With Evo Morales campaigning for re-election in Bolivia later this year, the left must raise awareness of the threat of growing US hostility, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.
The Trump administration is ramping up pressure on Bolivia, where Evo Morales is standing for re-election as president in 2019, along with current Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera as his running mate.
To give just one example, Trump recently called on multilateral development banks and the IMF not to fund loans to Bolivia until it fully complies (in US eyes) with the international Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. President Morales has denounced these drastic measures as “intimidation” and “blackmail,” while Garcia Linera argued the moves did not recognise the government’s efforts to curb both trafficking and child labour, with the latter having reduced dramatically under Morales’s presidency.
Trump’s administration has regularly attacked Morales, continuing the US’s hostility to him even before he was first elected.
It has increased its criticism since he declared his bid for a fourth term, and we have seen growing smears and misrepresentations against Morales in much of the international corporate media.
The language used by the US government against Bolivia increasingly echoes the way the Trump administration has talked about both Venezuela and Nicaragua, where its objective is “regime change.”
Victory for Morales would be most unwelcome to the US. Elected first in 2005 with an absolute majority, the first in Bolivia for 40 years, he was re-elected in 2009 with 64.2 per cent of the vote and again in 2014 with 61.3 per cent. Since winning the presidency, he has shown that a better world is possible for Latin Americans through a clear rejection of neoliberal policies.
Instead, the economic model championed by Morales is based on what is called “Social Community Production”, supported by a strong participation of the state in strategic sectors.
Rather than privatise public assets and impose austerity, Morales has retaken control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations.
Through its nationalisation policies, not only of gas and oil, but telecommunications, water, electricity and a number of mines, Bolivia has gained $31.5 billion in state revenue, compared to the $2.5bn received during the previous decade of neoliberal policies.
These extra resources have been invested in a range of state programmes to modernise the country’s infrastructure and raise the standard of living for Bolivia’s poor and neglected people.
For example, under the “Bolivia Changes” initiative, Morales’s government allocated over $1bn for over 5,000 small-scale projects across the country, including the construction of medical clinics, schools and gymnasiums to serve deprived communities.
On a larger scale, industrialisation initiatives include transport infrastructure developments, hydrocarbon exploration, increased lithium production and electric power for export.
A massive increase in public spending has enabled investment in social programmes, enabling two million Bolivians, or one in five of the population, to climb out of poverty.
Along with poverty reduction through price controls for staple foods as part of food security policies, minimum wage increases and social security benefits, state expenditure has also focused on improving people’s health and education.
When Morales became president, Bolivia had an illiteracy rate of 13 per cent, but within three years the country was declared free of illiteracy, thanks to a mass literacy campaign.
Using revenues from the nationalised gas industry, 4,500 educational establishments have been built since 2006. Bolivia is now second to Cuba in Latin America in terms of funding education.
Healthcare has also been transformed. The country now has 47 new hospitals, with a further 3,000 health centres being built. Life expectancy of Bolivians during Morales’s presidency has increased from 64 years to 71 years.
Other achievements include the transformation of land ownership, a large housebuilding programme for low income Bolivians and the Juancito Pinto programme directed at increasing school attendance and reducing child labour, benefiting two million children.
The government’s strategy has not only redistributed wealth but also produced one of the highest economic growth rates in Latin America. It will close 2018 with a growth of 4.7 per cent in GDP according to official data.
Politically, Morales has stabilised the country, fulfilling his 2005 campaign promise to rewrite the constitution to give more power to the indigenous majority. Within two years of its adoption, 90 of the 166 elected National Assembly representatives were drawn from their ranks.
Disturbingly, there are signs that these achievements may be under threat by violent destabilisation from anti-democratic right-wing forces.
Anti-government protesters set fire to Bolivia’s Electoral Tribunal after its decision that Morales is eligible to run again for president last year. Rightwingers also looted and destroyed a state tax office and telecommunications building. Opposition groups have vowed to continue protests unless Morales reverses his decision to run.
President Morales has condemned the “criminal acts of the right wing who say they defend the rule of law but destroy state institutions. Yesterday, in the name of autonomy, they promoted racism and separatism. Today, in the name of democracy, they promote violence and vandalism.”
The right-wing, anti-Morales coalition is thought to have the support of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new far-right president. The Bolivian government has previously complained about the US embassy’s Peter Brennan seeking to intervene in Bolivia’s internal affairs by holding meetings with the opposition.
Morales has long been concerned about US interference through its funding for a swathe of organisations, political parties and projects in Bolivia, channelled through USAid and other similar bodies through the years. As long ago as 2007, Eva Golinger warned that its objective was to “penetrate and infiltrate the indigenous communities… and have influence over the mass media, promoting pro-US, pro-capitalist and anti-socialist propaganda.”
In the run-up to the election in 2019, Bolivia deserves international support to help counter US-inspired destabilisation aiming to derail its progressive government and turn the clock back on its social achievements.
First published by Morning Star.