Bolivia: From Neoliberalism To A Homeland For All

Today our government celebrates its first month, the first 30 days of the democratic and cultural revolution that we are heading, with the overwhelming popular mandate of December 18, 2005, when Bolivians from the countryside and cities decided to turn the page on a history full of injustice and discrimination.

We have named a cabinet that is representative of the social movements, business owners, the middle classes, indigenous peoples, intellectuals and women. We are dealing with a cabinet never before seen in Bolivian history that tries to fully express a multicultural, dignified, sovereign Bolivia. I want to say, with a lot of pride, that this is the first cabinet formed as a result of an autonomous decision, without pressure from international bodies.

We have named a military high command that is a break with the past of the subordination of our armed forces to external interests. Instead, it privileges professionalism, discipline and the respect of our sovereignty as a country. We need to recuperate our sovereignty in the heart of the state, in the security bodies, in the military institutions and in the policing bodies.

For some it has been novel that this president begins work at 5am — like the majority of Bolivian workers and campesinos [peasants] — and that he has renounced 57% of his wage. However this measure has been a marker defining the spirit of our government: I am president, not to win more money, but to work more for the homeland. With this measure [which reduced the wages of other elected officials, who cannot be paid more than the president] the executive power has saved 13.9 million bolivianos [US$1.7 million], which will be our contribution towards obtaining 3500 new items in the education area, a sector that received for the first time in years a 7% increase in salaries, without marches, blockades nor other acts of pressure.

Unity with social movements We said we would govern obeying the people. That is why we have carried out over these 30 days some 300 meetings with social movements, institutions and business and civic organisations, listening to their proposals and learning from their suggestions. We are convinced that the consolidation of this government and this process will only be possible by strengthening the unity between government and social movements. That is why I have humbly accepted the proposal of the cocalero [cocoa growers] companeros to continue presiding over the Six Federations of the Tropics of Cochabamba. I am not ashamed of being president of the republic at the same time as being a social leader, because we will not distance ourselves from those who, through their struggle and sacrifices, have made possible this historic change.

On February 21, we approved the Law of Trade Unions to defend the rights of workers in this country who feel exploited by labour deregulation. With the defence of trade unions, the workers of this country will have their rights protected; we have left behind those years of repression, jails and confinement of workers who are elected leaders and who defend labour rights.

We have met with the new prefects [department governors] — which for the first time were elected by popular vote — in order to set out the rules of the game and the competencies of each one of the powers. The prefectures need to be the motor force of regional development, following the framework designed by the executive power. As I have said, we are like a team that plays with Bolivian jerseys on.

We have also had conversations with the country’s 327 mayors, recognising that local power is the basic site of relations between the state and citizens and that the municipalities are the places where the everyday necessities of the community are attended to firstly. We will maintain a policy of respect towards elected municipal governments, and together with them, we will take forward the war against poverty.

Almost immediately after assuming government, we were confronted with one of the worst natural disasters of the last years. Sixty per cent of the county was affected by floods, hailstorms and landslides. Around 25,000 families were affected. On January 26 we decreed a national emergency and convoked all the bilateral and multilateral cooperation organisations to generate a pool of donations. Thanks to this initiative we received more than US$1 million of help from friendly countries, which has permitted us to attend to 14,607 families — 73,025 people — that required urgent humanitarian aid.

In this first month we have demonstrated that it is possible to advance without altering macroeconomic stability and, far from isolating ourselves, we have positioned Bolivia in the international community with dignity and sovereignty. The struggle of the social movements for the non-payment of the external debt and the pronouncements of the Catholic Church have not been in vain. Up to now, we have received a 100% debt cancellation with Japan (US$63 million) and part of the debt with Spain (which totals some $140 million). On top of this, we are in the process of other cancellations like the one in negotiation with the BID [Inter American Development Bank] within the framework of the “Program of alleviation of the debt for heavily indebted countries”.

During the month, road links were also prioritised. With the help of the Andean Corporation of Promotion (CAF) and the Italian government, we were able to make official the financing of 18.5 million euros to begin the Toledo-Ancaravi highway project, which is part of the section to Pisiga and Chile. As well, the CAF will support the financing of 89km of the Guayaramerin Riberalta highway, a vital section in connecting La Paz and Brazil.

On entering the government, we realised the magnitude of the dismantling of state enterprises and the complicity of some business owners who did not have compassion towards the country. One example is the case of Lloyd Aereo Boliviano [pilots, who went on strike for over a week in protest against evidence of corruption and tax fraud in management.] In order to assure the service and avoid the social consequences of the crisis, we found it necessary to intervene in the company, of which Bolivians own 48%. We are clear that the people of Bolivia cannot be the ones who carry LAB’s debts.

The era of the “bidding state”, which under the discourse of free markets financed irresponsible business owners at the cost of the majority of Bolivians, is over. Today our airline has begun to fly again and an administrative and financial audit will determine the causes of the crisis and identify those responsible. One of the goals of our popular government is to put an end to impunity.

With the postponing of the tender of Mutun [iron and manganese mines in Santa Cruz], in order to study and reformulate it, we have finished the large entreguista era that lasted more than 180 years and we begin a stage of defending national interests. We have taken the decision to postpone for 90 days the tender, after studying the reports from the inter-ministerial commission, the technical commission and the judicial commission. With the new tender and the new contracts we will be able to better the income for the state, construct the first steel industry in Bolivia — through the industrialisation of iron — and preserve the environment with the replacement of carbon for natural gas as the source of energy. I want to thank the social and civic movements of the east for understanding and supporting our decision.

Partners not bosses This new nationalist phase in the management of our natural resources has as its key base the nationalisation of hydrocarbons. In reunions with businesses and countries that have interests in this sector we have clearly established our position that “Bolivia needs partners and not bosses”.

The main transnational companies have accepted the position of the grand majority of Bolivians and have made it clear that they will continue to invest under a new judicial code that guarantees national sovereignty. On the other hand, the refoundation of YPFB [the state owned petroleum company] — once the pride of Bolivians — is marching forward.

We are also recuperating the capacity of sovereign decision making by the state in relation to coca cultivation. This government of the social movements and of the national majorities has demonstrated that the participation of the actual campesinos is essential for the objective of voluntary rationalisation of cultivation, within the framework of integral development, following the aim of “zero narco-trafficking” but not “zero coca”. The next study with the cooperation of the European Union will determine the real size of the legal coca market. Parallel to this, we have begun to push forward on the international decriminalisation of the coca leaf in its natural state, which would allow its industrialisation and export.

Reflecting the aspirations of Bolivians, we have presented to parliament a proposal for the Law to Convoke a Constituent Assembly with sufficient powers to change Bolivia. On July 2 we should vote and on August 6 the assembly should be inaugurated in Sucre. We will push forward a project that guarantees the right of “one person, one vote” and direct voting. On top of this, we propose that young people older than 18 can be elected, as well as for 50% to be women.

Companeros and companeras, as I said in Tiwanaku [on January 21 at the indigenous presidential inauguration], if I am not advancing enough, then push me. It is all of us who have the task of transforming our inheritance from neoliberalism and colonialism into a homeland for all, and in this first month of government we have begun to walk firmly in that direction.

[Translated by Federico Fuentes, Green Left Weekly’s correspondent based in Bolivia in the lead-up to the December elections.]


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