Global Perspectives Column

A New Left in Bolivia?

by Kory Barras

Published in Spanish, 17 Nov. 2020.

Back in the 2000s, a political wave of the left-wing dominated Latin America. Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Lula Da Silva in Brazil, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina and Evo Morales in Bolivia. After a violent past of right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America, the south of the American continent seemed to have found a prosperous democratic path, with so many great leaders playing on the same team. 

When Evo Morales with the MAS (Movement to Socialism) party assumed the presidency of Bolivia, he represented the ideals of fundamental change in Bolivian politics. For the first time, a man of indigenous origin and a cocalero (coca leaf grower) managed to reach the highest position of political representation in the country. Historically, Bolivia had suffered much with political leaders who failed to symbolize the identity of their people, and the election of Evo in 2006 meant a new beginning, a new political trend, a new future. 

But everything is new until it gets old.

The MAS government, led by Evo Morales, had created many positive changes in Bolivia, especially with regard to indigenous rights and the anti-imperialist struggle. However, after two victorious mandates and a third full of controversy, Evo launched a national referendum in 2016 to change the constitution allowing his re-election for the fourth time. This time, the people voted NO. Yet, ignoring the popular desire and the referendum results, Evo ran again and won in spite of several accusations of electoral fraud. A wave of civil mobilizations take the streets of Bolivia in protest; there are extremist confrontations, generalized chaos, deaths of demonstrators and much political insecurity. The country is divided between MAS supporters and the opposition. Evo Morales fleed as a political refugee to Mexico and then to Argentina. Today, he faces accusations of rape, fraud and corruption. 

After a year of a transitional government, new presidential elections finally took place. A fragmented opposition faced the MAS, this time without Evo Morales. The Movimiento al Socialismo presented the candidacy of Luis Arce (ex-Minister of Economy and Finance) for president and David Choquehuanca (ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs) as vice president. The main name in the opposition was Carlos Mesa, ex-Vice President of Bolivia under Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, and an important figure in Bolivian politics. According to forecasts made before the voting, there was a high probability that Carlos Mesa would proceed to the second round against the MAS. However, on October 18, 2020 the people voted and elected, democratically and peacefully, Luis Arce with 55.1% of the votes. Bolivia once again has a government led by the MAS.

The victory of Movimiento al Socialismo was widely discussed in the media and highly criticized by its opponents. The announcement has had great repercussions abroad and has been received with airs of surprise by various countries. After the three consecutive governments of Morales and all the latest events after his attempt to assume an unconstitutional fourth  mandate, it seemed controversial that the Bolivian people would once again elect a MAS administration at the ballot box. At the end of the day, politics always has its controversies and never lacks contradictions. 

The transitional government of Jeanine Añez had lasted for 10 months, during which several cases of corruption and nepotism have been denounced. In the meantime, the Bolivian economy faced a huge challenge with the confinement caused by the coronavirus pandemic, given that most of the labor market in the country is informal. The Ecocide of 2019 was repeated in 2020 with the burning of millions of hectares of forest. Both Añez’ and Morales’ governments favored agribusiness interests. The protection of the environment was one of the biggest disappointments of Evo Morales’ mandates. Various scandals have been denounced, such as the case of the Territorio Indígena y Parque Nacional Isidoro Sécure (TIPNIS), in addition to the opening of the country to transgenics, the extractive policy, etc. Political failures had enormously damaged the image of Evo Morales, who in front of the indigenous community had disregarded the values of Pachamama which he always promised to defend. 

The great truth that the elections of 2020 bring us is that the MAS did not win because of Evo, but because of his absence. There is no room for old ideas in power; it was the hope for something new that gave MAS a vote of confidence again. Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca carried out their campaign activities independently, assuming themselves the identity and image of the MAS, and of course, the responsibilities that would come with it. Now, the two victorious ones embrace the challenge of carrying out a governance of the Movimiento al Socialismo that is built away from the shadow of Morales.

What we can expect from now on is that the new government will not be like the previous ones. The scenario is different and the power relations within the party have changed. The Bolivian people expect something different and this is the new responsibility of MAS: to renew itself. There are still many challenges to be taken up, such as the economic and environmental crisis, which will have to be dealt with very seriously and competently. A Bolivia without Evo seems to be in the process of creation, and although it is too early to confirm it, a new Movimiento Al Socialismo is taking the reins of the country.

On November 8th, the new government leaders took office and David Choquehuanca’s speech filled the hearts of Bolivians with peace. In his speech, he stressed the need to build a process of reconciliation. Among allusions to Bolivian principles and beliefs, he proposed the end of the separation of the country, “We have inherited a millenary culture that understands that everything is interrelated, that nothing is divided, that nothing is outside. That’s why it tells us that we all go together, that no one is left behind, that everyone has everything, and no one lacks anything”. With wise words of love and unity, Choquehuanca continued, “The new time means healing wounds. The new time means to listen to the message of our people that comes from the bottom of their hearts. It means to heal wounds, to look ourselves with respect, to recover the homeland, to dream together, to build brotherhood, harmony, integration, hope to guarantee peace and happiness for the new generations. Only in this way can we move forward with the living well and governing ourselves. Jallalla Bolivia,” he concluded.

The result of the 2020 elections in Bolivia leaves, more than anything else, a fundamental message. The Bolivian people need to feel identified with ideals that represent them in what they really are: a diverse, humble people, with indigenous roots, peasants, and very proud of their culture and their wealth. MAS won because of its values, its popular identity and its history of struggle, not because of the past spectrum of Evo Morales. A vote of confidence has been given towards the future. May the new government receive this gesture with honor and bring to the Bolivian people what they need: new airs of progress and national unity.

Kory Barras is a second year Masters student in Development Studies, is Swiss-Bolivian, and an activist for the environment and fair causes in the world.

Featured photo by Satori Gigie.

2 comments on “A New Left in Bolivia?

  1. Pingback: ¿Una Nueva Izquierda en Bolivia? – The Graduate Press

  2. Pingback: Cómo los jóvenes salvaron al Perú de una nueva dictadura – The Graduate Press

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