Daily Archives: July 21, 2017

Incomplete and at times biased State of the Left in Latin America: Bolivia After the Pink Tide

Linda Farthing and Thea N. Riofrancos write for Nacla:

Excerpts pertaining Bolivia follow:

[for the full article that includes Ecuador, please use the link at the bottom, thank you]

The State of the Left in Latin America: Ecuador and Bolivia After the Pink Tide

Part 1 in our two-part discussion on the state of the Left in Latin America, originally presented at Left Forum in a panel sponsored by NACLA and Jacobin Magazine in New York City on June 2, 2017.

As rightwing governments take power in Argentina, Brazil, and elsewhere across the region, Ecuador’s leftwing Alianza País (Country Alliance, AP) and Bolivia’s Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) and Bolivia have managed to hold onto power.

Despite early gains in poverty reduction and social mobility, the left wing in both countries has faltered in recent years, since the end of the commodity boom and an economic downturn has led to a decrease in social spending and services among popular classes. Meanwhile, an ongoing reliance on extractive industries has driven wedges between social and indigenous movements and their governments who rely on transnational capital and megaprojects to finance their state vision – a vision that these movements see as increasingly disconnected from their own.

In Ecuador, President Lenín Moreno, once Rafael Correa’s Vice President, scraped an electoral victory this Spring, as his party faces contradictions and clashes with social movements that Correa’s government increasingly repressed. In Bolivia, the once-wildly popular Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, has also embraced extractivism, losing the support of the social bases that brought him to power.

In this panel discussion, Thea Riofrancos, Professor of Political Science at Providence College and Linda Farthing, an independent researcher based in Bolivia, discuss the current state of the left in these two Andean countries.

Thea Riofrancos on Ecuador:

Leftist governments — in South America, especially, more so than the region as a whole — have governed during a global commodity boom, which started in 2000 and lasted until about 2011. While historically high prices of oil, minerals, soy, and other commodities have provided the Left in power with the fiscal room to maneuver and actually govern from the Left, in the longer term this primary export model of accumulation is an obstacle to achieving twenty-first-century socialism.

Linda Farthing on Bolivia:

In Bolivia, the tale is very similar to what’s going on in Ecuador, but with two fundamental differences. One is that social movements actually put the Evo Morales government into power. It wasn’t like there was a party that was created as a vehicle simply to move a social democratic or left president into power. And the other, which I think really is fundamental to understanding Bolivia, is that Bolivia is a majority-indigenous country. So the dominant paradigm of struggle within the Bolivian context is the struggle for indigenous rights and indigenous people. Indigenous people have resisted colonization— fought against the light skinned elites that have run Bolivia— for over 500 years.

This [Bolivia] has been a mining country, completely dependent on export mining until recently when natural gas surpassed it in importance. Whether organized through indigenous peasant unions (or labor unions, since the 1950s) or the more recent coalition of indigenous, neighborhood, and labor organizations, the way that politics is done and has been done consistently in Bolivia, perhaps more than almost any other country in the world, is in the streets. This has created a political system in which there may be backroom deals between elites, but any kind of progressive process has almost always occurred when people in large numbers have taken over public spaces.

These are the movements that thrust Evo Morales into government. His party— Movement Toward Socialism (MAS)— did not consider itself a political party. It defined itself as the political instrument of social movements, which is a very different project than the formation of a left political party

The government quickly semi nationalized natural gas production and extended services and infrastructure, particularly for rural poor. It framed a lot of its discourse around concepts of decolonization and buen vivir, “living well,” a model also used in Ecuador. And it pushed forward a constituent assembly—which was a demand of the social movements— that came up with one of the most radical constitutions that the world has ever seen, which legislated parity for women and a broad extension of indigenous rights, including indigenous autonomy within the state. Unprecedented numbers of women, indigenous people, and working-class people were appointed to high positions in government, including as ministers.

Eleven years later, Bolivia’s middle class has grown [Bolivian Thoughts opinion: this is not sustainable in any way or form, the author also falls in neglecting to acknowledge remittances, narcotrafficking and smuggling sources of revenue to the large population who is immersed in the informal economy; there is liquidity in the Bolivian economy but not sustainable. This populist government has failed to create value added industries to our commodities and has also failed in providing adequate educational system to make us competitive. Just plain demagogue alongside blooming corruption has been the seal of this petty government!] by over a million people—which is 10% of the population of about 10 million— and both the government and the economy, thanks in large part to the commodity boom, have tripled in size. The government had big successes in reducing poverty in South America’s poorest country with conditional cash transfers (CCTs), which have been used widely throughout Latin America mostly by the Left but also by the Right. Poverty has dropped by half and income equality, like in Ecuador, has declined by a fifth, an impressive rate in eleven years in any society.

By 2017, this small country had the region’s highest growth rate and its highest financial reserves per capita. By any measure, and certainly compared to its predecessors, what the MAS has achieved is remarkable.

Nevertheless, the underlying economic structure remains largely untouched. While a new class of (often indigenous) traders and small miners has become wealthy, the traditional elites have not been displaced. [this author is clearly anchored in the old socialism speech, not a single society experienced a success along these lines…]

The MAS government has also paid very little attention to reforming government and politics, especially after it expanded into urban areas. This is interesting from a party-building perspective: it had been mostly a rural party, based in rural unions. [author fails to acknowledge the fact the ones actually leading this wonderful organization, is merely composed of the coca growers of the Chapare, the ones who dictate what this government should do… this caudillo brags about being first the coca growers’ president and then president of the country!] Membership in the MAS was indirect; it came through whatever popular organization you were affiliated with [back in 2006, this government allowed a fatal clash among such affiliates, miners from Comibol fought to those from the cooperatives and 16 people died as a result, since the government looked after the votes of both groups, agreed to their individual terms and later let them fight and die, at that tragic time, the VP said that the government would provide the coffins … nothing else …]. But when the MAS moved into urban areas it became more like a traditional political party, where you would sign up and become affiliated on an individual basis. And that, of course, attracts people who were party operatives— people who would climb on board any train leaving the station so long as they felt they could do well by it.

This started reinforced the MAS increasingly doing politics the traditional way: very much based on clientelism and political patronage. So over time the number of women and indigenous people in government started to decline as light-skinned urban professionals, who were usually far better educated, replaced them. Meanwhile, power became more concentrated in a small entourage around the president and vice president. [a former maid who also studied to 5th school grade, was appointed Minister of Justice … my point here is that Bolivia needs competent professionals to run our public service, not cheap demagogue!]

“Now it’s our turn” was a commonly heard refrain, particularly in the early years. What this meant is that the union leaders and party militants felt they had the right to share in the spoils of political power, in a continuation of the way politics has always been conducted. [this government generated envy, resentment and “pay-back” desires from those less fortunate, the usual leftist promises that only mean the destruction of a society tolerance]

The focus on expanding extraction as the easiest way of increasing infrastructure and services, brought the government gradually, but steadily, closer to an alliance with the traditional elites. [this government managed to waste over $160 billion dollars in luxury items for the egocentric behavior of this ruler, boondoggles, soccer fields and not a single competitive industry,  this person has his mind stalled in the mid 20th century when state-owned investments led to nothing!] By 2017 the government had replaced its original discourse of societal transformation with one focused on the newfound economic stability it had delivered to the country, which has long been notoriously unstable. In the process, its political agenda became far more centrist; it moved away from its older commitment to communitarian socialism and towards policies that encourage capitalist growth that fuels government re-distribution.

The opposition is very divided, so it is likely that Evo Morales will win again in 2019 even in the face of declining commodity prices and voter fatigue after what will be 13 years of the MAS in power. [the author is certainly evo’s fan, according to the laws that he himself forced, he can not run again, and he lost that chance also at the referendum held in February 2016, when most Bolivians said NO!]

The MAS inherited a country that was impoverished and where relentless resource extraction had left a legacy of environmental destruction. Bolivia now has the highest rate of deforestation in Latin America, although it should be noted that this reflects the slow exploitation of its forest resources in previous decades compared to its neighbors such as Brazil. The MAS government, like the Correa government, has been locked in an endless tug-of-war between providing more services— which responds to its political commitment but also ensures it will continue to be elected— and limiting the destructive extraction that is ravaging the country.

Economically speaking, Bolivia is still dependent, as it always has been. But it is no longer as dependent on European countries and the United States as it has been historically. Instead its economic dependency has shifted to Brazil and China. [let’s not forget Iran, Russia as his delusional egocentrism and hate towards the USA, led him to engage in these dubious countries, he was also close friend to Libia, back when Qadhafi ruled that country…]

Bolivia’s social movements were once unrivaled in the region, and this handed the MAS government an opportunity and a challenge that was not found elsewhere, even in other Pink Tide countries. [politicians played with the hopes of those people, whom ignore that this ochlocracy did more harm than good, this government came to power at the best economic time in ALL our history, and did nothing!]

With no viable right-wing opposition, I would argue the MAS has squandered the opportunity for more far-reaching social transformation, by coopting the social movements. By 2014, the social movements were a shadow of their former selves, with many leaders critical of the MAS demoralized and isolated.

The weakening of the social movements in a place like Bolivia, given its political culture of the streets, has been devastating. Social movements still aligned with the government have been coopted, in the process losing the ability to launch any sort of viable progressive challenge. Social movements and intellectuals opposed to the MAS have been targeted for harassment and spurious legal suits, limiting their ability to launch criticism. They find themselves at risk of being lured into alliances with the right-wing.

Today, the country is characterized by an overdependence on a charismatic leader controlling a weak party: the classic Latin American caudillo. In such circumstances, preserving the party and its leader becomes a central goal. [Bolivian unions are characterized of being extremely vertical in nature, and that is why this petty individual manages as his pleases! there is no democracy, just plain imposition!]

All in all, opportunity for progressive change the social movements in Bolivia once promised has been compromised. At the same time, though, material conditions for a large percentage of the impoverished population have improved substantially, and as progressives, this key goal is something we should never lose sight of.


In sum, “intellectuals” like these author are the ones who desperately try to make this caudillos look like a salvation for the poor, nothing more false and unrealistic, worldwide proven fact, socialism and communism have not worked anywhere in this world!