Evo Morales and opposition to the US in Bolivia
La Paz, Bolivia. The poorest country in South America may be sending the U.S. an eviction notice.
On June 30, 2002 an historic election was held in which a radical leftist indigenous government won substantial power. Running on a strong anti-neoliberal campaign Evo Morales ("Evo") and his MAS(Movement Toward Socialism) party struck a direct blow to the U.S. and transnational monetary organizations.
Mocked in the American press as a "coca chewing Amymara Indian leader who would nationalize Bolivia's industries, stop payment of its foreign debt and halt American backed efforts to end coca growing." (New York Times July 6, 2002), Evo has the last laugh.
Evo Morales is well known for his leadership of groups of coca unions and their fight against U.S. backed eradication policies, which many believe have only caused further poverty. Earlier this year, after three police officers were killed in a confrontation at the attempted closure of a coca market, Evo's connection with rebellious coca farm workers led to his expulsion from the congress. No evidence was provided supporting his involvement: The U.S. is widely believed to be behind his expulsion.
Unfortunately for the U.S., Evo´s expulsion only helped his case. Running on an a anti-neoliberal, anti-big business, and anti-coca eradication campaign, Evo stood out as the candidate not willing to take orders from the U.S. Embassy. And the U.S. Embassy was forced to respond. The Wednesday before the election U.S. ambassador Manuel Rocha declared, ''As a representative of the United States, I want to remind the Bolivian electorate that if you elect those who want Bolivia to become a major cocaine exporter again, this will endanger the future of U.S. assistance to Bolivia,'
If anything Rocha's threat helped Evo's campaign. Bolivia with 60 percent of its population living in poverty was not anxious to adhere to the U.S. suggestions, whose supply side war on drugs has failed to benefit bolivian peasants, as promised. After a ten day count Evo Morales officially finished second with 20.94% of the vote. Now Evo stands to face the front runner centrist Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado (National Revolutionary Movement, 22.46%) as no candidate received the 50% required. The two front runners will face off in a congressional vote August 3rd.
Several candidates blame Rocha´s pre election rhetoric for Evo´s victory, which was a full ten percent higher than anticipated. One candidate Jaime Paz (MIR, Leftist Revolutionary Movement), who finished fourth with 16.31% declared Rocha´s influence as, "electoral terrorism."
Though the U.S. state department officially denies any hand in the election, Rocha is now pleading with party leaders not to form alliances with MAS. Rocha, unable to understand an 11 party system, cites the 70% of the populace that did not vote for MAS as justification for supporting the frontrunner. In a typical american for-or-against-us style Rocha is desperately trying to prevent Evo Morales from attaining further power.
Despite the embassy's interference it seems Morales will not reach the Presidential palace. Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado will probably win. The third and fourth finishing parties (New Republican Force (NFR) and MIR, combined 38%) have declared to support neither Evo Morales nor Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado, one official citing Sanchez de Lozado, "an orthodox neoliberal" and Morales, "too far to the other side." Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado will probably win a narrow victory, but without majority support.
However the presidential election turns out MAS stands victorious. Now the second largest party in both houses of Congress they hold eight out of the 37 seats in the senate and an additional 27 deputy seats. And when allied with the MIP (Movimiento Indigeno Pachaki, 6.09%) the amymara indian party, the indigenous will have more than 40 seats.
Together the MIP and MAS have for the first time an indigenous majority in the Legislature (in a 80% indigenous country). Though the majority of politicians are still of european descent, the multiple party system gives the indigenous a majority, excluding the possibility of other combinations.
This indigenous alliance threatens the expulsion of the U.S. DEA from Bolivian soil. By and large the indigenous population want the right to grow coca, which is important to them both culturally and economically. The leader of MIP pledges allegiance to the MAS supported legislation evicting the U.S. The DEA is seen by bolivian peasants as an employer of lawless mercenaries.
In an interview Morales explains, "We want respect for human rights, we are going to defend the coca and we are going to look for drastic measures against narco-trafficking." Though Morales does not support growing coca for cocaine production, he believes the cocaine problem should be solved on the consumption side.
Despite the final outcome of the elections Morales assures MAS will be a major force, "For the first time in 17 years neoliberalism is going to have an active opposition. We are going to set out legislation for Bolivia and not for the transnationals." The high school drop out "coca chewing Amymara indian" promises he will be able to negotiate with the WB and IMF and, "would only cut off relations with the U.S. if they fail to recognize Bolivian sovereignty."
Erin Ralston is currently in La Paz, Bolivia