales sent the military into the gas fields on May 1 to return control of hydrocarbons to the state.
Six months later after intense negotiations, which resulted in the resignation of hardline pro- nationalisation hydrocarbons minister Andres Soliz Rada and a war of words between the Bolivian government and
The government also successfully renegotiated a doubling of the price for gas sold to
The result — nearly US$1.3 billion in revenue from gas (an increase of $635 million). Combined with a growth rate of 4.3%, a reduction of parliamentary salaries by 50% and macroeconomic stability, the government has been able to use this strong economic position to begin to deliver on some of its promises, reversing the impact of neoliberalism in
Morales has personally traveled around the country to redistribute the gains from the gas nationalisation. These include (with substantial help from Cuba and Venezuela) 2000 Cuban doctors, 20 new hospitals, a literacy campaign in which 73,000 out of 300,000 participants have already graduated, the Juancito Pinto annual bonus for all school children under the age of 10 to help cover the costs of schooling, and tractors as part of the government land reform plan.
This high level of support has also allowed the government to move forward with its “agrarian revolution”, violently opposed by the large landowners who have begun to set up paramilitary groups.
While there were some important gains made in implementing the government’s economic plans over the past year, its key political plank — the Constituent Assembly — remains stalled by the opposition.
According to Morales, the Constituent Assembly “is the best democratic instrument … to profoundly change our country. It is the best instrument to unify, to integrate our national territory.” He added that the assembly is “the hope of Bolivians to patent the necessary structural transformations, and the changes in the economic and social sphere”.
Three other key challenges the government faces are pushing forward with the industrialisation of gas and mining to maintain and further improve economic stability, better management at the microeconomic level in order to ensure more resources and redistributed wealth reach those sectors and regions that need it most, and better coordination in the face of the rise of a new opposition.
Morales noted that still pending in the process of nationalising hydrocarbons was obtaining 50%-plus-1 of the shares in companies operating in
Morales also used his one-year anniversary to announce the “second nationalisation” of the mining industry. Last year, mining exports equaled $1.1 billion, of which only 1.5% went into state coffers. Morales proposed that at least half of this now go to the state, while the exportation of raw minerals will be limited to give primacy to
To help this, the government proposed recovering ownership of the Vinto tin smelter, sold off illegally under previous neoliberal governments. The Morales government has already begun to rebuild the state mining company Comibol, having integrated 5000 ex- cooperative miners into the company.
National Coalition for Change
In order to ensure better management of the state apparatus, particularly in the opposition-controlled regions, as well as coordination among the social movements and their representatives in parliament and the Constituent Assembly, Morales initiated the National Coalition for Change on January 23.
The coalition is to involve 16 national social organisations — including indigenous, campesino and workers’ organisations — and will “coordinate the social power of the social movements with the executive and legislative power and the constituent delegates, and will fundamentally define the political, revolutionary, democratic and cultural line”, explained the president of the lower house of parliament, Raul Novillo.
This coordination is necessary to confront the rise of a new opposition, based in the pro-business civic committee of
Stressing the need for social stability, furthering economic improvements and defending autonomy within a clear framework of national unity and control of essential areas — such as natural resources, police and taxes — will be crucial to isolating this new opposition and winning over and consolidating large sections of the middle classes and the armed forces to supporting
Similar structures are to be established at the departmental (or state) level from February, which along with departmental delegates selected by the national government will help in coordination and organisation at this level. Such coordination has been impeded because six out of nine prefectures are controlled by the right.
On January 24, the three opposition parties in the Senate united to elect one of their own as president of the upper house, National Unity senator Jose Villavicencio. This revival of the “mega coalition” of the neoliberal parties that sustained the previous governments is one more part of the oppositions plan to block Morales’s attempts to lead a democratic and cultural revolution.
That day, Bolpress reported that other official sources said this new opposition directorate would ask for the revision of the parliamentary session that passed the new agrarian reform law.
In response, Morales was quoted by the Bolivian Information Service on January 24 as saying that “the right, the neoliberals, the auctioneers have united, but there is no need for us to protest”.
“The experience we have is that there are social forces who are demanding their rights. Within this framework I am sure that the people will identify if [the Senate] works against this process of change.”
Morales recalled how the opposition had tried to block the passage of the agrarian reform law, as well as the ratification of the gas contracts, by boycotting the Senate, and argued that “it was the mobilisation of the people that unblocked the Senate”.