The recent electoral victory of Evo Morales holds both immediate and potential significance.
Morales, representing the indigenous majority, is the first indigenous leader to be elected as Bolivia’s president.
The fact that Morales compared Bolivia to apartheid South Africa was not a throw-away line, but in fact recognized the deep racial polarization that has existed in Bolivia since the Spanish conquered the land hundreds of years ago.
It was equally significant that Morales not only won such electoral support but that his ratings in the polls have been so high. More than anything else this probably reflects the hope that people in Bolivia have that the Morales administration will introduce dramatic change to a country which is one of the world’s poorest.
What Morales will end up doing and his relative level of success will be anyone’s guess. What will be critically important, however, is the attitude of the U.S. towards developments in Bolivia.
Already the rhetoric has been turned up by the Bush administration, including in some very interesting ways. The Bush administration has been attempting to argue against all left-wing or left-leaning administrations in the Western Hemisphere by introducing an interesting concept:
The basic notion here is that democratically elected governments come to power and then systematically begin the process of dismantling democracy. In the view of the Bush administration the dismantling of democracy generally seems to mean that the government charts a different economic path; different from that advocated by the U.S.A.
Yet, I actually am glad that the Bush administration has started to discuss authoritarian democracies because there is something in that concept that sounds familiar: an administration enters into power through dubious means; it uses fear of an outside, near invisible threat, as a means of ensuring that it stays in power; it begins manipulating the legal system, including the constitutional limits, in order to ensure that its agenda is advanced.
Authoritarian democracy? Sounds like home. And so it should given the course that has been pursued by the Bush administration. For this reason, those of us concerned about the development of healthy and constructive relations between the USA and the rest of the Western Hemisphere should think very carefully before we fall prey to administration rhetoric about alleged authoritarian developments in Latin America and the Caribbean.
What has been fascinating to watch has been the growing international rejection of the economic models that have been crafted by geniuses in Washington, DC and imposed upon other countries, largely through the connivance of compliant local regimes.
People in Latin America seem to be saying that this approach has no place in their future.
Perhaps there are some lessons that we can learn from Latin America. One is that it is up to the people of each country to decide their own future. A second is not to fear bullies.
There is one more thing for us to all keep in mind when we listen to the Bush administration’s rhetoric against Latin American democracy. Be careful of magicians: they keep you preoccupied with their words, while the real action is taking place elsewhere.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the president of TransAfrica Forum, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organizing and educational center formed to raise awareness in the USA regarding issues facing the nations and peoples of Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. He can be reached at [email protected].