Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Evo Morales: Will He Help End Neoliberalism?

Evo Morales won the presidential election in Bolivia last December with a striking 54% of the vote. He now joins Hugo Chavez (Venezuela), Alejandro Toldeo (Peru), Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva (Brazil), Tabare Vasquez (Uruguay), & Nestor Kirchner (Argentina) as part of Latin America's elected slap against neoliberalism.
Morales took office January 22nd as Bolivia's first indigenous president, he is an Aymara Indian.
For the 60% of Bolivian's who live in poverty, Morales's goverment immediately symbolized hope. Among the poverty striken citizens & the nations coca farmers, forms the base of support for Morales's political party & movement called, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
The election campaign was a national referendum on neoliberalism which includes, the policies of privatization, & trade liberalization that have wreaked havoc on Bolivia's poor & oppressed.
Finishing a far second to Morales, recieving only 29% of the vote, was former president Jorge "Tuto" Quiroga, the candidate of the neoliberal Poder Democratico Social (PODEMOS) party. Morales's party, MAS, also won a majority in the lower house of Congress & almost recieved a majority in the Senate. 3 out of the 9 state governorships went ot MAS, so did the mayoralties of all the major cities, except Santa Cruz.
MAS's victory sent a powerful message from the voters of Bolivia to the head's of international finance, trade, & industry.
In the days after the election, Morales announced that he would repeal Supreme Decree 21060, the 1985 law that opened the door to privatization of state enterprises & to measures that impose "flexibility" on Bolivian labor.
21060's infamous Article 55 has served as the tool with which the transnational & Bolivian bosses have busted up unions, fired workers without cause, persecuted organizers, & spread fear, keeping them from joining in a collective fight for workers rights. Morales's repeal of 21060 represents an important measure in limiting the ability of transnational & national capital in Bolivia to act with impunity.
Morales also indicated that he will use a ruling by the Supreme Court-a ruling that invalidated existing contracts with transnational oil & gas companies- to negotiate new contracts on terms more favorable to Bolivia's treasury. The contracts usually say that transnational petroleum corporations only pay 18% in royalties to the goverment, this was declared unconstitutional because the executive branch never submitted them to Congress for ratification. This is illegal. Morales will try & replace the existing but invalid contracts with new ones based on the 50% formula.
Morales hopes to use profits from natural gas to pay for significant improvements in the living conditions of Bolivia's workers, poor, peasants, & unemployed. His plan is to nationalize only subsoil resources-the gas, oil, & minerals in the ground- & to leave surface property & exploitation mostly in private hands.
Despite continued dependence on foreign investment, Morales will find himself in a pretty strong position to negotiate with the transnationals. Since the Iraq war, natural gas prices have rose quickly. If the European corporations that currently dominate Bolivia's hydrocarbon industry & U.S. companies won't negotiate new contracts, well, China awaits it;s chance. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez may also be willing to contribute much toward financing the development of Bolivian gas.
Morales has also taken other measures, including salary reductions of up to 58% for members of the executive & legislative branches of goverment, including the president, vice-president, elected reps, & cabinet ministers. His new cabinet has 14 of the 16 ministers coming from indigenous groups, & women hold the jobs of Interior Justice, Health, & Economic Development.
Morales has proposed to Congress a proposal to call elections to a Constitutional Assembly in July 2006. The assembly's aim would be to reestablish the nation on a new basis & formally end neoliberalism. The new basis would for the first time take into account the interests of Bolivia's majority indigenous population.
Morales also promised a 7% increase in teacher's salaries, & 3,500 new teaching jobs. Teachers were to get a 3.5% increase under Morales's budget, but salary cuts for goverment officials made it possible to double the amount.
Morales also issued a statement guaranteeing protection of the private property of big business & large landowners. He reassured foreign companies & investors that their presence is welcome as long as their practices are "transparent", "incorrupt", & " nonsubversive".
Bolivian's clearly expect to see an improvement in the standard of living within the next year.
MAS intends to press for legislation expanding regional autonomy & increasing citizen participation in goverment. It has advanced plans to help small businesses & agricultural producers.
The question remains whether MAS has the conviction & stamina to be firm against the obstacles that will be placed in it's path by international & national capital & the Bolivian Right.
If MAS prevails against the forces against it, neoliberalism is on it's way out in Bolivia. At stake is whether neoliberalism will be reformed away, or whether the battle against it will be combined with a fight against capitalism. The world's imperialist powers recognize these stakes & have tried to smooth some of the rough edges of neoliberalism in Bolivia. The International Monetary Fund has recently forgiven $ 251 million in Bolivian debt, & Spain dismissed another $ 120 million in private debt. These steps will help to put money at Morales's disposal to put into social programs.
Only 22% of Bolivian's earn enough to keep their families adequately nourished. Conditions such as these have spawned powerful social movements, & these turned out to support MAS's electoral bid.
Evo Morales deserves the world's support for every blow he strikes at neoliberalism. It will be a struggle to end it, due to the U.S. & majority of the European Union's backing of neoliberalism, but Evo Morales is a hero for trying.