Bolivia: The Encouraging Recovery of the National State

Beyond the economic advantages of public control over telecommunications and four oil companies, "capitalized" and privatized by neoliberalism, the recent decrees issued on May 1st offer a hopeful recovery of the national State. The Media Luna oligarchies (of the Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Pando departments) have practically vetoed the entry of the Head of State and his ministers to the capitals of their departments. The deployment of police and military units at branches of the Italian company Euro Telecom International (ETI) and of hydrocarbon sector companies throughout the country brings oxygen to a country choking on separatism and indigenism at any price.

After the overthrow of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Losada in October  2003, Mike Falcoff, an adviser to US Vice-President Dick Cheney, forsaw the rapid disappearance of Bolivia from the map of South America. His prediction was based on the demented liquidation of strategically important companies by "Gonismo", which demoralized the population. The comfortable electoral triumph of Evo Morales in December 2005 and the hydrocarbons nationalization of May 2006 rolled back what had gone before only for a matter of months, because the MAS Political Constitution project, recognizing 36 original nations, and the response of the Santa Cruz elite approving a project for an autonomy law, made Falcoff’s words resonate again in every region of the country.
That reality was aggravated by the non-fulfilment of the nationalization decree, the failure to audit the oil multinationals and the signing of contracts as damaging as the ones that existed before the MAS government, on which the current contract regime has conferred a legality which they previously lacked. In this context, by making sure that the State oil company YPFB controls a 51% shareholding in the Andina company (owned by Spain’s Repsol), in the Chaco company (owned by Argentina’s PanAmerican Energy and British Petroleum), of the Transredes company (owned by the British-American company Ashmore, formerly Enron-Shell), as well as 100% of the shares of the Peruvian-German CLHB company, Evo has left the Santa Cruz autonomists with the dilemma of either supporting with their autonomy vote the multinationals affected by the decision to recover the national patrimony or of defending the historic national interests those multinationals oppressed.

The recovery of sovereignty effected by the government has its limitations. One is really dealing with the compulsory purchase of shares which, in most cases, means that the share price is subject to future negotiations. It turns out too that the foreign companies will have a decisive quota of executive posts which means a veto over future company management. On the other hand, it is undeniable that the government has confirmed its social sensibilities by strengthening the labour code and arranging for the efficient resolution of labour disputes.

Although winning precious time, the current government needs to understand that the surpluses generated by high gas and oil prices cannot be used only to pay welfare benefits and, much worse, loans to banks like Lloyds of London and Spain’s Santander, as well as to Transredes, at 3% annual interest while Bolivia itself borrows at 8% from the Andean Development Corporation (CAF). Bolivia should start being governed by strategic objectives, not, as both government and opposition have until now, by focusing in a blinkered way on the next referendum or the next election at a time when the US government, for example, has invested US$300bn in saving their banking system, which shows that neoliberalism is now a church without a congregation.
The signs of recovery in Bolivia’s almost dying national State should become a sustained tendency which sees a rescue of the postulates of the 2006 hydrocarbons nationalization, whose implementation was held back by extreme fundamentalist positions. Those postulates ought to once more group the country’s productive sectors around strategic State enterprises managed efficiently and transparently, guaranteeing regional autonomy in a framework of national unity and wiping out the exclusion suffered by original cultures, all with the aim of achieving a solid national State, the only tool Bolivia has with which to defend itself from imperialism and its internal agents.

It is worth stressing that  the recovery of majority shareholdings in strategic State companies, along with pro-labour decrees like the strengthening of the labour code and efficient resolution of labour disputes, are positive signs for the government. Despite the limitations mentioned, recent events show that within Evo’s government tendencies exist that understand the impossibility of defending the country via separatist and ethno-racist positions which deny the existence of the Bolivian nation.

Translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal

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