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Fighting for Democracy: A Lesson From Bolivia

Jacquelyn Kovarik reports for The New Republic:

Fighting for Democracy: A Lesson From Bolivia

Evo Morales has done remarkable things for his country. But now, he is rejecting term limits—and Bolivians are taking to the streets to stand up for the rule of law.

On Monday more than 25 opposition groups flooded the streets of colonial Potosí to disrupt the government’s official celebration of Bolivia’s independence day. It had snowed in the city on Saturday, and melting snowmen decorated the main plaza.

Alongside the national army and Congress there for the official events, hundreds of people turned out to protest President Evo Morales’s plans to run for a fourth term in 2019. His bid was announced in late November 2017 despite a national referendum opposing a constitutional amendment to grant him another term.

The protesters had wanted to fall in amongst the official government parade held in the morning, according to Bolivian newspaper El Deber. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, by 7 a.m. all entrances into the plaza were blocked by police barricades. Only pre-registered organizations and people with press credentials were allowed to enter. “We are not even allowed entrance into our own independence day ceremonies,” muttered one indigenous woman angrily, as she pushed past me in her pollera, a traditional Quechua skirt.

Inside the plaza, a more modest crowd waved blue cardboard thumbs-up hands that said “Bolivia dice sí”—“Bolivia says yes.” Yes to the re-election, that is.

The morning ceremony was relatively uneventful, with the expected military parades followed by Vice President Álvaro García Linera’s address and Evo’s state of the union. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: This author forgets to mention that evo’s speech was cut short dramatically, over the last eleven years, in venues like this one, he used to mumble a speech for over three hours, sometimes five … and now his speech was 37 minutes long. His excuse the “cold weather” to cut short his confusing and reiterative remarks of what was before his government. He still cannot read properly, let alone, be coherent. Nevertheless, his short speech was due to the shouts of Bolivia said NO, that made him uneasy.] The real action picked up after the official ceremonies were over: After the military parades and addresses from the president and vice president, the police barricades were disbanded, which allowed protesters to flood in with massive “BOLIVIA DIJO NO” banners—“Bolivia said no.” No to the re-election, no to Evo’s Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) party, no to the addresses that had been made by Evo and Linera less than an hour before.

By many metrics, Bolivia has seen remarkable progress under President Evo Morales, popularly known as Evo. The country’s “first indigenous president,” as Linera emphasized to the crowd on Monday, can boast of achievements in economic growthliteracy ratesimproved public health, and education initiatives—to name just a few. “We are in Bolivia’s golden age, and it is defined by progress, production, and a digitalized youth,” said Linera. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: what is “remarkable” is that he inherited loan forgiveness from the donor community, which started back in 1996 … and only came effective during his presidency. “remarkable” is that all Bolivian exports, of basically raw materials’ export prices that were extraordinarily high, it was the international prices that were high, not any of “his policies”: natural gas, minerals like silver, tin, etc., soy beans. These simply means that ALL the bonanza claimed by this demagogue had nothing to do, nothing, with this government. In fact, Bolivia lost over $160 billion dollars, the most important economic period in our history, under the worst and most inept government in our history. In education, Bolivia left the venue where highschool grads from all over the world, set comparisons in terms of how well-trained are our youngsters, it is alarming how poor Bolivian education continues to be. In productivity, they “built” and urea plant, so far away from its natural markets, they cannot sell on a competitive basis, there is a new of a railway, they bought the cars but there is no railroad. Health system has collapsed, a bunch of “graduate” health trainees in Cuba have come back and have proven to be a fiasco. Cancer treatment equipment is barely non-existent, they charged for a treatment given the artifact was useless … and the list goes on…]

Evo came to power in 2006. Following on the heels of a string of neoliberal, U.S.-backed presidents who struggled to maintain order without resorting to violence, his tenure has marked a new era of Bolivian politics—especially because he kicked out the U.S. embassy and refused all U.S. aid when he first entered office. And as he stretches for a fourth term, the president has emphasized this contrast between him and his predecessors. “The nationalization of our natural resources instead of privatization—that is one grand difference between us and them,” he gave as one example. He also praised “Bolivia’s incredible working class” to cheers from the crowd. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: There are more than a billion dollar litigations, from companies that were “nationalized,” when in fact it was just a payment and later on allowed certain costs of those companies’ operations as a mean f another type of “payment.” So, there was NO nationalization, there are NO serious investments to boost or at least be able to honor our natural gas contracts with Brazil and Argentina. Breaking up with the USA government, caused not only blooming narcotrafficking but also textile companies like Millma to go out of business, as the ATPDEA was lost.]

But perhaps most strikingly, during Evo’s presidency Bolivia has made unprecedented strides for indigenous rights. Indigenous peoples have been marginalized for almost all of Bolivia’s colonial and modern history. Parents chose not to teach their children their native tongue to protect them. Bolivia was one of the poorest countries in the world, and its majority-native population were the poorest of the poor. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: with tis “unprecedented strides for indigenous rights, this author proves me that is absolutely ignorant, or covers the facts for strange purposes … TIPNIS indigenous people were violently aggressed, female, children, elderly were beating, put in hand cuffs and beaten for daring to march towards La Paz, as they did not want a road that cuts in half this National Park and indigenous territory to give way to more illegal coca crops, which would turn out into cocaine, as it is recognized by the international donor community regarding the coca grown in the Chapare. Claiming that native tongue was not taught is true but the decision of the people to learn more Spanish is an absolute true, people who used to go to Argentine to work, as they did not speak Spanish were treated so poorly that they had to learn Spanish. During my grandparents lives, most of the urban population, spoke in native tongues to engage in commerce and trade with those native populations. Until Spanish was spoken more widely as English is used worldwide to communicate. So, there is too much demagogue and manipulation of information to portray this individual who made a humongous construction of a museum dedicated to himself in his town, to display soccer t-shirts and the likes of an egomaniac that wants to remain in power …]

Under Evo’s new constitution in 2009, things began to change. The official name of Bolivia changed from “The Republic of Bolivia” to “The Plurinational State of Bolivia”, plurinationality recognizing the diverse array of nationalities within one state polity. Thirty-six indigenous languages were recognized as official.[Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: even this Constitution that caused violent deaths of Bolivian citizens is not obeyed now by evo and acolytes. As any regular demagogue autocrat, he needed an enemy, he needed to change this, and changing the name seemed appropriate to his purposes.]

The plurinationality of the new constitution seeped into many sectors of modern Bolivian life, such as education and public offices. The 2010 education law, titled Ley 070, required all school children to learn not only Spanish and “a foreign language” (usually English), but also the native language of the department in which they live. Currently, 34 of the the 36 officially recognized indigenous pueblos have their own language institutes located within their own communities. As of 2012, every public official has been required to speak not only Spanish but also the native language of the region in which they work. For the first time in Bolivian history, a woman can walk into a bank in La Paz and converse with her teller in Aymara. A man can walk into a hospital in Cochabamba and receive treatment from his doctor in Quechua. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: “every public official”?! … evo and down the line most of the ministers do not speak a native language … so it is nothing more than crude demagogue.]

These policies, and many more, have changed the lives of millions of indigenous peoples in Bolivia. “Now in professional offices you see a woman wearing a pollera,” a woman said to me during the protests Monday afternoon. “That never happened before Evo. Now people like me are ministers in the government. That’s why I am a MASista, until I die,” she said. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion:  another lie, Victor Hugo Cardenas was a real indigenous citizen who spoke his native language and attended public venues with his wife and family, wearing their traditional clothes, his wife was seen at what she is. During evo’s government, there are pictures of some of public officials who come inside their workplaces in regular clothes but when inside, wore traditional clothes, another show to display the demagogue of the masismo.] 

On Monday, Evo ended his speech pointing to the global significance of his Bolivian experiment: “With all of our economic growth, Bolivia has a lot of hope. But what has been perhaps one of the most important changes? Bolivia has begun to be recognized internationally.” [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: fortunately, the world had seen this president talking about ridiculous and inappropiate remarks like: ]

Regardless of where you fall on the merits of Bolivia under Evo, this statement is undeniably true. A leftist experiment appearing to resist the scripts set by Cuba and Venezuela, Bolivia has set a precedent, and the world is watching. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: so … an “experiment” ,,, that is how we were treated?! evo made us fight among each other, poor vs rich, educated vs uneducated, west vs east, urban vs rural, you name it, he destroyed the sense of unity in my beloved country. Even if he were to abandon today, at least 50 years will be needed to build again the sense of unity. Remember what Hitler did in Germany, what Chavez and Maduro are doing of Venezuela … Furthermore, socialism has not, repeat, has not worked anywhere in the world!]

Bolivia’s 2009 constitution, however, also limits presidents to two terms—which Evo has now served, in addition to his term prior to creating that constitution. And in February 2016, voters across the country rejected Evo’s proposal to change the term limits, 51.3 to 48.7 percent. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: this guy changed our Constitution to one of his own liking … however now he refuses to accept the fact that the referendum said clearly we do not want him anymore. He and his VP publicly said, videos recorded, that they would obey, accept the results of the Referendum … and now they are doing everything to remain in power. Aside of the rampant corruption, there are over 700 Bolivians that had to flee the country, due of political persecution. He has absolute control of ALL State powers and he turned into an autocrat.]

The opposition groups that travelled to Potosí on Monday are part of the “F21 2016 Movement”—named for Feb. 21, 2016, the date of that referendum vote. However, in November 2017 Bolivia’s constitutional court annulled the referendum and struck down re-election limits on all public offices, claiming that re-election limits are a violation to human rights. A few days later, Morales announced his candidacy for the 2019 elections. If elected, he would remain in office until 2025, a term of 19 consecutive years. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: the “annulment” that this author refers to is not, repeat, not a done deal, There are legal instances where we can fight this disastrous and biased, non-independent body. International organizations said there is nothing like a human right to nominate for elections any time a person wants, the Referendum which is the highest authority, the peoples opinion, is clear, he can not run again!]

The F21 2016 “Bolivia dijo no” movement has been growing ever since. In the week following the court’s decision, protests and blockades were staged across all major cities in Bolivia. That same week during judicial elections, over 50 percent of the ballots cast were null ballots—an apparent response from the opposition to intentionally cast null votes as a form of protest to Morales and his government. Throughout Bolivia’s major cities, such as Cochabamba, La Paz, and Santa Cruz, graffiti in full view declares “Mi Voto Es Valido” (My vote is valid) and “NULO” (Null).

This past Monday, the protesters held nothing back. “¿Si esto no es el pueblo, dónde está el pueblo?” (“If this is not the people, then where are the people?”) was one repeated chant, referring to Evo’s claim that he respects the people’s wishes. “No es Cuba tampoco Venezuela, Eso es Bolivia y Bolivia se respeta” (“this is not Cuba or Venezuela, this is Bolivia and you respect Bolivia”) was another. One especially strong one was “Muere muere Evo, Evo criminal” (“die, die Evo, Evo criminal”).

Some protestors were less harsh. People of all ages marched, many donning homemade “Bolivia dijo no” and “F21” shirts. Women marched with their babies. One woman had her child’s stroller decked out in “F21” memorabilia. I asked a nearby woman why she thought so many people still support Evo, and she turned to me and said: “Those people have clearly not lived what we have lived. We have nothing, Evo has not helped us. And we are sick of it,” she said.  In her view, Potosí remains impoverished, especially in the countryside.

Beyond specific grievances with Evo’s policies, many are also concerned about what an ignored referendum means for the state of democracy in Bolivia—and a democracy that has close ties to Cuba and Venezuela, the latter which under Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro has become what appears to be a failed state.

“Bolivians, across all economic classes, are nervous about the implications of a President who is directly ignoring a vote of the people that he himself called for. They see the rise of violent authoritarianism in Venezuela and Nicaragua and wonder if this will be their country’s future as well,” said Jim Shultz, an activist and co-author of a book about Bolivian indigenous resistance to globalization, who recently returned from Bolivia to the US after living outside of Cochabamba for 20 years.

In Potosí, the opposition appeared diverse and not necessarily unified. Ranging from groups called “Another Left is Possible” and “Bolivia Promised Me” to mining syndicates and coca leaf farmers from the lowlands, they declared their support for F21 from a diverse array of ideological and political motivations.

Many of the opposition come from the left, claiming that Evo has failed to keep his promises as a truly decolonial and anti-extractivist president. Evo has opened up the country to massive mineral exploration—particularly to Chinese companies—despite claiming to be dedicated to the “Rights of Mother Earth”Dam projects in the Amazon on the Bala and Beni rivers have been approved by the government, despite indigenous protest. For many, the construction of the national highway in the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS) despite indigenous and international protest was the final straw. How pro-indigenous and anti-capitalist, leftist critics ask, is Evo and his administration, really?

Linera ended his speech by quoting Karl Marx and declaring that “capitalism has brought blood all over the world”—a nod to the millions of indigenous people that have died in Potosí’s silver mines since the colonial period and are still dying today. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: vice’s last name is Garcia but is more commonly mocked as Linera. He was placed in jail after found as a member of a guerrilla group, assaulting the University of Cochabamba funds, blasting power lines and advocating civil war to impose his “ideals.” Now so long ago he was caught as a liar. He claimed he had a degree in Math from a university in Mexico, and later on it was discovered he just went there for half the degree … he likes to be viewed as an “ideologist,” he claims he is an intelectual and has read over 20,000 books, which is also another lie … in sum, he is like evo … pure demagogue and manipulation.]

“There is not another future,” he said. “If there is something different, it is a cliff—it is the return to neoliberalism. The abuse of water and gas. The privatization of natural resources,” he said, referring to the Cochabamba Water War of 2000 and the El Alto Gas Wars of 2003 that ultimately led to the resignation of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada “Goni” and Evo’ selection. “The Agenda 2025 is the only option,” he declared to a cheering crowd, referring to the prospect of Evo being in power until 2025. Revolution, according to this line of thinking, is tied to a particular man and his necessary re-election in 2019.

“The insistence on re-election at all costs is a sad development for Morales and his legacy,” said Schultz  “His presidency has been historic and has accomplished a good deal, but ignoring the basic rules of democracy will put a stain on that, and maybe worse.” The protesters who flooded the square following Linera’s and then Evo’s speeches seem to agree.

Can Bolivia have a government in which all public officials speak their own indigenous languages, but not because it is required by Evo? Can its teachers imagine a Bolivia in which their students learn within tri-lingual, decolonial classrooms that are not funded by the MAS party? [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion:  evo cannot speak Aymara, he is mestizo not only in upbringing but also by blood.]

Can the revolution live beyond a man? Many Bolivians want to find out. [Bolivian Thoughts’ opinion: evo made sure that his ruling was vertical, like the coca grower’s union where he is the supreme leader. When he says he didn’t know of something, he is just trying to save himself, but nothing, repeat, nothing happens under the MAS over the last 12 years without his concurrence. He is an egocentric leader, like his former friend Gaddafi and his mentors Fidel Castro, Chavez/Maduro … he wants to rule forever. He views himself as the only leader, movies, soap operas, cartoons, spread that belief and therefore, he made sure there is no one under the MAS that can be considered as the next leader.]

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