Bolivia: Can The Majority of People Vote for Change and Actually Get It?
Evo Morales changed the history of
The conventional wisdom in
Maybe so, but apparently it is less divided than when Morales was first elected, an event that was widely celebrated as a milestone akin to the end of apartheid in South Africa. Was that election also meaningless?
Morales had promised to regain control over the country's hydrocarbon - mostly natural gas - resources. This was accomplished and has brought in an extra $1.5 billion of revenue to the public treasury. (For comparison, imagine an extra $1.6 trillion, or four times the current
Morales and his party had also promised a new constitution, and that is where things got bogged down. The main stumbling blocks revolve around the distribution of the country's most important natural resources. These are the hydrocarbon revenue and also
In developing countries throughout the world that are dependent on hydrocarbons (oil or natural gas), these revenues generally belong to the central government, not the place where they are located.
But the four eastern lowland provinces - sometimes called the "Media Luna" or "half-moon" because they form a crescent along the eastern half of the country - wanted even more control over these revenues.
These provinces produce about 82 percent of
The Media Luna states also have the big landholdings that give
Land reform is understandably a central political and economic issue. With forty percent of the labor force in agriculture and more than three-quarters of rural Bolivians in poverty, a redistribution of arable land is not only a central demand of the voters, but an important part of an economic development strategy that can boost employment and income in the countryside.
The referendum this past Sunday shows that the Morales government has increased its mandate to a landslide margin, by delivering on some of the changes that the electorate had voted for, and offering the majority of Bolivians a realistic hope for a better future. It casts doubt on the claim that this government has simply pursued its own, polarizing, leftist agenda, without regard to the concerns of the broad electorate. Its victory is all the more impressive in that it has been handicapped by an overwhelmingly hostile Bolivian media.
Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, in Washington, D.C. (www.cepr.net).