Though official results are not out yet, what is clear is that Evo Morales will be the next president of Bolivia after clearly winning the elections on Sunday, December 18th. Having received more than 50% of the vote he will automatically be the president, something none of the opinions polls that were saying he would get 34% of the vote at most, had predicted.
His closest rival and favourite candidate of the oligarchy and the US embassy Tuto Quiroga only managed to get 31% of the vote. In Parliament things are not so clear, but it seems that Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) will not achieve a majority, despite having the largest parliamentary group.
Evo Morales won clearly in all the Andean departments, La Paz (with 63.9%), Cochabamba (60.1%), Oruro (61.6%), Potosi (53.2%) and Chuquisaca (46.6%). These are the regions that have been the centre of the revolutionary movements that overthrew the last two presidents (Sanchez de Lozada and Mesa). In El Alto – the working class city above the capital La Paz, which the workers and peasants organisations have defined as their “revolutionary headquarters” – the victory of the MAS was overwhelming. Tony Condory Cochi, who until recently was a member of the executive of the powerful Federation of Neighbourhood Juntas and was the MAS candidate in the 15th constituency which covers El Alto, got an unprecedented 70.9% of the votes, according to the provisional results.
This shows clearly that the election victory of the MAS is the by-product of the revolutionary struggle that the Bolivian workers and peasants have been waging over the last 2 or 3 years. Since they did not take power when they had the chance in October 2003 and in June this year, because the leadership of the movement lacked a clear plan and vacillated at all the key junctures, the whole movement was diverted onto the electoral plan. And the result is this overwhelming victory for the MAS.
But also in the low lands of the “half moon” departments the vote for the MAS was surprisingly high. In Santa Cruz, the stronghold of the oligarchy, the vote for the MAS was over 30%. Also in Tarija, Morales got nearly 30%. This vote also shows that despite the attempt of the ruling class to divide the country along regional lines, the real division is along class lines. In Santa Cruz, it was the regional organisation of the COB and the Landless Peasants Movement (MST) which campaigned actively for a MAS victory.
At the same time the traditional parties of the Bolivian ruling class have been almost wiped off the electoral map. The MNR, which started as a bourgeois nationalist movement during the 1952 revolution and then became one of the main parties of the ruling class and imperialism, got barely 6.7%, and MIR and ADN, two other main bourgeois parties have become extra-parliamentary parties.
The scale of the victory could have been even bigger had it not been for the fact that the National Electoral Council had de-registered nearly one million people, most of them in poorer and working class districts that were likely to vote for Morales. The MAS victory has to be understood against the background of an extremely polarised election campaign in which the oil and gas multinationals, the US embassy and the Bolivian ruling class made all sorts of accusations against Morales, warning that he was an “agent of Venezuelan imperialism”, a friend of “communist dictator Castro”, etc.
The masses of workers and peasants voted clearly against US imperialism, against the domination of the country’s resources by the multinationals. It was also a vote against the age-old national oppression of the indigenous majority. Until the 1950s the indigenous population was not even allowed to walk in the central Murillo Square where the Congress is situated. Now Morales, who comes from the rank and file of the movement and from the indigenous majority, has been elected President.
By voting for Morales, the workers and peasants, the poor and dispossessed, were striking a blow against their oppressors. However, Evo Morales will now come under enormous pressure. On the one hand, the gas multinationals, the US embassy, the local ruling class, are already demanding respect for private property rights, a free trade agreement with the US and eradication of coca leaf plantations.
On the other hand, the hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants voted for the MAS with a clear idea in mind, that Morales will deliver on the “October Agenda”, that is, the demands that led to the October 2003 uprising. These are, mainly, the nationalisation and industrialisation of gas, land reform, reversal of neo-liberal policies, and, for some, the calling of a Constituent Assembly.
The workers and peasants of Bolivia have already shown in the last few years that this is a life and death struggle for them. If the MAS government does not deliver what they have been demanding then they are likely to come out onto the streets again and attempt to achieve their objectives through direct mass action. The movement is confident and has won a number of victories (such as the defeat of attempts to privatise water in Cochabamba and El Alto). Though the movement did not take power when it could have, it has defeated and ousted two presidents in the last two years.
The situation could have some parallels with that of Ecuador. There, also, there was a failed revolution and then the movement of the masses expressed itself through the election victory of Lucio Gutierrez. When he embraced the policies dictated by imperialism there was a new movement that ousted him from office just a few months ago. If Morales follows the Lucio road he will end up like him, ousted by the same forces that put him in power.
The more intelligent sections of the ruling class internationally are aware that Evo Morales might be their last chance to keep control of Bolivia short of imposing a military dictatorship, something that would probably require a civil war in the current conditions. Thus, the Financial Times warns Washington not to “over-react to Mr Morales’ rhetoric his plans to decriminalise coca and build closer links with Venezuela and Cuba.” And they add: “the US administration should not bow to pressures from ‘drug warriors’ on Capitol Hill or hardline rightwingers who can be expected to call for the suspension of aid programmes.” This indicates that they would rather see a situation in which Washington gently pushes Morales to the right, as they did very effectively with Lucio: “Those programmes represent the best chance of maintaining US influence in Bolivia. Cutting the country off would push Mr Morales further to the left and risk accelerating the political polarisation of the region.”
This sounds all right on paper, but in real life Morales will also be subject to the almighty pressure of the mass revolutionary movement of workers and peasants. And at the same time the right-wing reactionaries that steer US foreign policy in Latin America are not necessarily the most astute of people.
Morales during the campaign promised his followers many things, but he has also taken care to reassure the multinationals. Just before the election, Morales told La Gaceta, "If I’m elected president, unfortunately it will be my duty to respect those neo-liberal laws. Some changes we will be able to make by decree, others through the legislature, but immediately there aren’t going to be great changes because these are 20 years of neo-liberal laws that can’t be erased in one swipe." Speaking during the celebrations of his election victory he mentioned the central demand of the workers’ and peasants’ movement: nationalisation of gas. “The government will exercise its right to state ownership of Bolivia’s hydrocarbons. That doesn’t mean confiscating or expropriating the multinationals’ assets.”
As was shown during the Mesa government (which, by the way, had parliamentary support of the MAS), in a situation like that of Bolivia, an extremely impoverished state and population in a country with massive natural resources, it is impossible to please the multinationals and the workers and peasants at the same time. Morales will have to choose. In Venezuela, Chavez came to power with a programme of wide-ranging democratic reforms but has now openly said that these cannot be implemented within the limits of capitalism. Bolivia is in an even worse situation from this point of view.
In the past, the leaders of the MAS, with Morales at its head, have never taken the struggle of the workers and peasants to the end, because they put all their confidence in bourgeois parliamentarism. Now, because of the inability of the workers’ leadership to take power when the question was posed, they have won this parliamentary election. They will be put to the test, and this is now a necessary stage in the development of the consciousness of the masses.
The idea, put forward by vice-presidential candidate Garcia Linera, that it is possible to have some sort of national Andean capitalism, committed to developing the country’s economy, is the worst sort of utopia. The ruling class in Bolivia is, if anything, even more dependent on and servile to imperialism than its Venezuelan counterpart. There is a long tradition of this in Bolivia, from the London and Switzerland based tin barons that ruled the country at the end of the 19th century to US educated Sanchez de Losada, a president who could only speak Spanish with an English accent. All attempts by the workers’ movement to rely on the “progressive” sections of the national ruling class or the petty bourgeoisie have ended up in disaster and military dictatorship. The tortured history of Bolivia provides abundant confirmation of this. The “nationalist” or even “revolutionary” sections of the ruling class have ended up being the main tool of imperialist domination (as was the case with the MNR and then the MIR).
The only way for the country to develop in any meaningful way is if its natural resources are put firmly under the control of the workers and peasants. The last few years have been a school through which growing sections of the masses have learnt that within the limits of capitalism there is no way forward. The most advanced activists in the Bolivian workers’ organisations must prepare for the next wave of the revolutionary movement that will inevitably come.
December 20, 2005