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IW 04

Bolivia

We call for a vote for Evo Morales and the MAS

On December 18th general elections will be held in Bolivia. According to the opinion polls, Evo Morales heads the voting intention for the presidency, with 32%. Far behind is to be found the candidate of right-wing oil, ‘Tuto’ Quiroga, with 23%, and further behind, with 16%, Doria Medina, a businessman who has accumulated an enormous fortune. According to Bolivian law, if no candidate obtains more than 50% of the vote, the decision remains in the hands of Congress. Doria Medina is said to have anticipated that his deputies would vote for Evo. Evo Morales rejected this support and appealed to the citizenry to give him an absolute majority at the urns. It seems clear that if the distance between Evo and Quiroga shortens, the pressure from capitalist sectors and from the US embassy would be enough to bring together the votes necessary to block Evo Morales victory in parliament.

All Latin America anxiously awaits the results of the Bolivian elections and the United States even more so. Last November 20, the New York Times Magazine dedicated several pages to the possibility of a victory for the MAS. The author of the long article (“Che's Second Coming?”) quotes from the start the position on Bolivia of the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Rogelio (Roger) Pardo-Maurer, one of those second to Rumsfeld, on the occasion of a recent conference at the Hudson Institute. In the opinion of this Pentagon official, “You have a revolution going on in Bolivia, a revolution that potentially could have consequences as far-reaching as the Cuban revolution of 1959.” What is now happening in Bolivia, he specified even further, “could have repercussions in Latin America and elsewhere that you could be dealing with for the rest of your lives (...) this urban rage and ethnic resentments have combined into a force that is seeking to change Bolivia.”

A revolutionary stage

The tension provoked by the Bolivian elections has to do with the fact that Bolivia is going through, since the insurrection of October, 2003, a revolutionary stage. It is a stage which did not arise, at all, suddenly, but was rather the culmination of mass struggles of exceptional characteristics in the countryside and in relation to the water utility, preeminently in Cochabamba, exploited by the US Bechtel.

The axis of the revolutionary process is the nationalization of oil and gas. On the eve of the 2003 insurrection, the then government was quickly moving towards closing an agreement over fuel exports to Mexico and the United States, through Chilean ports, which would be reconverted to liquid gas at the destination point. For the mass of the Bolivian people the consummation of the projected plan signifies a gigantic confiscation of resources and the definitive burial of any possibility of social progress. The insignificant royalties written into the oil contracts would hardly be sufficient to cover the Bolivian budgetary deficit during a short period of time.

The insurrection overturned the president, Sánchez de Lozada, but did not bring about a change in political power. The vice-president, Carlos Mesa, assumed [the presidency], and there was no change in Congress. In order to attain this result there arose, first of all, an political alliance that was without precedent, between the governments of Bush, Kirchner and Lula. The latter two extricated the butcher of Iraq from the tremendous impasse being faced by his purpose of defeating the insurrection by means of military repression, which was condemned to failure and which surely would have put an end to the armed forces and the Bolivian State. In Bolivia the international crisis brought upon US imperialism due to its quagmire in Iraq was made acutely manifest. The 'mediation' of Lula and Kirchner 'bartered' military intervention for the reassurance of a 'constitutional' way out. All the popular leaderships of Bolivia paved the way for this way out, and Evo Morales more than any of them —who, by the way, had delayed in extraordinary fashion his return to the country from a stay in Europe. The official pretext for the arrangement was the acceptance, by Mesa, of an “October agenda”, which the rookie president had no intention of complying with, since on it figured, even vaguely, the nationalization of hydrocarbons.

The political situation which emerged from the October insurrection could not have been more exceptional: on the international plane, yanqui imperialism ceded its absolute primacy over Bolivia to the official tutelage of two center-left governments which had already given proof of being worthy of confidence by the sending of a military force to Haiti; on the national plane, a de facto co-government was set up between Mesa and the MAS, which moreover already had an important seat in Congress. The fruits of this co-government was the referendum of mid-2004 which distorted the demand for the nationalization of oil (confiscation of the conglomerates) through the defense of state dominion over the Bolivian subsoil. The referendum left on the table a renegotiation of the contracts in force (a raise in the taxes levied on the oil companies) and the 'refoundation' of YPFB (state owned oil company), as a state-owned 'witness' company. However, Mesa's refusal to promulgate the laws putting into motion the renegotiation, due to the complete opposition of the oil conglomerates, determined a new insurrection last June. Once again the attempt failed, this time by a parliamentary sector which transferred the Congress to Sucre, to impose a government based on a military coup; once again intervened the mediation of Lula and Kirchner. Once again the intervention of Evo Morales was decisive (even more so than in October, 2003): on the one hand in order to contain the military coup, appealing the the partial mobilization of the people; on the other, in order to put an end to that partial mobilization, once he had obtained the call for elections. The elections which are soon to take place, convened by a new president, purely in an acting capacity, are not, therefore, an artificial maneuver but rather the result of a concrete political process; they are the expression, as much a 'deviation' of the people's tendency towards insurrection (which continues in latent form as 'deviation'), as the expression of the incapability of imperialism to defeat the masses via traditional forms. The elections are the expression of a political dead heat between imperialism taken as a whole (oil companies, the US government, Lula, Kirchner, the traditional parties), on the one hand, and the masses, on the other.

Last June we said in Prensa Obrera (N° 904): “The Bolivian crossroads has turned into a Russian doll: from the demand for the nationalization of hydrocarbons, emerged a referendum that established the need for a law that modified the current contracts; the impasse with the law ended in the demand for the Constituent; the question of the Constituent spurred the demand that the autonomies should first be voted [the disguise to keep hydrocarbons privatized in the districts of Tarija and Santa Cruz, JA], and the impasse in all these affairs caused the fell of Mesa and the road to elections. Now it is said that the government arising from them would convene the Constituent [Assembly], which would decide over oil and the autonomies (...) (but) no party candidate would obtain an [absolute, JA] majority for the presidency (...) They have dressed the Russian doll only to undress her once again”. As The Financial Times (16 Nov) now recalls, “Bolivia's next government will have the responsibility of renegotiating the contracts with foreign investors in the gas sector, after the current administration failed to change the arrangements in force within the established time limits. [This] may place the negotiations into the hands of Evo Morales, of the Movement towards Socialism...”

What does Evo Morales propose?

Ever since the early beginnings of the insurrection of October, 2003, Evo Morales has followed an extremely conscious policy without any trace at all of improvisation. His supreme slogan is that of avoiding a social revolution. In this task he has shown an ability rarely seen before; in the crisis of last June, he was able to ride roughshod in resistance to an attempted coup by one wing of the Congress and in contention of a popular insurrection.

“MAS's program is certainly much more moderate than many of its supporters would like,” says the author of the long article in the New York Times. In relation to the nationalization of oil, he adds, Evo Morales “commented to me that 'Brazil is an interesting model' for cooperation between the state and the private sector, and, he added, so is China.” The journalist points out later on in his article that “if Petrobras ... can prosper, MAS supporters argue, why can't Bolivia adopt a similar strategy and flourish as a result?” But Petrobras is the result of a long historical development while YPFB would have to be rebuilt with an enormous injection of capital for it to be able to play, at least, the quite small role it had in the past. On the other hand, Petrobras is not even a state-owned company, but rather a private company, with majority participation by the State, which is controlled by the Stock Exchange and which counts on a participation on the order of 40% from international investment funds. An economist working for the MAS says that the aim is for Bolivia to be able to get “a fair price (for its oil and natural gas) in order to pay for its industrialization”, but Petrobras does not contribute to the industrialization of Brazil, since it operates as an internationalized compnay, which charges world prices and destines the profits to investments abroad. To arrive at the 'status' of Petrobras, a rebuilt YPFB would have to be transformed into the principal producer in the country, that is, have a huge capital base as a starting point. In sum, even to develop a State capitalism on the basis of the exploitation of oil, the Bolivian State would have to, first of all, concentrate the resources of that exploitation in its hands, which today are a private monopoly. Really, the MAS's proposal boils down to the need to have a state-owned company which collects a higher portion of the oil profits produced by the international conglomerates. In the framework of the weak Bolivian State, a company of these characteristics would not even have the effective capacity to exercise control over private production.

García Linera, a former guerrillero transformed into a theorist of self-administration and who is vice-presidential candidate for the MAS, has made it very clear that “socialism is not viable in Bolivia,” this due to the fact that “70% of the workers in the cities form part of a family economy.” “You do not build,” he told Econonoticias (30 Aug), “socialism on the basis of 95% of the agricultural population living in a traditional community economy.” García Linera proposes, as an alternative to the supposedly inviable socialism, “a type of Andean capitalism,” where “the family, indigenous, peasant potentials are balanced, are articulated around a plan of national development and productive modernization.” The model for Bolivia, he adds, is “a State strong in hydrocarbons, in foreign investment, in local private investment, a family economy based on craftsmanship and micro undertakings, and a community economy. It is not even,” he adds as a crowning touch, “a mixed economy.”

García Linera, as can be seen, conceives the transformation of Bolivia in the local framework —he does not believe, as does Rumsfeld's deputy assistant secretary, quoted above, that the current revolutionary process will have consequences elsewhere in Latin America. But an autarchic socialism is not only inviable in Bolivia, it is even more so in the United States, where any decisive attack against capitalist property would explode the worldwide economy and politics as a whole. García Linera postulates an 'Andean' capitalism, which is nonsense, because it anticipates that he has no intention of arriving at developed capitalism, but that neither can he escape the pressure the latter brings to bear as a result of its worldwide monopoly. He proposes taking advantage of a strong State and foreign investment in order to freeze Bolivia's pre-capitalist economy, not to have it pass on to a higher historic state; this is what the MAS's indigenism consists of. We are, then, before an historically reactionary program, not even before one which is reformist. A program which does not seem to bear in mind that a 'strong State' in Bolivia is impossible if it is not erected at the cost of extraordinary foreign capital, whose dominion leaves no space for anything else.

Articulated the proposal for the “nationalization of resources” without confiscating the conglomerates, a document of the Segundo Encuentro Social Alternativo (Second Alternative Social Encounter) (September, 2005) proposes to convert Bolivia into a South American “energy axis,” which bears a resemblance, on the one hand, to the Petrosur postulated by Hugo Chavez, and to the “energy integration” promoted by Kirchner and Lula, that is, Techint (tubes and gas pipelines), Repsol and Petrobras. 'Andean capitalism' is spread out here a little further than geography allows, but it aim is to make deals with the international oil monopolies —not the nationalization of oil in all of Latin America and the socialist unity of Latin America. The 'energy axis” is an attempt to overcome the weakness of the proposal to 'rebuild YPFB' in order for it to become a partner of the conglomerates with a proposal for an international alliance, which the monopolies themselves are promoting at present. Even before the Alternative Encounter, the economic pillaging of Bolivia already bore, thanks to the monopolies, the label of 'energy axis'.

All in all, the theoretical architecture of García Linera (that is, the MAS's program) aims at justifying the abandonment of the nationalization of oil in favor of a renegotiation of the contracts with the oil conglomerates. Lula has not only just wished for a victory for Evo Morales, at the recent meeting in Puerto Iguazú, but also much earlier than Petrobras he had already said that he was available for a renegotiation As the former functionary of the World Bank, Joseph Siglitz, observed to the New York Times, numerous oil conglomerates are willing to come to Bolivia to take the place of those not accepting a revision of the leonine accords which they imposed upon previous governments. This would not, however, be the case with Repsol, which does not have the slightest intention of leaving Bolivia, which counts in its favor the solid links it has forged with Lula, Chavez and Kirchner, and which can show off the 'friendship' between Evo Morales and Rodríguez Zapatero.

The MAS's unclear program is the expression of its political impasse, of the pretension, that is, of making an amalgam of the country's violent social contradictions. It constitutes an attempt by the emaciated professional petite bourgeoisie, which tends to be co-opted by the multinationals or their secondary dependencies, of imposing its way out upon the masses of the altiplano (high plains) who live in misery. When all is said and done, it has no other intention than that of theorizing the passing from a revolutionary period to a stage of democratizing characteristics, under the tutelage of the bourgeoisies of the neighboring countries and imperialism.

Taking a stand in a huge political crisis

The elections next 18th are not a routine determined by the Constitution, but rather frame a political crisis. Political crises do not come in uniform packages; on occasion they become manifest in an electoral process. This is the case with Bolivia. In order to once again dress the Russian doll (that is, solve the oil question and that of the autonomies and bring about social improvements) Bolivia will have to go through new earth-shaking experiences, capable of putting the masses into motion once again.

Neither the masses nor imperialism are indifferent to whether Evo Morales or Quiroga wins. The correspondent of the Financial Times (18 Nov) tells that Morales is welcomed in the peasant towns as “an heroic conqueror of antiquity.” Obviously, he is referring not to Charlemagne, but to Tupac Katari. He also says that in the altiplanos surrounding Cochabamba, he is welcomed by multitudes of thousands of people adorned with wreaths of flowers and even coca leaves. “The great expectations that his candidacy has created may threaten his capacity to govern,” says the correspondent. As can be seen, it is not a question of habitual electoral expectations, because it is inscribed in an exceptional confrontation which finds no way out. When Morales says at his rallies: “'We will govern as the owners of our country and will nationalize our natural resources'... the multitude responds with wild applause” (Financial Times).

On the side of imperialism, Thomas Shannon, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, “has adopted a low profile”, says the New York Times, which adds, however, that this is not the most prevalent position. Numerous commentaries in the press have attributed the recent US military penetration in Paraguay to the Bolivian situation. For Bush's government, “Morales responds to Chavez,” which is the closest thing to an anathema of imperialism against the Bolivian. Whatever the case, the yanquis could only accept Evo Morales as a last recourse and even a transitory one. Above and beyond the contradictions between the MAS's weak proposals and the demands of the oil companies; and even apart from the work of containment carried out systematically by Morales, the yanquis cannot consider as a way out of their own or a stable solution the taking of office of a leader without party machinery, subjected to an enormous popular pressure, in the framework of a weak State more weakened than ever. Even though they continue to work for a coup or even to spark the secession of the districts of Tarija and Santa Cruz, the yanquis could not play these cards right off the bat due to a series of adverse factors, but above all because their international situation and Argentina and Brazil's current political positions do not permit it. To separate Santa Cruz they would have to be able to count on the support of Brazil. We would add that in Santa Cruz a strong mass movement is getting underway against the local oligarchy, which defends the political unity of Bolivia.

In the clash, within two Sundays, between the candidacy of the MAS and imperialism and the local oligarchy, the only revolutionary position admissable is on the side of the MAS against imperialism, but not with the politics or the strategy of the MAS but instead with truly anti-imperialist strategy and politics. This is the peculiarity of the coming elections in Bolivia. The parties, tendencies or organizations of different types, that have not been able to achieve a place in the struggle in the electoral arena, whatever may be the reasons, cannot make use of their own incapacity in order to ignore the terrain that is the order of the day. In the case of Bolivia, in particular, the sectors that are to be found on the left of the MAS have completely failed politically. They can make no demands; they can only recover or make up for it by orienting the masses in the midst of this crisis that they vote for the MAS, that is, doing so actively and with a revolutionary program. To the MAS's 'Andean capitalism' they must counterpose the confiscation of the oil conglomerates and workers administration of the industry; no to the articulation of pre-capitalism with foreign capital, but instead the association of precapitalist economies by means of a unified plan articulated by a workers government. In opposition to autonomism, which under the present circumstances even serves the pretensions of the oil oligarchies, the formation of local governments and departments of workers and peasants should be defended.

Which government, which Constituent

A victory for the MAS would be a blow to imperialism, more so in that it is conditioned by the perspectives opened up by that victory. We call to vote for the MAS. It does not widen the margin for maneuver of governments like those of Lula and Kirchner, but rather narrows it in the face of the struggles of the workers of their own countries. It broadens the field of class struggle in Latin America. It would reinforce Chavez' government against imperialism, because Chavez finds himself in the midst of a clash with imperialism, but it would not strengthen him in his intention to reduce the independent political activity of the Venezuelans. Before the threat of this victory not being acknowledged through cases of fraud or through coups, we call for the arming of the workers to defend the results of the election.

Messrs. Lula and Kirchner say they wish for the victory of Evo, obliged by circumstances; in other words, they make necessity a virtue. But Lula and Kirchner express themselves in this way because they are getting ready to condition a victory of the MAS on parliamentary agreements (with a tacit nod of approval from imperialism). If it is not by means of a coalition government, it will be by means of a 'plural' government integrated by the 'active forces' and the 'technicians'. Lula will offer his 'model' of government by way of class collaboration with the oligarchy and big capital. The phase of the political crisis which the recognition of the presidency of Evo Morales will inaugurate will demand a concrete proposal of struggle against any open or disguised coalition with the bourgeoisie o with the petite acting within imperialist circles. The denunciation against any form of coalition government should be accompanied by the slogan to form popular assemblies and committees of farmlands, workshops and mines. Given the exceptional pressure which popular unrest has on the armed forces, especially in the barracks of Santa Cruz, where there is resistance to secessionist agitation, concrete political activity for the practical conquest of the rank-and-file military against all right-wing infiltration in the guise of a coalition or 'plural' government is fundamental.

Evo Morales has already said that he would convene the Constituent Assembly in order to resolve the question of sovereignty over energy and the autonomies. However, for this Constituent to be convened in a revolutionary perspective it would be necessary, first of all, that the government calling it immediately take revolutionary measures —such as really nationalizing oil, making social security state-owned once again ('capitalization'), raising wages and pensions, establishing a minimum wage equal to the family shopping basket, putting running water back into service. Since the MAS has not the slightest intention of exercising its mandate in this way, the Constituent must serve to strangle the revolutionary process. Various popular sectors, which have consciousness of this situation, hold that the Constituent should exclude the deputies elected on the 18th; should grant a qualified representation of 65% to the indigenous candidates and 15% to the workers, that is, to those designated as candidates by the trade union rank-and-file. In any case, we should criticize waiting for the Constituent to take the measures of confiscating the conglomerates and of workers control, and on this basis prepare the masses, through agitation and organization, to act before a coming Constituent.

The call to vote for Morales and the MAS, with this program, allows for intervention in the political crisis and for interesting the masses concerned about the outcome of the elections, that is, it creates the possibility of organization and a possibility of development. It constitutes a clear political delimitation against the tendency towards compromise and capitulation of Evo Morales and the MAS. Abstentionism, on the other hand, has no audience other than the small groups, some students and the confused middle classes, more disposed towards voting for the right than for the left. When a political statement is able to meet the condition of serving as political delimitation against opportunism and for practical struggle against imperialism, we can say that it is the most appropriate for the development of a revolutionary alternative.

By Jorge Altamira