March 06, 2013

After Chavez's Death, What Happens to Bolivia or Evo?

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And what now?

That is the question many people are asking all over Latin America now that the peculiar Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, has passed away.

That is a valid question, because, aside from becoming the principal ideological reference and the leadership force of the so called Socialism of the XXI century, which has been very influential especially in Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, as well as in lesser degree in countries such as Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Brasil, Chavez had at his disposal large sums of financial resources to back up this ideology around the world and specially in the Latin American region.

The current Bolivian government and its President, Evo Morales, have benefited with a special friendship Chavez, and so, Bolivia too is asking herself the same question: and what now?

Well, fortunately for Bolivia the friendship has been special and, above all, it has been a long friendship, which I guess it turned into a real friendship after all. While I am not able to exactly point out when, based on recent history it is possible for me to assume that the friendship began in the early 2000s. In fact, this friendship has been most helpful during the consolidation of Morales' power, from 2005 to 2010.

But what were the characteristics of this friendship?

One way in which this friendship has been beneficial for Morales has been in political terms. By that I mean, it has helped Morales, as I mentioned earlier, to solidify his grip on the presidency of Bolivia by obtaining increasing support from the population. In particular, Morales benefited with much financial support from Chavez (around 438 million Dollars) for the first and most important phase of his pet program "Bolivia changes, Evo does what he says". With this program Morales travelled around the country distributing checks directly to the people in rural towns, cities or villages. These checks financed projects (around 4000) primarily in the areas of health, education and infrastructure. This was specially important during the 2007 - 2009 period, which was a politically volatile period because the opposition presented a real challenge for the government. Another way in which Bolivia benefited was through what was basically a subsidy of diesel from the part of Venezuela. If I remember correctly, there are loans up to 25 years at 2 per cent per annum (I found this link later). Also, among the many cooperation agreements signed between Bolivia and Venezuela, there is a program giving scholarships to Bolivian students to realize University studies in a Venezuelan university. Finally, at present time, Bolivia benefits with favorable terms to exports textile products for the Venezuelan market.

Another way in which Bolivia should have benefited from the special friendship to Venezuela was in economic terms. At the bilateral level, the highlight was the opening of the Venezuelan market for Bolivian products. In this sense, not only Bolivian textiles enjoyed favourable terms to enter the Venezuelan market, but other products such as Soya (cake, oil, bean) and maize. At the multilateral level, the benefit has not been that much. For example, Bolivia has exported more to the Andean Community, Mercosur, and ALADI, just to name a few alternatives, more than to the ALBA, which was Chavez's pet project.

In fact, the economic benefits have been largely absent. Bolivia had planned to make Venezuela her principal export market, or at least to replace the USA as her most important in terms of manufactures. However, this has not been realized. The percentage of exports to Venezuela have consistently represented under 5 per cent of total exports for Bolivia. On the contrary, the USA has remained as one of her main trade patterns.

So, yes, the death of Chavez does leave a mark on Bolivian politics, of all. While the influence has been more significant in the early years of the Morales government, I think now that Morales has been able to more or less reach a solid economic numbers and a stable political environment, the mark left behind by Chavez will be more on the personal level than in anything political within the country. If at all, Morales lost a loud voice of support at the international level. I remember the time when Chavez spoke of dreaming about once "bein able to bathe in a Bolivian beach".

At the regional level, I think, none of the Latin American leaders will have the same impact Chavez had in the region. I don't say this because I don't consider the other leaders capable of taking a leadership role in the region. In fact, I would argue that anyone would have done a better job, any day. I affirm that just because of the simple fact that none of the leaders in the region has available the financial resources that Chavez had at his disposal. And, if anyone does have those resources, to my mind come only Dilma Rousseff, he or she will not be willing to spend it the way Chavez spent Venezuelas' financial resources.

Source: IBCE Noticias Principales