The End of Bolivia?
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If fascism is simply defined as statism plus racism and hatred of democracy, December 18 witnessed its coming to power in Bolivia, Latin America’s poorest, as well as its most dysfunctional and unstable, country. Since achieving independence in 1825, Bolivia has had 189 official military coups (one every 11 months, on average), and since 2000 it has had five presidents, two of whom were democratically elected and chased out of office by radical mobs led by Evo Morales, who on December 18 received a slight majority in the presidential election. So much for the Bolivians’ thirst for democracy.
Judging by its voters’ behavior Bolivia, which has a population of 9 million, seems interested in remaining South America’s poorest country. The country is both a major producer of coca and a loser in all its wars (most of which it started) against its five neighbors. In many ways it is a black hole in the heart of South America, which is precisely what makes it strategically important and explains Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s having chosen it to jumpstart a communist revolution throughout the continent. Other than coca, Bolivia’s only major resource is the natural gas in the lowland departments of Santa Cruz, Beni and Tarija.
Demographically, Bolivia is sharply divided between the 55 percent Indian (Aymara and Quechua) highlands around the capital of La Paz and the 45 percent mestizo and white population of the lowlands, centered on Santa Cruz. Thus, the gas, relatively advanced agriculture, and managerial skills are all in the non-Indian areas, while mobs, political radicalism and, to some extent, numbers are in the Indian majority region, including the capital.
Hence, the December 18 vote pitted individuals at the two poles of Bolivia’s demography, political culture, and race. Jorge Quiroga, 45 years old, who served as president between 2000-02 following the resignation of terminally ill Hugo Banzer (whose vice-president he was), was educated as an industrial engineer at Texas’ A&M; University, worked for IBM, married an American and climbed Mt. Everest. He leads the Democratic and Social Power — Podemos party and advocates free markets, free trade and coca control, as well as cooperation with the United States.
Evo Morales, a 46-year-old Aymara Indian, did not finish secondary education. He led the coca planters in the Chapare region, was expelled from Congress in 2002 under accusations of terrorism related to violence against U.S.-funded coca eradication efforts, and was second runner-up in the 2002 presidential elections. He and his Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party are vocal admirers, and benefit from the largesse of, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. They revere Che Guevara and the legalization of coca and nationalization of the gas fields and companies’ assets. They grandly describe themselves as a “nightmare” for Washington.
But this is not just a case of a country that was polarized between two opposed ideological approaches and two very different leaders simply letting the people decide. Just like his mentor Chavez, the author of two failed coups against elected governments in Venezuela, Morales’ idea of democracy is “If I win, fine; if not, ‘the people’ will bring me to power anyway” — as was demonstrated by his direct involvement in the overthrow of two constitutional presidents in the last three years by mob action. Morales election will make what remains of Bolivian democracy a charade. It will also revive a disturbing memory of Chile in 1970, when Salvador Allende was elected with a third of the vote but interpreted that as a mandate for revolution — which is precisely what Morales does.
One problem, which will force a reaction from Bolivia’s neighbors, is that the non-Indian, productive, and indeed progressive regions — mostly Santa Cruz and Tarija — are not ready to tolerate the destruction of their livelihoods by a racist and socialist Indian regime in La Paz, and thus may well be prepared to secede — peacefully or not — if Morales is elected and implements his program.
(Posted on December 27, 2005)