January 19, 2005

Bolivia, From Evo's Eyes

MABB is a registered TM.

by Miguel A. Buitrago

Evo Morales, the leader of the self-defined center-left main opposition political party, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS); one of the protagonist of the many protests, blockades and confrontations used by the so called social movements in Bolivia; and one of the main contenders for the presidency of Bolivia, has a unique vision for Bolivia. What that vision is? We explore it in the following paragraphs.

The MAS has become one of the most important political parties in Bolivia. In 2000, along with Evo Morales, candidate for president, MAS got 20 percent of the national vote. Almost achieving the ultimate victory. So close it was, that the US government felt the need to intervene by way of its ambassador. The then US Ambassador in Bolivia, Mr Rocha, commented in the news that if Evo was to get elected, the US would not see it as a positive development and most probably such an outcome would affect the financial aid Bolivia receives from the US Government.

Well, Evo was not elected, but Sanchez de Lozada was. However, in this historical elections, MAS displaced the more traditional parties like MIR (Revolutionary Left Movement) and ADN (Nationalist Democratic Action), Hugo Banzer Suarez's party, sending them into an identity crisis, which remains alive to this day. Evo's party, as Evo himself, are a recent phenomenon, which is still somewhat of a mystery for everybody.

In the hope to understand more this phenomenon, I take a look into the party's history, significance, background and agenda.


MAS' flag is made up of Blue, White and black, with the acronym of the party at the center. According to the description on some websites built by sympathizers or members of the party, the blue comes from the word blue in Aymara, larama, which means he who is wise and rebel. In Aymara communities, the laramas used to dress in blue and according to legend, they selflessly worked for the communities. White, according to Aymara culture, represents purity, perfection, cleanliness,transparency and clarity. Black represents energy and power. According to EvoMorales.net, black is not the selfish, destructive, exclusive power of western culture men, but the power to be able to do what the community dictates, to be in harmony with nature and power to do what the wise men in the community say.


Since there are no direct sources I could find to draw the MAS' ideology, I draw heavily on other sources which are directly or indirectly related to the party. The Movement's ideological currents emanate directly from the indigenous cultures, with a doses of Marxist/Leninist and even Trotskyist influences. As described in the History section of this article, the political party MAS emerges from two sources. One is the desire to create a, so called, political instrument, by the diverse social movements in the Andean and Chapare region. The other is the Coca Growers Union of Chapare where Evo was the leader. In fact, the origins of MAS can be traced to the emergence of these social movements as they organize themselves and grow in political muscle. The social movements, which comprise of civic, neighborhood, small businesses, social and other kinds of groups, originate from the traditional unions of workers, which in the Bolivian case, not only identify themselves with the blue collar workers (miners, factory workers, and so on) but also with peasant workers and the marginalized indigenous population to which these workers are closely tied. In addition, these movements and the unions have a long tradition and are heavily influenced by Katarismo, which basically refers to one of the first indigenous leaders, Tupac Katari, who led a rebellion in the 18th century, when he closed off the city of La Paz and almost starved its citizens, to fight for the rights of the indigenous peoples.

It is from these social movements that MAS and Evo draw their strength as political party. Its ideology can be characterized as nationalist and socialist. A peculiar mix which innevitably remind us of another time in history. But, the MAS' version has a heavy indigenous character. Primarily, their struggle is one against the exploitation and abuse of indigenous peoples and for the regaining control and ownership of what they call their land. Their struggle is also one of fighting racism, exclusion and domination at the hands of, what they call a, q'ara or blancoide (semi-white) corrupt elite. One other strong current within the party is their anti-capitalist and even more anti-US position. The MAS is against everything the capitalist world is for: globalization, privatization, liberalization, free trade, neo-liberal policies, etc. Another aspect of their ideology is that their concept of nation is not the traditional western concept of nation state. For Evo and the MAS, the nation state resembles and in fact is based on the organization of the ancient Aymara and Quechua state, where Ayllus (communities) play a basic role. The symbolism used is distinctly indigenous (Aymara and Quechua). The main symbol is the flag or wiphala. This is a flag which carries traditionally Andean colors.

A Brief History

According to Antonio Peredo, who is one of the co-founders, the Movement Towards Socialism party, comes alive sometime in 1995 during the peasant union congress First Congress of Land and Territory. In this congress, representatives of communities, mainly from the Bolivian Altiplano, come together to create the Assembly for the Peoples Sovereignty (ASP). At the same time, the discussions at the congress, make it clear that the "communities" needed what they called a "political instrument". This instrument was going to give them a tool with which to further their cause within the Bolivian political system. This political instrument is to be called Movement Towards Socialism.

The party was actually already in existence and registered as a political party. The leader of this party was a former military officer and renegade member of the neo-fascist Falange Socialista Boliviana (FSB), Lucio Anes. He lets Morales and Peredo take the lead of the party and transform it into the political instrument the indigenous communities in Cochabamba were looking for.

Morales was already elected to congress as member of United Left and was known as the leader of the Coca Growers Union from the Chapare region. But, he was unhappy with his party allegiance. According to Peredo, he did not feel comfortable representing the party's interests. Morales immediately took the leadership of the new party and forged it into his own.

In April 2000 Morales and the MAS were key protagonists in the Cochabamba Water War. Notwithstanding though, the leading role of the Coordinadora del Agua, Morales took the opportunity to participate as a protagonist. This war started when in September 1999 the Bolivian Government passed a law prohibiting citizens to tap water from where they previously got it for free and in October of the same year it signed a contract with a private company (Aguas de Tunari) to develop a mega project and take over the distribution of drinking water, which, it was said, it would result in significant price increases. As a result, by the end of the conflict, there were massive demonstrations (about 50,000 people) and a score of wounded and dead people. In the end, the law was repealed and the company was expelled out of Cochabamba. This conflict, served to launch Evo to prominence. He did not waist opportunity to attribute himself the favorable outcome of the conflict. If there was a political winner out of the Water War, Evo was the one.

But, if there was an event which propelled Evo to prominence (nationally and internationally) and made people realize that there was real a chance for an indigenous Aymara (not US educated) to become the president of Bolivia, it was the presidential elections in June 2002. In them, Evo surprised the world and the traditional political parties in Bolivia by getting 20 percent of the national vote, displacing political heavy weights like Jaime Paz Zamora (MIR) and Manfred Reyes Villa (NFR). Evo ended up facing off Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (MNR) in the second round in parliament. Sanchez de Lozada won and became president later that year, but Evo won as well, because he had achieved what no other indigenous leader had achieved up to then. He put his name at the top of the list of candidates with a real chance to become the next president of Bolivia. To this day he remains at the top of this list.

The events occurred in September and October 2003 known as the Gas War contributed further to the establishment of Evo's name as a legitimate leader and voice of the indigenous population. The Gas War, which once again brutally confronted the indigenous population against government forces and the Government of Bolivia itself, started as a protest to demand the freeing of the leader of a small community in el altiplano accused of taking the law on his own hands. But, thanks to government repression, it quickly escalated into other demands including, not to sell the Bolivian gas through a Chilean port, which was being planned at the time. The plans were already drawn by the government and the private companies. In Cochabamba Evo, once again, took a protagonist role organizing demonstrations and marches to ask not only the nationalization of the natural resources, not selling the gas through a Chilean port, but also to ask for the resignation of President Sanchez de Lozada. The conflict took a turn for the worst after armed confrontations between the police and protestors left almost 80 people dead, mostly civilians. Trapped between the wall and the sword, Sanchez de Lozada decides to resign and leave power to his second in command, Carlos Mesa. Meanwhile, Evo is seen as a key player in Sanchez de Lozada's dismissal and thus a champion of the people's cause.

The Party's Agenda

The party's agenda derives from leftist ideology mixed with indigenous history, culture and tradition. This mixture allows Morales to develop his own brand of politics and thus appeal to voters across traditional political barriers, which traditional political parties could only dream about doing. The main objective of the party seems to stem from the fact that it was created by a grand coalition of "communities", rather than groups with similar political ideas. The underlying idea is to recover Bolivia, or the traditional land of the indigenous people living in it, for the original inhabitants of such land (the Aymaras, Quechuas and Guaranies). That is what various documents drafted as a result of the ASP highlight. Morales himself expresses this desire in an interview in December 2, 2003 (Legalizing the Colonization of the Americas By Benjamin Dangl, Cochabamba, Bolivia).

"After more than 500 years, we, the Quechuas and Aymaras, are still the rightful owners of this land. We, the indigenous people, after 500 years of resistance, are retaking the power. This action is oriented towards the
recovery of our own riches, our own natural resources such as the hydrocarbons. This affects the interests of the transnational corporations and the interests of the neoliberal system. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the power of the people is increasing and strengthening. This power is changing presidents, economic models and politics. We are convinced that capitalism is the enemy of the earth, of humanity and of culture. The US government does not understand our way of life and our philosophy. But we will defend our proposals, our way of life and our demands with the participation of the Bolivian people."

Among the key points of the MAS' programme we can highlight the following:

  • To change the economic model
  • Recuperate the mineral resources (hydrocarbons)
  • Industrialization of Natural Gas
  • Debt moratorium and/or condonation of the debt
  • Reverse privatization process
  • Constituent Assembly to re-write the constitution and change the system to an Aymara, Quechua, Guarani system of Ayllus and communities
  • Land redistribution

One other source lists the programs as follows: Since early 2001, Morales and the MAS have campaigned across Bolivia for the June 30 presidential election. The MAS platform included: the nationalization of strategic industries; price reductions and a price freeze on household goods; the provision of basic services for all; defense of free public health and education; increased taxes for the rich; an end to corruption; the redistribution of land to those that work it; a new political apparatus; an end to neo-liberal economic policies; and opposition to a “flexible” work force.

Bolivia as Evo Sees it

So, if Evo Morales did raise to the presidential office, the world would come to know a very different Bolivia. Evo's Bolivia would first of all be, in pure scientific sense, an interesting experiment. We would see a Bolivia built by indigenous people, for indigenous people.

According to what Evo says, Bolivia, first would change its economic and political system. So far, we know, the economic system would definitely not be of capitalist nature and much less would it follow neo-liberal economic policies. Instead, it would be an economically centralized state, which would own, at the very least, the exploration, extraction, production, distribution and export of the natural gas resources. Stemming from this line of industrial ownership, we could find, and here
is just pure speculation, more related industries. That we don't really know. Building such a mammoth industrial conglomerate is hard enough. But, since one of Evo's goals is to industrialize natural gas, and assuming he has plans to not just produce natural gas, we could allow ourselves to assume he will attempt to produce gas derived products.

On the debt, Evo is even more aggressive. It seems he wants to declare a moratorium and renegotiate the debt with Bolivia's creditors. He may even try to negotiate the condonation of the debt.

Here is a quote from Evo speaking about how to solve the economic crisis in Bolivia:
"Necesitamos seis mil millones de dólares. La única forma de resolver la crisis económica de Bolivia es hacer un nuevo polo de desarrollo en base a la industrialización del gas. En este sentido, estos expertos dicen que es importante que las Naciones Unidas aporten 500 millones de dólares para empezar a hacerlo."

The translation: "We need 6 billion dollars. The only way to solve the Bolivian economic crisis industrialize the natural gas. On this topic, our experts say it is important that the United Nations contribute with 500 million dollars to start."

It's in the political arena where the fog sets down and Evo's plans get murkier. So far, he has not laid out a plan of how Bolivia would look like politically if he were president. We know he has repeatedly said he wants to go back to the basic Aymara system, where the basic political division is the Ayllu. The Ayllu is a community based unit in which Aymaras have lived for centuries. However, questions remain about how democratic this state would be? And what would be the fate of the branches of government. These are certainly intriguing questions and for some, outright scary.

Another thing we know is that the privatization process would be reversed. So, we would probably see the revival of the National Airline Company (LAB), the National Railway Company (ENFE), the Bolivian Mine Company (COMIBOL), The National Electrical Company and the National Telecommunications Company (ENTEL).

As for Evo's foreign policy, it looks like he will be making many enemies around the world. If not outright enemies, at least non-friendly nations. We can be sure, if all of this carries on, the first country to strain relations would be the US. Given that it was the US who, in a very public way, warned Bolivians not to elect Evo, or else..... We can also pretty much assume all the other nations with economic interests in Bolivia would not be very friendly to an Evo government. What is interesting though, is to think, what countries would be willing to forge ties with Evo. At the moment I have to thing of Hugo Chavez, whom, I think, would be eager to gain one more friend within the region. Although, I would tend to say that he would probably misjudge Evo. It is somewhat fun to think of other countries willing to forge ties with Evo. One such country could be, North Korea (perhaps). But, this is just pure speculation, as I don't know much about North Korea. Another country that I think would be interested to increase its ties with Bolivia is China. The Chinese government is currently in an aggressive drive to try to gain access to primary resources, which it needs desperately. Even now, we can see the Chinese government pursuing this policy. Besides, we also know that the Chinese government has approached Evo in order to start some kind of relationship.

Lastly, Evo's land redistribution would be, to say the least, problematic. This policy, if carried out, would devolve the ownership of the territory to the indigenous people living in the rural areas of Bolivia. What about the current owners? What would they say about it? More importantly, what would they do? That is yet to be seen. For the moment, Morales has declared that if the demands of the MAS supporters are not seriously addressed by the next president and parliament, then they will be won on the streets. However, the MAS wants to exhaust all peaceful methods before resorting to mass action.

The resources consulted for this article.