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11 August 2008

Victory for Morales

Bolivia's socialist president, Evo Morales, wins a recall referendum reports Carl Packman plus

By Carl Packman

A concerted effort to destabilise the government of Bolivia’s socialist president Evo Morales looks to have failed after the indigenous leader took on opponents in recall referendum.

In June, after the departments of Beni and Pando backed greater regional autonomy in illegal votes Morales told his supporters ‘I am not afraid of the people, that they tell the truth and judge us’.

Now, according to exit polls, the people of Bolivia have resoundingly told Morales he should go ahead with new socialist initiatives despite the opposition of some department governors.

The referendum, in which 4,090,711 Bolivians were predicted to vote, was being overseen by 200 foreign observers and 4,000 Bolivian observers.

In the run-up to Sunday’s vote Cristina Kirchner, President of Argentina, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, cancelled their visits to Bolivia after masked protesters stormed the airport where they due to land.

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Morales himself was forced to limit his campaign travel, especially in the areas described as the “Half-Moon” departments (Beni, Pando, Santa Cruz, Tarija) where popular anti-Morales sentiment is rife. He also broke with tradition and spent Bolivia’s national day in his political heartland of Le Paz rather than the constitutional capital of Sucre – a place in which his political allies ahve been targeted.

In the capital of the Chuquisaca department, where an oppositional candidate won the election for prefect, the former Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) prefect took refuge in Peru.

A secure victory for Morales meant a repeat of his victory in the presidential race three years ago which was always quite likely, as suggested in his 59 per cent national popularity in a recent poll.

Since his win in 2005 Morales has begun to bring about change in South America’s poorest country.

Six out of ten Bolivians belonging to the indigenous population. Six out of ten of the population live in squalid conditions. “Past governments focused more on businessmen so that they could generate wealth and distribute it,” says Emilio Pinto Marin, a minister in the budget department, “but it didn’t happen, we’ve been waiting for 25 years for this to happen, and it never did.”

Many of the Bolivia’s majority population regard Morales, himself indigenous, and the first native person to become president of Bolivia, as a hero who has been the first head of state to recognise their struggle.

Waldo, a driver who gives tours through the altiplano and Bolivia’s famous salt plains, pointed out the benefits of Morales’ redistribution policies when recognising small villages.

Many once only had three or four hours of electricity. But, thanks to Morales’ initiatives, now have up to eight hours of light due to solar panelling. Morales’ future plans are to introduce 24 hours of energy a day in these once forgotten places, and also to pave their mountainous roads with concrete.

To coincide with Morales’ plans, Venezuela, with help from commercial ties with Iran, are to loan Bolivia the 225 million dollars needed to establish a state cement company. As it stands an opponent of Evo Morales’ governance Samuel Doria Medina controls all cement production through private companies.

In other parts of the economic sector, revenues of natural gas and precious metals have increased since Morales nationalised the country’s gas fields in 2006. Bolivia now keeps 85 per cent of its national gas profits, and with the rising energy prices have doubled profits since 2005.

Evo Morales, now having secured a success in the referendum will be exploring how best to act on his victory.

Because some of the other winners in this vote have included political opponents in regional governships, Bolivia will continue to remain politically tense.

But Morales has done well enough to try to push through some delayed socialist plans.

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