Watch Bolivia

Written By: - Date published: 9:01 am, November 21st, 2009 - 51 comments
Categories: International - Tags:

The world is full of natural experiments in different forms of government. Bolivia is one to watch:

Bolivia re-invents democratic socialism…

On December 6, Bolivia will hold a general election where Evo Morales, the first Indigenous President in South America will no doubt be re-elected. His party, the MAS, has recently released an election programme that Susan Harvie has kindly summarized and translated.

Bolivia is reinventing democractic socialism. They are in the process of creating a plurinational state with equal rights for all nations and people, redistributing land, providing free health and education for everyone, creating what they call a pluri-economy that includes public, private, co-operative and communitarian.

In four years of power they have eliminated illiteracy, reduced extreme poverty by 6%, insituted a senior’s pension for the first time, nationalized hydrocarbons and achieved a 6.5% economic growth. They are showing that a government that acts in the interests of the majority really can succeed and that an alternative is truly possible.

Some of the achievements listed over the last 4 years are:

1. Nationalized hydrocarbons: … The oil companies pay 73% of profits. …
3. Widened the electrical coverage to more than 160,000 Bolivian homes. …
4. Gave title to 26 million hectares which benefited 98,454 families. …
5. Created 124,497 productive jobs …
7. Nationalized the National Telephone Company (ENTEL): …
8. Operation Miracle, Juana Azurduy bonus, budget for health, hospitals and ambulances. …
9. Eradicated Illiteracy …
10. Reduced extreme poverty by 6%. …
17. Reduced the Foreign Debt from $US 4.4 billion to $US 2.4 billion.

Now that’s what I call democratic socialism! So if Bolivia can do it, why can’t we?

OK, to be honest I’m no expert on South America, and it looks like the piece quoted is heavily spun. I don’t care who you are, you don’t (Point 9) “eradicate illiteracy” in just 4 years. And even a quick scan of Wikipedia and other news sources shows that there have been significant political protests, concerns about land reform, disputed referenda, an opposition boycott, and so on.

But despite these caveats it is clear that something remarkable is going on in Bolivia, and that “re-inventing democratic socialism” is pretty close to the truth. Bolivia is a country to watch. Perhaps Labour could send some MPs on a fact finding mission…

51 comments on “Watch Bolivia”

  1. Pat 1

    Bolivia is certainly a country to watch. Looks like another example where the wolves capture a country under the cloak of democracy – another Mugabe in the making.

    Closer ties with Venzuela, Iran and Cuba!
    Running mate is a henchman/terrorist!

    • Michael Foxglove 1.1

      Maybe Pat would support Bolivia’s right-wing candidate Manfred Reyes Villas for president? The former personal bodyguard of Bolivia’s brutal dictator Luís García Meza.

      Morales has brought food and freedom to the people of Bolivia. I can see why he’s so popular, Morales is a stark contrast to those brutal right-wing, American-backed dictatorships that ran South American countries in the 20th Century.

  2. Michael Foxglove 2

    Good post r0b. You’re right, something remarkable is going on in Bolivia. After rejecting conventional neo-liberal wisdom, the wealth is actually getting to the people. From the Guardian:

    “Guess which country is expected to have the fastest economic growth in the Americas this year? Bolivia. The country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, was elected in 2005 and took office in January 2006. Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, had been operating under IMF agreements for 20 consecutive years, and its per-capita income was lower than it had been 27 years earlier.

    Evo sent the IMF packing just three months after he took office, and then moved to re-nationalise the hydrocarbons industry (mostly natural gas). Needless to say this did not sit well with the international corporate community. Nor did Bolivia’s decision in May 2007 to withdraw from the World Bank’s international arbitration panel, which had a tendency to settle disputes in favour of international corporations and against governments.”

  3. Pat 3

    I’m not supporting anyone, but I would be wary of holding up Morales as a paragon of social democracy. It seems to me he is on a slippery slide to something else.

    e.g. mysterious deaths of so-called “terrorists” (in other words, opponents), destruction of world heritage areas so that roads can be built for coca transportation. The more you look, the uglier the picture gets.

    • Galeandra 3.1

      Maybe their opposition like to carry debates forward with guns and bombs? It’s easy to see why populist governments get tipped into becoming repressive militaristic ones. Your name calling about Mugabe fits with that kind of self-centred plutocractic opposition , as do your loose references to Cuba et al.

    • Chris 3.2

      No worse that what happens when wingnuts get into power…

    • Bill 3.3

      Oops!Visible text

      “The deaths took place less than a year later when Goni announced deeply unpopular plans to give foreign corporations more control over Bolivia’s natural gas resources. Road blockades erected by protesters in the poorest neighbourhoods of the high altitude city of El Alto effectively cut off supplies. Goni signed a decree that instructed the army to clear the roads and promised “indemnification for any damage to property and persons which might occur.” That effective carte blanche resulted in the army shooting live ammunition indiscriminately at men, women and children.

      Military repression brought to a head one of the country’s bloodiest years, in which more than 100 people died in social protests. Rising popular anger led Goni to flee the country to exile in the US. He has since lived comfortably in Chevy Chase, Maryland protected by Republicans and Democrats alike.”

  4. BLiP 4

    Its simple, really. Nationalise the infrastructure, including telecommunications, and the mineral resources. What does dopey ole New Zealand do – give away the infrastructure and all but pay foreign-owned multinationals to take away our minerals. What was the percentage return on our oil sales, again – 5% or something.

  5. Pat 5

    The early signs of a dictatorship are there. We will know for sure in 2014.

    “2. Is Evo Running for Re-election?

    Another fundamental question is this: Constitutionally, is President Evo Morales running for the last five-year term he will be allowed to serve, or will he be eligible to run once again in 2014, potentially extending his Presidency for as long as 14 years? This is a very charged political question in Bolivia, where opposition leaders have repeatedly warned that Morales has his sights on a never-ending Presidency, in the mold of Castro in Cuba. Throughout Latin America concerns about stay-put Presidents have led to a series of one-term limits (with ex-presidents allowed to seek office again after one-term out).

    This was always the case in Bolivia as well, and Presidential re-election was a topic of heated debate during the process of writing and approving the constitution. MAS and Morales originally backed unlimited chances to run for re-election, and then compromised that down to one chance.

    But, since Morales was first elected before the new Constitution was passed, technically this first term does not officially count as one of the two continuous terms allowed. Therefore, he could legally seek another re-election in 2014 (if he is elected in December). It was precisely this concern that led Morales, during the Constitutional debates, to publicly promise that he will not seek re-election in 2014. But Morales supporters and opponents alike know that promises like these can become pretty flexible when faced with actually leaving office.”

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1

      Sounds like scaremongering there Pat.

    • Bored 5.2

      Pat, having read most of the comments prior to and after this one I have to say you have done yourself a disservice. I suggest that you do a little reading before you wish to add anything authoritively to this debate. So for your benefit heres a little list of authors you might read:
      Gabriel Garcia Marquez (100 years of Solitude is a real beaut), anything by Isabelle Allende, Eduardo Galeano (Open Veins of Latin America for how the locals see the history), Howard Zinn on any American history, Nerudas poetry.
      What you will find is that people like Morales rarely gain or hold power, the exploitative classes and their imperialist friends constantly conspire to retain the status quo at the expense of the lives of the people. That you should side with these powers, even out of ignorance is rather distasteful to say the least.

  6. roger nome 6

    Pat –

    “mysterious deaths of so-called “terrorists’ (in other words, opponents)”

    Any proof that the govt was involved?

    Looks to me as though you’re just opposing them because they’re socialists. The countries of the Americas have had their politics dictated to them at gun point from Washington for long enough. The result has been violence, poverty and misery. It’s time to let the people decide their own destiny.

  7. roger nome 7


    “potentially extending his Presidency for as long as 14 years?”

    We don’t have a limitation on how long a prime minister can serve in NZ. Does that make us a dictatorship in waiting?

    • Lew 7.1

      Nome, you understand the difference between a head of state and a head of government; don’t pretend otherwise.


      • roger nome 7.1.1

        Lew –

        I don’t know that the difference is necessarily that clear-cut, particularly when you have a micro-managing PM with a kitchen cabinet – or in Muldoon’s case a closet cabinet 🙂

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.2

        Well, yeah, our head of state is already there permanently so does that mean that we’ve morphed into a dictatorship lately?

  8. Pat 8

    Have a read of

    Seems like a fairly balanced political blog and the comments are interesting.

    Just sayin – don’t let the excitement about “wealth redistribution” blinker the lessons from history. Morales has the hallmarks of becoming another President-for-Life. I hope I’m wrong.

    • Zorr 8.1

      Oh no. A President-for-Life that actually cares about his people? Hell no, we won’t go!

      Honestly, if this is the kind of stuff that he is achieving (and continues to achieve) then I wouldn’t really mind if he stayed in power until they scraped his rotting corpse out of the chair. The entire point behind setting up the constitution in such a way is to safeguard the interests of the future when he knows he is not going to be around (just like the US Constitution was intended to do).

      Scores for Pat:
      Scaremongering – 1
      Critical Thought – 0

      • Lew 8.1.1

        Zorr, the problem is that a President for Life has no need to continue doing right by the people. The problem comes when (not if) he stops acting in the peoples’ interests and starts acting in his own, or in those of his ruling cadre. See for example: every autocracy ever.


        • Zorr

          Agreed that that is an issue. However our current government (and most active Western democracys) shows that you don’t have to be President-for-Life to stop acting in your peoples’ interests.

          • Lew

            Zorr, if the electorate reckons the person at the top isn’t acting in their best interests, they can show ’em the door without risking life, limb, property and family.


            • Bill

              “they can show ‘em the door without risking life, limb, property and family”

              As could the electorate voting in any presidential elections. A ‘President-for Life’ would have to win numerous elections. What’s the problem you guys ( Zorr and Lew) ? You think that the term is for life? It’s not. And nobody is suggesting it should be.

            • Lew

              Bill, if he had to win elections he wouldn’t be much of a president for life, right? Unless you mean DPRK-style elections, which don’t count.

              I agree that rumours of Morales’ authoritarian tendencies are much exaggerated; but also that life-rule breeds impunity, but Zorr seemed over-eager to accept impunity in exchange for certain policies. That ain’t no kind of trade any democracy should make.


            • Bill

              FS Lew.

              The suggestion was that he should be allowed to stand in presidential elections and not be debarred from standing because he had already served as President.

              What’s the big deal? If people tire of him they won’t vote for him.

              What is this b/s about DPRK style elections?

              Pat throws in some bald and unsubstantiated statement about Morales having the hallmarks for becoming another president for life and you take that as a sign that Bolivia lacks or will lack reasonable democratic processes?

              Get a grip. Please.

            • Lew

              Steady on, Bill. Go back and reread the bit about my objection being to Presidents For Life.

              The nature of executive authority wielded by presidents is that, absent clear and unalterable restrictions on their term of office, they can often influence the political process to ensure their repeated re-election — especially in countries without a robust democratic tradition and with civil and political society strongly centralised around the executive. Morales has indicated his frustration at the term limit, and while that doesn’t make him an autocrat in itself, it should set alarm bells ringing, and to say “he’s enacting good policy, we should just let him keep doing so” is shortsighted and damfoolish. Democracy is about more than a good policy agenda; without robust democratic strictures on executive action, good policy turns bad.


            • Bill

              And so we both agree that a life time term for a president is not exactly conducive to democracy (to put it mildly).

              But where is it that Morales has indicated that a term should be for a lifetime rather than for x number of years with the possibility of re-election?

              As far as I can see, he has voiced frustration ( along with other Latin American leaders) at the limitation on the number of possible terms rather than the term limit.

              Two vastly different matters.

              If you were merely speaking theoretically you really should have made that clear given that Pat threw the El Presidenti for Life thing in with definite regard to Morales

            • Lew

              Bill, we were never really disagreeing, were we?

              I wasn’t speaking theoretically in response to Pat, or on the merits of his remarks about Morales. I was responding to Zorr’s comment:

              Honestly, if this is the kind of stuff that he is achieving (and continues to achieve) then I wouldn’t really mind if he stayed in power until they scraped his rotting corpse out of the chair.

              As you say, not conducive to democracy. Zorr seems to agree. Nothing more need have been said, I figure.

              Peace : )


    • Con 8.2

      Pat why do you say Morales has the hallmarks of a would-be “president-for-life”? Just that he’s left-wing and politically popular? Or what else, specifically?

  9. Pat 9

    And getting back to Bolivia’s great economic growth, let’s be under no illusions how they are doing it. By exploiting the countries vast mineral wealth with little or no regard to the environment. In that regard, Morales hasn’t changed a thing.

    The theme of a “Socialist Democracy” has been raised on The Standard several times of late, and I am glad rob posted an example of where it is operating.

    • Zorr 9.1

      The oil companies were already doing that Pat but Bolivia was getting nothing from it before Morales came along. He told the oil companies that he would honor their contracts and allow them to at least cover costs and make a small profit from his country but that they had to pay the large majority of their profits to the government. That, or face complete nationalization.

  10. Bill 10

    Nice to see a post about S. America here.

    It’s not just Bolivia where remarkable events are afoot….add to the list (with variations to the degree of progress and with some reversals) Venezuela, Brazil, Honduras, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador…..

    Most of the press we receive concerning events in these countries are negative with regards the progressive movements within them….if we hear anything at all that is.

    Meanwhile, (and I find this frustrating) many on the left who should be broadly, but not uncritically, supportive are utterly dismissive of ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas) and the progress being made, thereby denying themselves the opportunity to learn from what is indisputably the most exciting and important political phenomenon of this century and adjust/apply it to their domestic situations.

    Just sit back and watch this thread as large sections of the left, from Social Democrats through (so-called) revolutionary leftists, completely bury any claim to positive progress in Bolivia or elsewhere on the continent under a slue of innuendo and received wisdoms that, strangely, echo the wisdoms of msm….

  11. redistributing land????????

    That doesnt sound too good.

  12. prism 12

    Would it be a good idea to have a two time limit on our PM? I remember Morgan Williams, previous NZ Commissioner for the Environment? talking about a Brazilian city on the east coast that made great improvements in conditions. I think the mayors there could only have one term and then be replaced, they had to work hard to achieve in their term and plan how to continue progress during their next succession. I think terms were four years.

    I felt Labour losing its edge and happy to just stay in the driving seat in the last term. We could have four year terms if we had this which would allow time for programs to be introduced and assessed in a term.

  13. Rob A 13

    Sorry but most of you dont have a decent picture of whats happening. My wife is from Bolivia and I’ve travelled and lived there several times now.

    A bit of a Bolivian situation lesson. There a basically 2 classes of people there, the indigineous Quechua and those of Spainish descent ,tho there would be very few ‘purebred’ (for want of a better term) Spainish. The Quechua live mostly in the country and are pure peasents, typically with little or no education, little healthcare, no services such as water and power. They are a subsistance culture pure and simple. In the cities are the educated, wealthy (by Bolivian standards) descendants of the Spainish. Start of a problem right there but add to that incrediable mineral wealth and a history of colonial bastard thieving (google Potosi) and we have a very poor country with lots of potential wealth but a great deal of caution in letting in foriengers to get it.

    Mas and Morales (a Quechuan) took the elections by gaining the peasent vote in an election filled with violence and protests (Mas can claim innocence but so did Mugabe), remember here that he came to power with only 34ish% of the vote. Since then he has virtually bankrupted the country by nationalising many of the major earners. Yes there are many more jobs but these people now work extremely dangerous jobs for as little as 10$ US a week, by getting rid of the foreign money much of the machinery has gone or broken down so they employ a bunch of peasants. Many of the schools in the countryside have been closed (not officially, they just dont employ teachers anymore) as have what few health clinics were there (same thing with the doctors). But because of an excellent historical base amongst a group of uneducated voters who basically vote for who they are told.

    His games with his 3rd term are very borderline constitutionally and the few comments here that he looks like another life president are in my opinion on the mark.

    I hope Bolivia gets ahead, its a great country to visit but its got some huge hurdles and from what I’ve seen and heard the past few years from over there Morales isn’t the answer.

    I could go on for much longer but its a Saturday night 🙂

    DISCLAIMER: My wife is one of the city dwellers

    • Con 13.1

      So Morales’s govt has “virtually bankrupted the economy” at the same time as achieving 6.5% economic growth and reducing pubic debt by 2 billion dollars. Hmmmm…

      BTW isn’t Morales actually an Aymara?

    • Bill 13.2

      “DISCLAIMER: My wife is one of the city dwellers.”

      No shit! Would never have picked that from the dismissive rhetoric you wrap the peasantry in.

      All that wealth. No question of it being garnered to improve the lot of the dumb, led herd; that uneducated ‘bunch of peasants’ who are only good for doing what they are told.

      You for fucking real Rob A?

      • Rob A 13.2.1

        you should get a clue before spouting some crap that there is one answer that will solve all the worlds problems. We are talking about Bolivia, a country I suspect you’d have trouble finding on a map, not NZ. And my tone on the peasentry wasn’t dismissive, it is the reality of how things are over there.

        As I said, the lot of the Quechuan is getting worse, not better. Morales has chased away the foreign money and without it there isn”t the capital or the educated workforce to exploit Bolivias potential wealth. And if the minerals are still in the ground then nothing is going to improve for them…….ever.

        IMO it would be much better for Bolivia to get the foreign companies back in certain areas, use the money from them to actually educate the locals and then take over the rest of the operations.

        • Bill

          “you should get a clue before spouting some crap that there is one answer that will solve all the worlds problems”

          You probably never will appreciate the irony in that assertion of yours. Oh well.

          Anyway. As for your bigotry, I’ve said all I need to say.

          Violence… see my comment from before and it’s link to info on former president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, a.k.a. “Goni,” (12:10pm on the 21st).

          %age of vote…. you say he came to power with about 34% of the vote. When I searched the figures I got 53+% of the vote in ’05 with a 84.5% participation for his initial election and then 67.4% when he opened himself to a vote of confidence following the illegal referenda in the resource rich states with led to demands for autonomy in ’08.

          And he is, as Con pointed out above, Aymara, not Quechuan.

          So, in conclusion you are an ill informed tosser; a bigot and an intellectual numbskull who has nothing to offer beyond ill conceived, discredited and mostly received ideological claptrap in oppositin to real world problems.

          • Rob A

            Fuckwit, there is no other word for you. I tried to offer an honest opinion of what I have seen over there yet all you have tried to do is knock down a person against your simplistic ideological views.

            Amayara is virtually the same as Quachuan, probably the older group. Its like comparing Polynesians with Maori. So Con was technally correct but I was trying to keep it fairly simple in what was a hurried post by myself.

            You are correct about the vote % and I apoligise for that. I was thinking of the previous election when I was there which Goni won.

            Nowhere did I come out in defense of Goni, he was just as bad. What I said was Morales IMO isn’t the answer.

            One day when you decide to hop on a plane and actually go and see how most of the world lives come back here and offer me a discussion. You strike me as a rather stupid and naive child who has a hell of a lot to learn.

            Good luck in life idiot, I think you are going to need it

          • Bill

            Oh well, I learned something thanks to your ignorance.

            Turns out that it’s impossible for Morales to be Quechuan ’cause it’s a language, not an ethnic or tribal identity. Might as well call someone a Latin.

            Same conclusion as last comment but with a genuine if ironic thank you for your opening of a door to a wee bit of knowledge…

    • Rex Widerstrom 13.3

      Excellent analysis Rob A. That’s been a – if not the crucial factor in Bolivian politics for years, judging by “Our Brand is Crisis”, a brilliant film showing how Bolivian politicians (of both socialist and conservative persuasions) are crafty manipulators of public perception, to the extent of hiring US political consultants like James Carville to mastermind campaigns.

      For anyone interested in Bolivia, South American politics generally, or indeed just politics, I’d recommend getting a copy from or someplace. It’s a film I could watch over and over, seeing something new every time.

  14. Adam Jarvis 14

    History shows us that we should keep an eye on Bolivia.

    Watch out especially for the U.S. toppling another democratically elected government in South America.

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