I might as well publish this other article which was also to be published in the failed Sage encyclopedia of democracy and democratization. Once again, enjoy.
Bolivia’s democratic evolution
Over the last 33 years Bolivia’s democratic process developed through three distinguishable periods. An initial period (from 1982 to 2000) was marked by the transition from a military dictatorship to a representative democracy, and the subsequent effort to consolidate the democratic process. A second period (from 2000 to 2005) was dominated by a loss of political legitimacy and deep social crisis, which, in spite of the efforts to consolidate the democratic process, placed the survival of democracy into serious question. The third period (from 2006 on) was marked by the emergence of Evo Morales, who, together with the country’s indigenous political forces managed to take control of power with a political alliance denominated Movement Toward Socialism. This entry aims to outline the development of the democratic process in Bolivia from the return of democracy to current times.
Re-democratization and Democratic Deepening
Bolivia’s transition to democracy began in October 1982 after a long spell of military dictatorships. This period was marked by a deep economic and social crisis, the implementation of neoliberal policies in response to that crisis and the efforts of subsequent governments to consolidate the democratic process. In response of the crisis, the Victor Paz government took the first steps towards its abatement by introducing neoliberal policies such as: liberalization of the economy, reduction of public expenditures, increase of government revenues and reduce the role of the state in the economy. While these measures promptly replaced the deep economic uncertainty with a new sense of macro-economic stability, over the rest of the period, the measures had negative social effects in the form of massive unemployment and low economic growth. Once the worst of the crisis was surmounted, the subsequent governments sought to consolidate the economic process. One first factor was the application of a coalition-building mechanism already present in the Constitutions known as Accorded Democracy, which allowed the establishment of arguably one of the most institutionally and procedurally stable periods for the Bolivian democratic process. Accorded Democracy greatly reduced the risk of congressional deadlock by promoting the building of majority governments. Another factor was the implementation of a decentralization program in 1994 under the label of popular participation, which sought the official recognition of indigenous and civil society organizations as legitimate political entities, the incorporation of such organizations in the political and economic process, the introduction and promotion of participative democracy, the guarantee for equality, and the perfecting of the representative democratic system. With this law, the government achieved the deepening of the democratic process by guaranteeing the involvement of citizens in the political process.
Political and Social Crisis
While the re-democratization process had been relatively successful from the institutional and procedural points of view, the efforts to consolidate the democratic process were deficient. On the back of citizen frustration over democracy’s unfulfilled expectations, the political system lost legitimacy through: first, the implementation of neoliberal policies, of which the most damaging was privatization. The government’s efforts to privatize the many state industries resulted in massive unemployment; and second, the public and indiscreet manner in which political actors practiced Accorded Democracy, which often concentrated on the distribution of public posts rather than the formulation of policy.
The period was marked by citizen frustration and it manifested itself in the form of massive and confrontational protests, road blocks and marches, most of which made uncompromising demands to the government while expecting results. The most significant protest episodes in this period were: the April 2000 successful reversal of the water supply system privatization in the country’s third largest city, Cochabamba; the episodes on February and October 2003 when there were violent confrontations between demonstrators, military and police forces where dozens of demonstrators fell victim of police repression; the times protests forced, and not exactly in a constitutional manner, the forced removal of two presidents: Gonzalo Sanchez and Carlos Mesa; and the largely irregular election of Eduardo Rodriguez, the third candidate in the line of succession. The former President of the Supreme Court and newly elected President Eduardo Rodriguez became president on June 2005 with the only task of organizing the next general elections.
The post-neoliberal era began with the arrival of Evo Morales in January 2006 to the government. His rise has been of historical significance for the country because he is the first president with indigenous background elected through popular vote. While his government has continued the economic progress began in prior governments, it has also placed emphasis on the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the political process, consolidating the government’s central role in the economy and relying on a strong anti-capitalist and anti-neoliberal discourse to maintain its support. At the same time, Evo Morales has been criticized for attempting to restrict certain rights and liberties and for using the law in his favor to solidify his position of power in government.
During the two terms Evo Morales and the MAS have been in government they have been able to raise revenues by nationalizing Bolivia’s natural resource industries. In fact, the export of natural gas to Brazil and Argentina has become the single most significant source of revenue for the country. In addition, the government introduced financial transfers to incentivize children to stay in school and pregnant women to have medical check-ups before and after birth. It also introduced a minimal retirement benefit for seniors. These programs have lifted many people out of indigent poverty. On the other hand, critics have keenly observed Morales’ repeated disregard for the country’s new constitutional order and of the rule of law. He has been criticized for the manner in which he and his government have used the almost absolute majority in Congress to pass laws virtually without debate or opposition; to gain control of important public offices by removing opposition leaders with the use of recently passed legislation; and to appoint government-friendly justices. In addition, he has also been criticized for his efforts to silence criticism from the media by invoking recently passed legislation which punishes any statement that can be interpreted as racially motivated.
On October 2014 Evo Morales won a third consecutive presidential term with enough support to avoid a second round of elections. This time around, one important objective is to solidify the central role the government plays in the economy by creating national industries capable of diversifying the country’s production base. At the same time, the government plans to guarantee food security by playing a role in the production and distribution of important foods as well as assuring the price is accessible for all.
Dr. Miguel A. Buitrago
See also: Stages of Democratization; Political Realignment; Protest Movements; Social Movements; Ethnic Mobilization.
Farthing, Linda and Benjamin Kohl. Evo’s Bolivia: Continuity and Change. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014.
Creabtree, John and Ann Chaplin. Bolivia: Processes of Change. London and New York: Zed books, 2013.
Peñaranda, Raul, et. al. Treinta Años de Democracia en Bolivia: Repaso Multidisciplinario a un Proceso Apasionante (1982 – 2012). La Paz: Pagina Siete, 2012.
Dargatz, Anja and Moira Zuazo, eds. Democracias en Transformacion: Que hay de nuevo en los nuevos estados Andinos? La Paz: Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, 2012.
Pearce, Adrian. Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia: the first term in conttext (2005 – 2009). London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2011.
Cameron, Maxwell and J. P. Luna, eds. Democracias en la Region Andina. Lima: IEP, 2010.
Dunkerley, James. Bolivia: Revolution and the Power of History in the Present. London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2007.
Kohl, Benjamin and Linda Farthing. Impasse in Bolivia: neoliberal hegemony and popular resistance. London and New York: Zed Books, 2006.