Evo Morales leads the polls but faces other challenges from the right-wing opposition and an increasingly hostile Trump administration, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE.
A buoyant economy and the recent launch of universal healthcare has helped Bolivian President Evo Morales to gain an 11 per cent advantage over his nearest rival, Carlos Mesa, for president in the elections on October 20, according to a new opinion poll published by pro-right-wing opposition outlet El Deber.
However, the lead would leave him falling short of a first-round victory and requiring a second round.
As well as voting for the office of president and vice-president, the elections will also choose the 130 House representatives and 36 senators who will serve from 2020 to 2025.
They take place against a backdrop of objections from the Donald Trump administration and its allies to the Bolivian Supreme Electoral Court’s decision to allow Morales to run for a fourth term.
However, the recent declaration by Organisation of American States (OAS) secretary-general Luis Almagro of Morales’s right to stand, having previously questioned it, undercuts this criticism by the US.
Morales has signed a document agreeing to OAS observers at the October polls, saying: “I fully understand the responsibilities of international organisations and this agreement for observers at the October 20 elections is a way to make them transparent.”
The right-wing opposition currently has a number of candidates standing against Morales, including former president Mesa.
And some right-wing opposition figures are planning to disrupt the elections by destabilising them or trying to force the withdrawal of Morales and his running mate, Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera.
Opposition legislator Rafael Quispe has announced a fresh round of national mobilisations, starting 10 days before the elections take place, saying: “On October 10, the march will progressively begin so that the elections are not held or held without the fake candidate… because Evo and Alvaro cannot stay in power.”
These plans have been condemned by Bolivia’s indigenous campesino union (CSUTCB) on the grounds that they represent “a boycott of democracy” and an attack on the right to vote.
Historical experience in the region also suggests they are likely to lead to anti-democratic violence and attacks on progressive and labour movement forces.
There is concern too about US influence affecting the election.
The main right-wing presidential candidate, Mesa, is under fire as his Citizens Community Party has just been accused of receiving $10 million in funding from unknown sources in the US.
This follows the extraordinary revelation that in April a group of 10 legislators, two senators and three representatives of political and non-government organisations sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking to “intercede” in their country’s affairs.
Morales is running on his successful record of transforming Bolivia “from a heavily indebted developing country to one of the fastest-growing economies in the region,” as Pablo Bohoslavsky from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) recently acknowledged.
When he first took office in 2006, 60 per cent of the total population were living below the poverty line, but that figure has been slashed in half by his government.
Extreme poverty has been cut from nearly 40 per cent to 17 per cent through a variety of state-funded social programmes.
These and other social gains in the fields of health, education, housing and social inclusion have been based on a decisive rejection of neoliberalism.
Bolivia’s economic model involves strong participation by the state in strategic sectors, including the recovery of Bolivia’s oil and gas wealth from foreign corporations, while moving to adopt an ambitious programme to tackle climate change.
Bolivia would have foregone $74 billion in state revenues had the Movement for Socialism (MAS) government not engaged in extensive nationalisation of a number of key economic sectors, according to a report by the prestigious Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Centre (also known as CELAG).
The World Health Organisation has also praised Bolivia’s newly implemented universal healthcare system, known in the country as the Single Health System (SUS), saying: “Bolivia has become an important model for the world.”
Aiming to expand health coverage to the 70 per cent of the population who lack any form of insurance, $200 million has been allocated in 2019 to increase the number of qualified healthcare professionals and improve equipment, supplies and infrastructure.
The SUS builds on the success of a decade of a social programme aimed at improving the lives of pregnant women and small children, which has benefited over two and a quarter million recipients.
The Juana Azurduy programme was established in 2009 to reduce maternal and infant mortality and chronic malnutrition in children under two years of age, by encouraging women to get medical attention during pregnancy and for the first two years of their child’s life.
Over $189m has been spent on the programme. By 2016, in concert with other social policies, the programme had helped to decrease infant mortality rate by 52 per cent since 2008, and chronic malnutrition by almost 50 per cent.
This social progress in Bolivia is an inspiration to socialists all around the world, showing us that another way is possible, which is also one of the reasons why the Trump administration is hostile to Morales and his government.
In the run-up to elections in October, let’s stand in solidarity with Bolivia, and say Yes to social progress and No to US intervention and right-wing reaction.
First published by the Morning Star.