Bolivia: Evo Morales’ First 100 Days

Jeffery R. Webber

ON DECEMBER 18, 2005 the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Toward Socialism, MAS) party won an historic 54% of the popular vote in the Bolivian general elections.  MAS leader Evo Morales, an indigenous man of mixed Aymara-Quechua descent who came of age politically as a peasant union leader in the anti-imperialist cocalero (coca grower) movement of the Chapare region, became president.  MAS assumed the governance of Bolivia on January 22, 2006.

In South America’s poorest country, a country where 62% of the population self-identifies as indigenous, the election of an indigenous president and a Leftist party were greeted with jubilation. Morales owed his electoral victory to near-continuous Left-indigenous mass mobilization since the Water War in Cochabamba in 2000. The Gas Wars of September-October 2003 and May-June 2005, centered in El Alto and La Paz, marked the high point of this revolutionary cycle.

After 15 years of neoliberal ascendancy (1985-2000) and Left-indigenous defeat, the last six years of Bolivian history have reversed the tide, witnessing the largest scale mobilizations since the 1952 National Revolution. The main right-wing parties — which ruled through elite pacts, extreme presidentialism, repeated “states of emergency” and military repression of labor militants, indigenous leaders, and social activists throughout the 1980s and 1990s — were brought to their knees over the last six years. Their defeat in the streets, and now in the electoral arena, spurred by popular mobilization, was solidified through in-fighting within the capitalist class, the implosion of their political parties, their incapacity in the face of their eroding legitimacy, and the waning hegemony of neoliberal ideas throughout the country.

The state murder of at least 67 protesters in the Gas War of 2003 (primarily in the indigenous slum of El Alto on the edge of La Paz), orchestrated by then-President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Goni), was the worst of the coercive efforts by the ruling class to reinstall the old order of class rule and apartheid-like racial oppression of the indigenous population.(1)

Goni was tossed out of office and country on October 17 of that year. When Goni’s presidential replacement, then-vice president Carlos Mesa Gisbert, failed to follow through with the popular demands of the “October Agenda” — nationalization of gas, constituent assembly, and a trial of responsibilities for Goni and other state criminals — he too was forced to resign in the wake of massive mobilizations in May-June 2005. Fearing revolutionary transformation, the ruling class moved elections forward from 2007 to December 2005, and the populace, having shifted back from direct action in the streets to electoral politics, voted for change.(2)

Celebration or Critique?

May 1, 2006 marked the close of the first 100 days of the MAS administration, and an analysis of the regime’s first months in power is in order. This is especially important given the preponderantly positive view on the broad international and local Bolivian Left of the Morales administration.

The celebratory perspective within Bolivia on the part of Left intellectuals relies heavily on selective citations of radical discourse from the MAS administration, particularly the media pronouncements of Morales. Others, more concerned with the empirical evidence, admit the party has not gone far in its reforms but generally exaggerate the strength of the Bolivian capitalist class and the threat of indirect or direct imperialist intervention, while underestimating the strength of the popular social movements to push through radical change.  In other words, their case is that MAS is doing what is possible given the context.

Internationally, the Left perspective on Bolivia suffers from a general ignorance of the country’s recent and longer history.  Many first-world Leftists, living in countries where revolutionary transformation in the near future is unimaginable, see moderate reform in Bolivia as radical change. The positive international and local analyses are also prone to uncritical interpretations of the political pageantry of the party — the Leftist-celebrity-studded festival of Morales’ inauguration; presidential speeches which emphasize the indigenous character of the party; appearances by the President at traditionally important indigenous sites such as Tiahuanaco; and the massive, theatrical mobilization of the military and military police on May 1, 2006, when Morales announced the nationalization of the country’s hydrocarbons (natural gas and oil) sector.

Accompanying the celebratory view, often, is a dismissive disdain for Left critics of the MAS, and a refusal to seriously engage their arguments. Undoubtedly, some critiques of the MAS coming from the Left are sectarian, and rooted in religious adherence to the sacred texts of their particular school, current, sect, or grouplet. Just as surely, however, there are a number of sound critiques — rooted in analyses of what the party has done, rather than what it has said.

This article represents a modest attempt to discern the contradictions and tensions between the image and the reality of the MAS administration. It raises six points for discussion, touching briefly and inadequately on each. It’s motivated by the view that the last six years of Left-indigenous movements represented a revolutionary challenge to the Bolivian social order; that revolutionary transformation, toward the end of racial oppression of indigenous nations and class exploitation, is necessary; and that the balance of social forces within the country remains potentially favorable for such change.

The social movements demanded a radical decolonization of the country, meaning the liberation from oppression of the indigenous nations within Bolivia, and the assertion of popular sovereignty against the imperialist intervention of the core capitalist states, transnational corporations, and international financial institutions. The movements demanded an end to neoliberal capitalism, the restoration of popular social control over the country’s natural resources, and the end to minority rule by transnational corporations and the local oligarchic capitalist class, principally rooted in the department of Santa Cruz.

The first steps to be taken were (i) the institution of a Constituent Assembly with direct participation by social movements, indigenous nations, and union federations in order to reconstitute the Bolivian state in the name, and through the participation, of the popular classes and indigenous majority; and (ii) the nationalization without compensation of the hydrocarbons sector of the economy. With all of this in mind, what is the MAS administration doing to advance and/or to hinder such change?

1. The Party: History, Class, Ideology

Where did MAS come from? What is the party’s class composition, and how has it changed over time? What is the party’s predominant ideology?

The party’s historic roots are in the Chapare, a coca-growing region of Cochabamba. After the crash of the international price of tin and the corresponding neoliberal privatization assault on the state mining industry in 1985, tens of thousands of miners were left without jobs, and many migrated to the Chapare to begin growing coca on small plots of land.  Responding to the country’s comparative advantage, as neoliberal doctrine dictates, the coca leaf became a central source of foreign exchange and a basic means of livelihood for small landholding peasants, as the demand for cocaine took off in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere.

The United States initiated its phony “war on drugs” in the late 1980s, which meant the militarization of the Chapare region and an assault on the coca growing peasants in the area.  A resistance movement of cocaleros emerged out of a network of peasant unions. Drawing on the revolutionary Marxist traditions of re-located ex-miners, as well as on the longstanding indigenous patterns of resistance in the Cochabamba area, the cocaleros’ anti-imperialism and anti-neoliberalism represented the strongest force on the indigenous-Left from the mid-to-late 1980s through the1990s.

Evo Morales emerged as the most important cocalero peasant union leader during this period. By the end of the 1990s the party increasingly tied the symbolic valorization of the coca leaf with the revindication of Bolivia’s majority indigenous identities, eventually incorporating the Aymara indigenous flag, the wiphala, into the party’s everyday symbolism, along with the demand for a Constituent Assembly to decolonize the country.

In 1996, in an effort to build a “political instrument” out of the cocalero social movement, the Instrumento Político Para la Soberanía de los Pueblos (Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples, IPSP) was formed. For technical reasons that would permit its participation in elections, the party later adopted the same name, Movimiento al Socialismo, as an old political party which had ceased to exist.

The party engaged in direct action through road blockades, peasant resistance to the armed enforcement of the “drug war” in the Chapare, and was essentially run through assembly style democracy in the peasant union networks of the cocaleros. Emphasis on electoral politics was secondary to direct action in the streets until roughly the 2002 elections, in which Morales came a close second to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in the presidential race.

At this point, with the taste of relative electoral success in its mouth, the party sought to de-radicalize its image in an effort to court the urban middle classes and win the presidential elections then scheduled for 2007. Key party figures such as ex-miner Filemón Escobar were central players in this shift.

The new politics of MAS was reflected in the Gas War of October 2003, when MAS supported the constitutional resolution to the state crisis, specifically the ascendancy to the presidency of Carlos Mesa. MAS subsequently supported Mesa’s neoliberal government into 2005, until Mesa kicked the party out of its informal ruling coalition. In the mass mobilizations of May-June 2005, or the Second Gas War, MAS publicly supported the position of an increase to 50% taxes for the transnational petroleum companies, rather than the demand for nationalization without compensation being forwarded by virtually all sections of the popular movements.

With the resignation of Mesa on June 6, 2005, MAS again supported a constitutional exit to the crisis, falling behind the move to change the electoral date to December 2005. This was never a demand of the social movements, which were instead calling for an immediate Constituent Assembly and nationalization of the hydrocarbons sector.

The present ideology of the MAS is best expressed by the party’s most important intellectual figure, Vice President Álvaro García Linera, an ex-indígenista guerrilla of the short-lived Ejército Guerrillero Tupaj Katari (Tupaj Katari Guerrilla Army, EGTK), political prisoner for five years, mathematician, sociologist, prolific author and Bolivia’s most prominent Leftist TV personality of the 2000s.

García Linera has famously denounced the idea of socialism in Bolivia as impossible for at least the next 50 to 100 years. Adopting the old Bolivian Communist Party (PCB) “stagist” line of the natural trajectory toward socialism, García Linera believes that Bolivia must first build an industrial capitalist base. He calls this, incorporating the symbols of indigenous liberation, “Andean-Amazonian Capitalism.” This formula essentially means capitalism with state intervention in support of the petite-bourgeoisie such that they will eventually become the powerful “national bourgeoisie” that develops successful capitalist development within Bolivia. That “national bourgeoisie” will be indigenous, or “Andean-Amazonian.” Only once this long intermediary phase has passed will the fulfillment of socialism be materially plausible.(3)

Last month, García Linera, in an attempt at defining the ideology of “Evismo,” stated:

“In the case of Evismo, we are before a political revolution that has its impact in the economic realm but not in a strictly radical manner. Evo Morales has himself conceptualized the process that he is leading as a democratic cultural revolution, or a decolonizing democratic revolution, that modifies the structures of power, modifies the composition of the elite, of power and rights, and with this the institutions of the state.  It has an effect on the economic structure because all expansion of rights means the distribution of wealth.”(4)

Bolivian sociologist and economist Lorgio Orellana Aillón has usefully characterized the type of revolution being discussed as “bourgeois democratic:” the elimination of racial discrimination, a more meaningful inclusion of petite-bourgeois rural and urban indigenous sectors through the expansion of the internal market, the development of a stronger capitalism through state intervention, and the provision of some depth to the liberal representative democratic model which until now has been but a mere illusion in the country. This is the stuff of a bourgeois democratic revolution.(5)

The shift in the party’s ideology toward the Center-Left in 2002 was neither the whim of a few important leaders nor the result of change in Morales himself; rather, the shift is indicative of the changing class composition of the party over time. The weight of the anti-imperialist, anti-neoliberal cocalero peasantry has diminished, while an urban middle-class intelligentsia plays an increasingly important role.

Moreover, if we examine the class character of the current MAS cabinet, and the slightly broader peripheries surrounding that cabinet (such as vice-ministerial portfolios and so on), it is evident that the origins of many of these officials are of the popular classes (peasant sectors, mining, etc), while their current status is more in line with the relatively privileged, middle class sectors of the rural and urban economies.(6) One rough indication of this is the fact that, on average, the ministers in the current MAS cabinet have declared net assets of over U.S. $50,000.(7) In a country like Bolivia this places them solidly in the middle layers of the urban and rural economies.(8)

2. Constituent Assembly

Undoubtedly the most severe blow delivered against the social movements of the last six years by the MAS is to be found in the content of the Law of Convocation of the Constituent Assembly of March 4, 2006, together with the Referendum Law for Departmental Autonomies.

To explain this requires some historical context. The short-term origins of the demand for a Constituent Assembly – to remake the Bolivian state in a way that would undue internal colonialism, challenge liberal democratic forms of representation, and fundamentally transform the economic and social foundations of the country’s institutional framework – date back to the 1990 Indigenous March for Territory and Dignity, led by the indigenous peoples of the department of Beni, in the Northern Amazon.(9)

It was during this march that a demand to fundamentally restructure the state through a Constituent Assembly was first made. As Raúl Prada points out, however, the medium-term origins of the demand for the decolonization of the state begin with the end of the Military-Peasant pact that characterized the dictatorships of the 1960s and 1970s, and the formation of an independent, indigenous-peasant movement, known as the Katarista movement.

This new peasant activity was situated in the altiplano or high plateau of the country, a predominantly Aymara region. Out of the various currents of Katarismo was born the revindication of indigenous pride and identity, the sparks of struggle for indigenous liberation, and the seeds of movement toward the decolonization of the Bolivian state.(10)

After the March for Territory and Dignity, the Coordinadora — the central social movement organization of the Water War in Cochabamba in 2000 — took up the demand of a Constituent Assembly. A former shoe-factory worker, and the most prominent leader of the Water War, Oscar Olivera, put it this way:

“The Constituent Assembly thus should be understood as a great sovereign meeting of citizen representatives elected by their neighbourhood organizations, their urban or rural associations, their unions, their communes. These citizen representatives would bring with them ideas and projects concerning how to organize the political life of the country. They would seek to define the best way of organizing and managing the common good, the institutions of society, and the means that could unite the different individual interests in order to form a great collective and national interest. They would decide upon the modes of political representation, social control, and self-government that we should give ourselves for the ensuing decades.  And all of these agreed decisions would immediately be implemented…. Let us be clear: Neither the executive branch nor the legislative branch, not even the political parties, can convoke the Constituent Assembly. These institutions and their members all stand discredited for having plunged the country into disaster.”(11)

Following the Coordinadora, a whole host of popular social movement organizations took up the call for a Constituent Assembly, infusing the idea with indigenous content from the altiplano, as well as revolutionary socialist content from popular organizations in El Alto and the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) during the Gas Wars of 2003 and 2005.

Unfortunately, Olivera’s early warnings on the importance of the form of the Constituent Assembly resonate deeply in the present context: “What is the Constituent Assembly? Who calls it into being? How should it be organized? In the answers to these questions there can surface differences which will determine whether the Constituent Assembly results in ‘a supreme moment of democracy’ or in mere agreements among ‘experts’ who once again will exclude the citizenry from decision-making power.”(12)

The new laws on the Constituent Assembly and the departmental autonomies, passed in March of this year, are based in the idea of formulating a consensual “social pact” among the diverse actors within Bolivia, rather than the imposition of one political-social bloc over another. What this friendly liberal discourse means in practice, however, is that rather than the massive popular-indigenous majority being able to liberate itself fully and fundamentally, economically and socially, from class exploitation and racial oppression, they need now negotiate a pact with the minority capitalist class and primarily lighter-skinned Bolivians (the tiny social bloc that has ruled over the country since colonial times).

The new assembly law does not allow for representation through union federations, indigenous organizations and other neighborhood groups and communes, as envisioned by the social movements. Rather, candidates for the Constituent Assembly must be members of established political parties or established “citizen groups,” as in all other Bolivian elections, based on the liberal representative democratic model.

On July 2, 2006 there will be an election to determine the 255 constituents who will participate in the Constituent Assembly. Of these, 45 will be departmental representatives, from the nine departments in the country, while 210 will be “circunscripciones uninominales.”

Three constituents will be elected to the assembly in each of 70 “circunscripciones uninominales.” The first two of these constituents will be taken from the political party or citizen group that wins the majority, while one will be taken from the party or group coming second, no matter how distant a second.(13) Each departmental race for the assembly will be contesting five seats. The party or group that wins will be able to fill only two of the five spots. The other three will be divided among the next three highest vote-getting parties or groups.

The Constituent Assembly will then convene on August 6, 2006 in Sucre, for no less than six months and no more than one year. The new constitution will require the support of two thirds of the 255 elected constituents. After this, it will face a referendum within the general Bolivian population, requiring 51% approval to pass.

What does the complicated electoral system mean? Even in the essentially impossible event that the MAS won a majority in every “circunscirciones uninominales y departmentales,” it would come out with only 158 of the constituent representatives in the assembly, well short of the 170 needed for a two thirds “imposition” over the minority social bloc. This means in essence that by no stretch of the imagination can there be even meaningful structural reform to the Bolivian state, economy and society through this Constituent Assembly — never mind the revolutionary transformation envisioned by popular social movements at various junctures over the last six years.

The extent to which the spirit of image and symbolism reigns over reality within the MAS administration, however, was expressed vividly in March by vice president García Linera in an interview with Radio Fides. He suggested that it was probable that the Constituent Assembly would change less than 20% of the existing constitution, and that it may end up changing nothing. For him the most important thing is that the indigenous majority in Bolivia will have “participated,” not that they will have actually achieved anything.(14)

There is discussion among various socialist union federations and indigenous organizations of a “parallel” constituent assembly, but the chances of this coming to fruition in a meaningful and successful way are almost zero at this stage.

The law on referendums for “departmental autonomy” stems from Right wing sectors, primarily in Santa Cruz and Tarija, but also from Pando and Beni. The history of regional discontent within the Bolivian state has a long and complex history.  Many observers now agree, however, that this recent wave of demands for autonomy grew out of the loss of control of the central state held during the neoliberal era by part of the Bolivian bourgeoisie, rooted in Santa Cruz and Tarija. A particular fear from the perspective of the popular sectors is that if departmental autonomy is successful it will mean more departmental control — read Right-wing dominance — over natural resources, in particular natural gas, which is primarily to be found in Tarija.

3. The Nationalization of Gas

Bolivia has the largest deposits of natural gas in South America after Venezuela. Petrobras (Brazil), Repsol (Spain), Total (France), and BG and BP of the United Kingdom are the major transnational corporations with interests in the natural gas sector in Bolivia.  Petrobras and Repsol are by far the leading actors, controlling almost 70% of Bolivian gas reserves.

The demand to nationalize the hydrocarbons sector (oil and gas) was the most fundamental of popular aspirations in the last three years of mobilization. On May 1, 2006, Labor Day, Evo Morales announced the nationalization of gas, mobilizing the country’s military and military police forces to occupy all offices, refineries, and gas fields throughout Bolivia. Signs read, “Nacionalizado: Propiedad de los Bolivianos/ Nationalized: Property of Bolivians.” The extent and significance of the reality of this nationalization — as juxtaposed to its image in both the eyes of celebrating radicals and satanizing transnational petroleum corporations and imperialist governments — is still very ambiguous, however.(15)

Without entering into all the details and ambiguities, it makes sense to begin with Supreme Decree 28701, or The Heroes of the Chaco Decree (named after the tens of thousands of overwhelmingly indigenous soldiers who died in the 1930s Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia), which declares the nationalization of gas and details the components of the measure in nine articles.(16) The preamble points out the important fact that, according to the fifth section of article 59 of Bolivia’s Constitution, contracts concerning the exploitation of the country’s national wealth must be authorized and approved by the legislative body of government.(17)

The hydrocarbons sector was privatized by President Sánchez de Lozada in 1996. Between 1997 and 2005, under the conditions of the Capitalization Law, 72 contracts of 20 petroleum companies were entered into illegally because they were never approved by the legislature, but rather by the President alone. The preamble points this out, as if to say to the petroleum companies operating in Bolivia that any negotiations that the Bolivian government embarks on with them from this day forward concerning their current contracts are a favor from the government to the companies because the contracts have no legal standing.(18)

Article One of the Decree includes some powerful wording: “The state reclaims the property, possession and total and absolute control of these resources.” Article Two states that, as of May 1, 2006, all petroleum companies currently active in the production of gas or petroleum within the national territory are obliged to hand over to the property of YPFB — the representative of the Bolivian state — the entire production of hydrocarbons. Article Three gives all petroleum companies currently operating in Bolivia 180 days to sign new contracts with the Bolivian state, to be approved by the legislature as required by the constitution, or cease operations within Bolivia.

Article Four states, “Durante el período de transición/ During the period of transition [my emphasis],” gas fields whose average certified production of natural gas in 2005 was more than 100 million cubic feet daily will be subject to the following tax regime on the value of gas produced: 82% for the state and 18% for the company. This measure will hit the two largest gasfields, San Alberto and San Antonio, currently owned and operated by Petrobras (Brazil), Repsol YPF (Spain), and to a lesser degree Total (France). The smaller camps will continue with the current tax regime of 50% to the company, 50% to the state. Audits conducted through the Ministry of Hydrocarbons and Energy are to serve as guidelines for the new contracts between YPFB and each company over the next 180 days.(19)

Article Five declares that the state will take control and direction of production, transport, refinancing, storage, distribution, marketing, and industrialization of hydrocarbons in the country. The Minister of Hydrocarbons and Energy will be responsible for regulating these activities until new rules are established by law. Article Six dictates that the state will transfer the shares of Bolivian citizens that form part of the Fondo de Capitalización Colectiva (Collective Capitalization Fund, FCC), in the capitalized petroleum companies, Chaco SA, Andina SA, and Transredes SA, to YPFB. Previously, in these cases, “foreign companies had 51% with 49% split between private pension funds and the government, which used the dividends to pay a pension to older Bolivians.”(20) The same article also guarantees the ongoing payment of pensions.(21)

Article Seven, in softer language than other articles, declares that the state will reclaim full participation in the entire production chain in the hydrocarbons sector. It will nationalize the necessary shares to control 51% of Chaco SA, Andina SA, Transredes SA, Petrobras Bolivia Refinación SA and Compañía Logística de Hidrocarburos de Bolivia SA.  Articles Eight and Nine, finally, are rather empty, declaring that in the next 60 days YPFB will be restructured into a transparent and efficient state company under social control.

While some of the general wording of the decree is no doubt very radical in today’s global ideological context, and seems to suggest something approaching a real nationalization of the hydrocarbons industry, the actual operational wording for concrete measures is substantially less radical. Moreover, the theatrical presentation of the nationalization decree by Morales and García Linera played up the radical generalities, misled the public on the interpretation of fundamental measures included in the decree, left ambiguities hanging, and generally avoided most specificities of concrete state action. (It is important to remember that Constituent Assembly elections are fast approaching on July 3; by the end of April polls showed support for Morales had slipped from a high of 80% to 62%.(22))

On the day of the nationalization García Linera made a tremendous deal out of the fact that out of the two largest gas fields — which account for over 70% of production of hydrocarbons in the country — the state will now receive 82% of the value of gas produced through a variety of taxes, while the foreign gas companies will take only 18%. He compared this to the neoliberal era of hated ex-presidents Hugo Banzer, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (Goni), and Jorge (Tuto) Quiroga, under whom the tax regime was precisely the reverse: 18% for the state, and 82% for the companies. In fact, under hydrocarbons Law 3058, passed a year ago under Mesa (and still in effect), the tax regime was changed to 50/50.(23)

From the balcony of the presidential palace on May Day García Linera told the crowds of MAS supporters that this would generate an additional U.S. $320 million for the Bolivian state, Bolivian children, and Bolivian employment in the next year.(24) Subsequently Manuel Morales Olievera, the advisor to the president of YPFB, stated, “On May 1 the [existing] contracts died, and now there are new game rules.”(25) What was not emphasized was that the 82-18% arrangement is a transitory measure. It is meant as a bargaining chip to force the gas companies operating in these large gas fields to enter into new contracts as soon as possible, contracts that are not at all guaranteed to continue under said tax regime.

After the many misleading original statements by the government, official sources over time, in the face of probing questions from the media, have opened up somewhat on the reality of the situation. Far from having “nationalized” hydrocarbons, the decree opens a process of negotiation. MAS deputy Javier Zavaleta, for example, said recently, “the decree will give us an advantage to negotiate.”(26)

Many conservative analysts and business players — whatever the initial berserk posturing in front of the media by industry representatives at the first news of the nationalization — seem to recognize this aspect of the decree. According to The Economist, “One industry source calls the ceremony a ‘pantomime’ to calm the radicals among Mr. Morales’s supporters, and forecasts that the government will offer the companies a 50/50 revenue split.”(27)

Conservative political scientist Fernando Mayorga Urgate, director of the Centro de Estudios Superiores Universitarios (Center for Higher University Studies, CESU) in Cochabamba, told the Argentinian newspaper La Nación, “the discursive rhetoric of Morales is radical, but his decisions are not.” René Mayora, another conservative political scientist based in the Centro Boliviano de Estudios Multidisciplinarios (Bolivian Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, CEBEM) in La Paz, stated, “Morales launched the decree to strengthen his position in the negotiations.”(28)

There are, it seems — having reviewed two weeks worth of analyses since the decree was passed — really only two limited areas in which it is clear that some form of “nationalization” will take place. First, the gas refineries of Gualberto Villarroel in Cochabamba, and Guillermo Elder Bell in Santa Cruz, owned and operated by Petrobras since 1999, will be brought under state control. The state will buy 51% of shares at market value. This is part of what is being referred to in Article Seven. Having 51% control of refineries and storage facilities is what the government appears to be referring to when they say that YPFB will have total control of production of gas in Bolivia.

Second, the Decree dictates, in Article Six, the increase to 51% of the state’s controlling shares in the “capitalized” gas companies of Chaco SA, Andina SA, and Transredes SA.  Bolivian citizens already own up to 49% of shares in these companies, regulated through the Collective Capitalization Fund (FCC), so in accordance with the decree the state will transfer shares from the FCC to YPFB and likely (it is not entirely clear) buy the necessary shares — from 3-17% depending on the capitalized company — to raise the state presence to 51%. It is important to note that together these companies control only 9.7% of the reserves of natural gas in Bolivia, and 9.8% of the less-important reserves of oil.(29)

In addition, there are technical and juridical tensions and contradictions between some aspects of the decree and the hydrocarbons Law 3058 which remains in place.(30) In the words of one neoliberal journalist, “A decree cannot change a law,” and so no one really knows the consequences of certain aspects of this decree which run counter to the existing law.(31) Economists from the La Paz-based Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo Laboral y Agrario (CEDLA), draw the following conclusions: “…the state will not become the principal agent in the sector. The transnational corporations will continue fundamentally defining the rhythm and direction of the Bolivian hydrocarbons chain…. the deposits, the infrastructure, the equipment, etc., will continue under their control.”(32)

This is not to suggest the struggle for the nationalization of hydrocarbons is over, or that the popular sectors have lost entirely. It is, however, to point out the mystification perpetrated by the MAS administration with regard to certain respects of their nationalization decree, and the severe limitations that “nationalization” will run up against in its current form.

Still, the political idea of nationalizing natural resources and placing them under social control is once again on the agenda of many social movements throughout Latin America — something unimaginable only ten years ago. The immediate hysterical reaction by far right business groups and political organizations, both locally and in the imperial countries that host the largest transnational gas corporations, are spawning a renewed polarization within Bolivian society. This may once again radicalize the popular sectors into not simply defending the seriously flawed decree and nationalization process to date, but towards pushing the process at least moderately toward actual nationalization, or closer to the real demands of the last six years of massive mobilization.

4. Labor Market, Mining and Land Reform

One fundamental function of the state under capitalism is to “reproduce the conditions for accumulation through the application of economic policies that guarantee the optimization of profits obtained by corporations.”(33) In the first 100 days of the MAS administration the state has played this role quite consistently in the realm of economic policy, relying on much of the financial neoliberal policy apparatus it inherited.

This is evidenced by the fact that the MAS administration has officially reconfirmed the central, independent, and allegedly neutral role of the Banco Central de Bolivia (Bolivian Central Bank, BCB) in managing macroeconomic policy.  The government has agreed with the bank to maintain a regime of fiscal austerity, pledging, for example, that the fiscal deficit will not exceed 3.2% this year, while inflation will be kept below 4%.(34) The financial press reported in early May “a surprise visit” by President Morales to the headquarters of the Association of Private Banks of Bolivia, where he was quoted as asking this body for meetings “to make their proposals known and to make adjustments, with the sole purpose of looking after economic stability.”(35)

According to CEDLA economists, by forfeiting control of financial policy to the Central Bank and committing to a macroeconomic program of austerity rooted in the basic principles of the inherited neoliberal model, the state has been prevented from “assuming discretional measures to stimulate economic activity and to affect (or privilege) specific classes of class fractions. In this way, the supposed neutrality of economic policy guarantees the predominance of the largest capitalists, obliging the state, on the contrary, to strictly cover those obligations which favor private investment and the reproduction of the labor force without significantly affecting corporate profits.”(36)

In an April BCB report, the bank made public its very positive assessment of the first three months of the MAS administration, especially with regard to its control of inflation. The BCB report also made clear the bank’s recommendations for only moderate increases in salaries in the public sector and ongoing austere control of public spending.(37)

Following this news, it quickly became evident through public government announcements and private leaks from government insiders that there would be no minimum salary increase from 440 to 880 bolivianos per month.(38) The actual measure eventually taken by the government, buried in the wake of the nationalization decree, was a paltry increase of 13.63%.(39)  With regard to the merely symbolic increase, CEDLA economists write “that the government of the MAS, in form, is a ‘government of the poor,’ but that in substance it is closer to the capitalists.”(40)

Official projections for 2006 put the urban unemployment rate at 11.8% (of the economically active population), a slight increase over last year’s 11.7%. This is paired with a projection of 3.87% growth in gross domestic product (GDP) this year. In absolute terms, this means that roughly 315,000 people will form part of the reserve army of unemployed in Bolivia’s cities, as compared to closer to 306,000 last year.(41)

Demands for quality jobs and job stability have been a steady feature in protests over the last six years, indeed throughout the Republic’s history. But the expectations were especially high with the electoral victory of the MAS, given that the party’s discourse places it squarely on the side of workers, poor and landless peasants, and the oppressed indigenous nations of the country.

In April, with much fanfare, Morales’ administration announced the government job creation plan PROPAIS (Program Against Poverty and for Social Investment), which according to government officials will create 100,000 jobs in the next two years, using $47 million of international aid. The government successfully prolonged the old temporary work plan, PLANE (National Plan for Emergency Employment), whose financing was set to run out on December 31, 2005, obtaining funding for a few months longer.

Together with PLANE and eventually replacing it, PROPAIS is publicized as the new government job program.(42) Like its predecessor, however, PROPAIS is much more a temporary band-aid for emergency poverty alleviation than a development program destined to create stable employment.

The program is designed to assist impoverished indigenous community and neighborhood organizations in the completion of specific small projects over a limited, set period. The cost of the projects cannot exceed $20 million, they must be simple in terms of design and execution, and their execution must take no longer than three months, among other specifications.(43) In short, like the unsuccessful, targeted anti-poverty programs of the “second generation” neoliberal reforms practiced throughout the third world in the 1990s, PROPAIS represents a temporary work project for the desperately poor which tackles none of the structural causes of unemployment.

Now, how deep is the administration’s commitment to job stability? On May 3, 2006 Vice President García Linera announced publicly the government’s new Decree 28699, which repealed Article 55 of Decree 21060. The latter decree is infamous in Bolivia. Any Bolivian person on the street would simply refer to it as “twenty-one-zero-sixty,” and unless they were white men dressed in suits walking the streets of the southern zone of La Paz, or sitting in the offices of the financial high rises of Santa Cruz, they would probably spit out the words bitterly, and with good reason.

Decree 21060 initiated the New Political Economy (NPE), or radical neoliberal economic restructuring of Bolivia in 1985. Article 55 facilitated the hiring and firing of workers by employers with an ease that provided no job stability for workers. With the abolition of this article from 21060, the MAS administration promised more job stability for workers, though they were clear, at the same time, that the measure would not hurt employers.

In the words of Labor Minister Álex Gálvez, “I see it as bigger responsibilities for everyone… better salaries, better work, but we have to bet on everyone. A worker demands that his rights are established, and for that he has to fulfill his obligations. When both things are in equilibrium, things are good.  We want to establish a compromise for everyone.”(44)

At least two problems are evident in the MAS promise of employment stability. To begin with, even if we restrict ourselves to the confines of bourgeois law, the new decree does not eliminate the problem of “labor flexibility.” While it eliminates the offensive article 55 from 21060, it continues to appeal to the ongoing validity of the Ley General de Trabajo (General Labor Law, LGT). The LGT also guarantees “labor flexibility,” and, as a law, enjoys a judicially superior rank in relation to the simple decree 21060.(45)

Second and far more important, without addressing the entire neoliberal model introduced with 21060 — market liberalization, unlimited opening of the Bolivian economy to the world market and foreign investment, and the privatization of public enterprises — the structural causes of the precariousness of employment in the current conjuncture will obviously not go away.(46)

Shifting from the labor market, more limitations in the MAS administration’s approach to political economy are revealed in the mining sector. In its electoral platform of December 2005, the party proposed the rehabilitation of the Corporación Minera de Bolivia (Bolivian Mining Corporation, COMIBOL), and the nationalization of the mines.(47)  This seems increasingly less likely as the MAS government fosters new “shared risk” contracts between transnational mining corporations and the privileged sectors of the cooperative mining sector.

The mining industry is essentially divided into two sets of workers. The first, organized through the Federación Sindical de Trabajadores Mineros de Bolivia (Mining Workers Union Federation, FSTMB), are employed by the state mining company COMIBOL. The second set are self-employed cooperative miners organized through Federación Nacional de Cooperativas mineras de Bolivia (National Federation of Cooperative Miners of Bolivia, FENCOMIN). Many of the cooperative miners barely subsist and engage in intense self-exploitation in order to survive, while a privileged sector of the cooperative miners does much better.

It is this latter sector which is represented by the MAS through the Ministry of Mining and Metallurgy. The privileged cooperative miners are attempting to influence the party into facilitating shared risk contracts between cooperativistas and transnational mining companies. They are also trying to expand their activities through the takeover of mines currently operated by COMIBOL, such as Huanuni, Caracollo, Barrosquira, Telamayu and Colquiri. These takeovers and the politics of the cooperative miners are being resisted by the FSTMB miners, who are demanding that COMIBOL be restored to its former status as an important state enterprise.(48)

The case of the massive iron deposit, Mutún, is an important example of the politics of the mining industry under the MAS. The MAS administration famously threw out the Brazilian transnational EBX for violating environmental law as well as the Bolivian constitution in its operations. This was interpreted by many as a significant measure by the state against transnational capital. On the other hand, the new bidding process that has commenced will see new transnational capital enter into Mutún, such that it is likely to control the major part of iron exploitation, concentration, refinancing, and development.

Moreover, after rumors spread of a MAS plan to nationalize the mining industry, the government deployed an array of representatives to deny that this was in their plans.(49) It is therefore fairly clear that COMIBOL will not be restructured into a serious state company which controls the mining industry, and that Bolivia will likely remain trapped in the export of raw minerals, without industrialization, and under the control of transnational corporations.

Finally it’s important to address, if only briefly, the question of land. The debate around land reform and what form it will take has become the most heated point of contention in Bolivia, after gas, in the last month. Rumors and threats have proliferated, with various Right-wing, large-landholding organizations rooted in the departments of Santa Cruz, Pando, and Beni threatening to take up arms against any state action which threatens their interests.(50)

The discourse from the government has been typically two-sided. Morales, together with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Cuban vice president Carlos Lage at the Alternative Forum in Vienna, announced that he was not merely preparing an agrarian reform for Bolivian peasants, but indeed “an agrarian revolution.”(51) Government officials at home were more sober and reassuring to large landholders.

García Linera noted that, “We are looking for a process of dialogue and negotiation…. We’re going to talk with business people, with the agro-industrialists; we’re going to talk with loggers; we’re going to talk with peasants, with indigenous people, with every social sector involved in the question of land.”(52) Looking at the question from all vantage points, for a period of two or three months, the government says it will then come to fundamental decisions.

What is clear is that “an agrarian revolution,” in the true sense of the phrase, is fundamentally necessary in Bolivia. At the national level, large and medium landholders possess 90% of usable land, whereas community and small-scale producers (90% of the population engaged in agricultural activities) possess the remaining 10% of land. Land is most concentrated in the department of Santa Cruz, but distribution is also terrible in Beni and Pando. Five families alone own over 505,000 hectares of land, for example, set against a backdrop of growing numbers of landless peasants, some of whom have organized themselves into the Movimiento Sin Tierra (Landless Movement, MST).(53)

In 1953 there was a large-scale land reform following on the heels of the National Revolution in 1952; however, it did not affect the eastern part of the country, which eventually became the stronghold for a new large-landholding class. In 1996, under Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, the government created the Ley del Instituto Nacional de Reforma Agraria (Law of the National Institute of Agrarian Reform, INRA), ostensibly to redistribute land from large estates to the landless that was not serving its socially productive function, a measure that accorded with the Bolivian constitution.(54)

Initially, 60-65 million hectares of Bolivia’s land was to be investigated so as to determine what could be expropriated by the state for the purposes of redistribution. The area under investigation was extended to 107 million hectares in 2002. The process, including quite large scale distribution of land, was supposed to take ten years, terminating in 2006 — but incredible levels of corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and above all, fear of confronting the landholding class, meant that as of this year, six months before the scheduled closure of the INRA process, only 9% of the land scheduled for investigation has been investigated; and 6.5 million hectares of this 9% has been recognized as Communitarian Land of Origin (TOC), or indigenous community land.(55)

Part of the travesty of this process was that the law allowed for landowners to pay a miniscule tax on vacant land which, if paid consistently, was sufficient to determine that land was being “productively” utilized. This obviously ran counter to the spirit of the constitution.

With the election of the MAS, land reform was placed squarely back on the political agenda. While we will not know the outcome of the land reform decisions of the current government for at least two to three months, there are already clear indications of the limits to the “agrarian revolution.” First, despite the egregious distribution of land that currently exists in the country, the expropriation of large estates that are deemed productive is not being considered whatsoever. The sanctity of private property, in this respect, will be preserved.

According to the MAS plan there are three legitimate agrarian sectors which deserve state support: (i) large-scale, agro-industrial exporters; (ii) small-scale family peasant production, partially for the market and partially for subsistence; and (iii) communal indigenous landholdings. The party is avidly promoting the fantastic delusion that all three can go forth in harmony, as though there are no distinct, sharp divisions of class interests between these sectors which have and will spill over into class struggle.(56)

An unwillingness to confront the large landholders is the major reason the initial INRA process was such an abominable failure. There are clear indications of such a mindset persisting, as the MAS government — or at least important currents within it — goes out of its way to reassure that the interests of all sides will be taken into account.

There are five important progressive possibilities within this new process, however. First, the government is proposing to eliminate the component of the INRA law that allowed the payment of taxes to stand in as legitimate proof of productive use of the land. This means redistribution of unproductive land might actually occur. Second, the government is proposing fairly concrete mechanisms to speed up the bureaucratic assessment of land; this also increases the chance that more significant redistribution might take place. Third, the government announced that there will be an immediate distribution of two to 4.5 million hectares of land to landless peasants and indigenous communities once the proposals of the government are made public officially. This represents a small but important immediate reform.

Fourth, the government’s proposal includes feminist content, ensuring that (a) women-headed households will be given priority, and guaranteed participation, in the process of land reform, and that (b) in recognition of customary traditions in the countryside in which women and men live together and form families without ever marrying, any land title granted will go to both, rather than to the man. Fifth, as with the other reforms being discussed by the government, the greatest prospect for fundamental change is that relevant social movements reassert their autonomy from the ruling party and push the reform process well out of the limited parameters within which the party continues to operate.

5. Regional Politics: Cuba and Venezuela

The idea that Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez is responsible for the horrors that the bourgeoisie is facing in Bolivia currently is a primary staple in the rhetorical diet of Bolivian far-Right analysts and politicians alike. Apart from disguising the significance of the massive social movements of the last six years – the real origins of the crisis of the neoliberal model within the Bolivian state – the anti-Chávez, and to a lesser degree anti-Castro, rhetoric unveils a certain level of desperation on the part of the old ruling class, who have no alternative to neoliberalism and yet know they cannot openly fight for a return to that exhausted model.

I have attempted here to illustrate the contradictions of the Bolivian process. In Chile, Bachelet is in charge of a neoliberal “socialist” government. Kirchner in Argentina and Vasquéz in Uruguay are distant from socialist politics. Lula’s Brazil is more neoliberal than his predecessors, and the country continues to play a sub-imperialist role in the continent. Colombia is run by the far-Right Uribe. The future of the Left is uncertain in Mexico, and even more so in Central America.

Imperialist threats from the United States, the European Union (especially Spain), transnational corporations, international financial institutions (World Bank, Interamerican Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, and so on) persist as serious exterior obstacles to domestic transformation within Bolivia. All the same, however tenuous and underdeveloped it remains thus far, the possibility of a regional counter-hegemonic bloc is an important long-term prerequisite for a Latin America in which the people can indeed determine their own popular sovereignty.(57)

6. Social Movement-State Relations

Bolivians find themselves in a terribly important historical juncture, and if there’s any common thread to discussion in the street, television, radio, bars, cafés, restaurants, jungles, and countryside, it’s the complexity of the present moment. It is with maximum humility that I point to two vague possible futures, and then conclude with what I have witnessed in the social movements and the MAS as a party in the last months.

First, the current conjuncture could lead toward a new social pact between the old domestic ruling class and imperialist forces in their various guises and the new state bureaucracy occupied by the MAS.(58) Such an outcome would require sufficient levels of reform to achieve the temporary quiescence of the masses, while at the same time avoiding a level of reform which would lead to reaction from the Right, and a new cycle of crisis and instability. Morales, as an indigenous president and ex-cocalero leader, may have sufficient political capital — legitimacy within the popular classes and indigenous organizations — to facilitate such an outcome.

Because this conclusion would not challenge the fundamental class strongholds in the urban and rural economies of transnational capital and their domestic allies it could lay the basis for fundamental counter-reform over the long term. These reactionary forces – currently ideologically and politically fragmented – would over time be able to reorganize politically and socially. We should remember that the far more radical reforms initiated by the Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement, MNR) following the 1952 Revolution were nonetheless overturned by the far Right in a military coup in 1964, in part because the revolution never evolved from Left-populist to genuinely socialist and indigenous-liberationist.

A second exit to the current conjuncture might be that the country polarizes once again in dramatic ways, that social movements obtain some autonomy, at least from the less radical wings of the MAS, and that the Left-indigenous forces of the country are once again pitted in open confrontation against the Right social forces. In such a process, reforms might become increasingly broad, and revolutionary possibilities increasingly plausible. Such a virtuous circle of momentum might inspire the masses to take the situation into their own hands, to takeover large landholdings in the countryside and workplaces and communities in the cities.

The present picture is muddy, and the two possibilities are real possibilities; however, the first road seems a more likely one at the moment, at least based on the necessarily hasty and incomplete analysis offered in the sections above. The most decisive organizational sign is the way in which the MAS has interacted with the social movements.

The MAS has organized and institutionalized a body which it calls Estado Mayor del Pueblo (The Peoples’ High Command, EMP), led by Hugo Moldíz and Román Loayza. The role of the EMP has been to variously co-opt, negotiate and/or intimidate would be Leftist opponents of the MAS within civil society. As part of a more general strategy of co-optation on the part of the party, the EMP has had remarkable success.  There is almost no visible, organized, and effective opposition to the Left of the MAS at the moment. Key social movement leaders during the last several years of mobilization have been co-opted by the party.

Abel Mamani, leader of the Federation of Neighborhood Associations of El Alto, was made Minister of Water, for example. FEJUVE’s bases were angered by the appointment, which was not orchestrated through the assembly-style democracy that the organization practices, but instead by simple state appointment without consultation. FEJUVE is, organizationally, in a state of serious disarray, lacking virtually any political direction. The state also attempted to co-opt the most important social movement leader in Cochabamba, Oscar Olivera, by offering him various ministerial positions. However, he was one of the few to turn down such offers.

The Central Obrera Boliviana (Bolivian Workers’ Central, COB) is probably in its weakest moment in its tremendously radical history. Devastated by the privatization of the tin mines in 1985, the COB has deteriorated even further since.  The CSUTB, the main peasant federation and most important social movement organization of the radicalized Aymara indigenous population of the altiplano, is also in a state of flux. The most important indigenous leader — apart from Morales — in recent years, Felipe Quispe (or “Mallku”), has resigned from the leadership of the CSUTCB after having first taken up that position in 1998. He led the CSUTCB into repeated and prolonged confrontations with the state that were fundamental to the recent revolutionary cycle.

The leadership of CSUTCB is now held by loyal masista, Isaac Ávalos. The radical Landless Movement (MST) also recently expelled from its leadership Ángel Durán, for various charges of corruption. The predictable result has been internal fragmentation within the movement.

One does not have to search far for popular meetings in which the speed and depth of MAS reforms is criticized from the Left, but organized articulation of this sentiment is basically non-existent.(59) On the other hand, only in the middle of May, there has been more public, if still nascent, dissent from Leftist ranks within the MAS, which if it grows will surely have some impact on the Left in society more generally.(60)

By way of conclusion, then, the current situation is profoundly complex and unstable. I have tried to flesh out certain patterns and trends, to focus on distinctions between image and reality, especially in the realm of political economy. The near future is uncertain, however. The medium- and longer-term trajectories are more so. Events could explode and take new directions quickly, as has happened so many times in Bolivia’s history. On the other hand, this latest visit to Bolivia has been, without doubt, my quietest in the last six years.


  1. Goni now lives comfortably in exile in Washington, D.C., although there are ongoing efforts to bring him, as well as his closest cronies also in exile, back to Bolivia to face trial for their crimes.
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  2. It is widely held in the Bolivian literature that the latest waves of social movements represented a revolutionary challenge to the social order in Bolivia.  For coverage and analysis of the cycle of protests see Raquel Gutiérrez, Álvaro García Linera, Raúl Prada, Luis Tapia, eds., El retorno de la Bolivia plebeya (2000), Tiempos de rebelión (2001), and Democratizaciones plebeyas (2002); also see Álvaro García Linera, Luis Tapia, and Raúl Prada, eds., Memorias de octubre (2004), and Álvaro García Linera, Luis Tapia, Oscar Vega, and Raúl Prada,eds., Horizontes y límites del estado y el poder (2005); Álvaro García Linera, Marxa Chávez León and Patricia Costas Monje (2005, segunda edición) Sociología de los movimientos sociales en Bolivia: estructuras de movilización, repertorios culturales y acción política; Forrest Hylton, Felix Patzi, Sergio Serulnikov, Sinclair Thomson, eds., Ya es otro tiempo el presente: cuatro momentos de insurgencia indígena (2005, segunda edición), Pablo Mamani Ramírez El Rugir de las multitudes (2004), Geopolítica Indígenas (2005), and Microgobiernos barriales: Levantamiento de la ciudad de El Alto (Octubre 2003) (2005); Luis A. Gómez, El Alto de pie: una insurrección aymara en Bolivia (2004); Lina Britto, Lucila Choque, and Forrest Hylton, eds, La Guerra del Gas: contada desde las mujeres (2005); Raúl Zibechi, Dispersar el poder: Los movimientos como poderes antiestatales (2006); Beimar Josué Montoya Villa and Rosa Rojas García, El despertar de un pueblo oprimido: estructuras de movilización y construcciones discursivas en la ciudad de El Alto, en el mes de Octubre de 2003 (2004); Raúl Prada Alcoreza, Largo octubre (2004); Edgar Ramos Andrade, Agonía y rebelión social: 543 motivos de justicia urgente (2004); Mirko Orgáz García, La guerra del gas (2004, tercera edición).  In English there are a growing number of sources: Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson (2005), “The Chequered Rainbow,” New Left Review 35 (Sept-Oct): 41-64; Oscar Olivera (with Tom Lewis) (2004), ¡Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia; John Crabtree (2005) Patterns of Protest: Politics and Social Movements in Bolivia; Thomas Perreault (2006), “From the Guerra Del Agua to the Guerra Del Gas: Resource Governance, Neoliberalism and Popular Protest in Bolivia,” Antipode; and Benjamin Kohl (2006), “Challenges to Neoliberal Hegemony in Bolivia,” Antipode.  Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson have a book on the movements forthcoming with Verso.  My own writings on the issues have appeared mainly in New Socialist, Against the Current, International Viewpoint, Znet, Counterpunch, and Monthly Review over the last two years.
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  3. Álvaro García Linera, “El capitalismo andino-amazónico,” en Le Monde Diplomatique, Edición boliviana, Enero de 2006.  García Linera does not himself use the term “national bourgeoisie,” but what he is talking about has traditionally been understood as such.
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  4. Álvaro García Linera, “El Evismo: Lo nacional-popular en acción,” en El Juguete Rabioso, abril 2 de 2006.
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  5. Lorgio Orellana Aillón, Nacionalismo, populismo y régimen de acumulación en Bolivia: Hacia una caracterización del gobierno de Evo Morales.  Documentos de Coyuntura, No. 11, Centro de estudios para el desarrollo laboral y agrario (CEDLA), marzo de 2006.
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  6. Ibid., 25.
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  7. Aresenio Álvarez, “El patrimonio de los ministros de Evo,” en El Juguete Rabioso, febrero 12 de 2006.
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  8. My account of the trajectory of MAS has relied in part on the following sources: Shirly Orozco Ramírez, “Historia del Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS): Trayectoria política e ideológica,” en Barataria, marzo- abril de 2005: 16-22; Pablo Stefanoni, “MAS-IPSP: la emergencia del nacionalismo plebeyo,” en Observatario Social de América Latina (OSAL), Año IV, No. 12, septiembre-diciembre de 2003: 57-68; Lorgio Orellana Aillón, Nacionalismo, populismo y régimen de acumulación en Bolivia; also of interest is the neoliberal, journalistic perspective of Fernando Molina, Evo Morales y el retorno de la izquierda nacionalista: Trayectoria de las ideologías antiliberales a través de la historia contemporánea de Bolivia, 2006; the generally well-informed and empirically rigorous, but also ideologically quite masista, sociologists-journalists Pablo Stefanoni and Hervé Do Alto, Argentinian and French respectively, have a forthcoming book, Evo Morales, de la coca al Palacio: Una oportunidad para la izquirda indígena (due out at the end of May, 2006).
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  9. For two recent articles which touch on the various manifestations of the Constituent Assembly demand in recent Bolivian history see, René Orellana H., “Asamblea Constituyente: Inventorio de propuestas campesino-indígenas, sus características y procedimientos,” en Rubén Vargas, coord., Participación Política, Democracia y Movimientos Indígenas en Los Andes (Lima: Instituto Franceés de Estudios Andinos, IFEA), 2005: 53-81; and Pablo Regalsky, “Bolivia indígena y campesina: una larga marcha para liberar sus territorios y un contexto para el gobierno de Evo Morales,” en Herramienta: Revista de debate y crítica marxista No. 31, marzo de 2006. Also see the special issue of the Bolivian journal Barataria on the theme of autonomies in Bolivia, Año 1, No. 3, agosto-octubre, 2005; and José Luis Martínez and Pablo Stefanoni, Movimientos sociales y asamblea constituyente. No. 3, Cuardernos de Pulso para la Asamblea Constituyente,  2005.
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  10. Raúl Prada, “De la Constituyente a la Desconstituyente: Un proceso histórico a punto de frustrarse,” en El Juguete Rabioso, 19 de marzo de 2006.
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  11. Oscar Olivera (with Tom Lewis), ¡Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia (Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press),  2004: 136-137, 139.
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  12. Ibid., 136.
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  13. However, a group or political party must win over 5% of the popular vote in order to have a representative elected.
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  14. My analysis of the Constituent Assembly has relied on the following sources: Miguel Lora, “La Asamblea constituyente no irá más allá de la reforma,” en El Juguete Rabioso, 19 de marzo de 2006; Raúl Prada, “De la Constituyente a la Desconstituyente: Un proceso histórico a punto de frustrarse,” en El Juguete Rabioso, 19 de marzo de 2006; Miguel Lora, “Los duelos regionales para la constituyente,” en El Juguete Rabioso, 23 de abril de 2006; “Las claves para saber qué es y qué hará la Asamblea Constituyente,” en La Razón, 16 de abril de 2006; “Mirando otras constituyentes,” en La Prensa, 21 de abril de 2006; “García Linera advierte que la Constituyente puede fracasar,” en La Prensa, 20 de abril de 2006; and Pablo Regalsky, “¿Autonomías departamentales? Territorios indígenas originarios campesinos y democracia municipal,” en Bolpress, 4 de marzo de 2006.
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  15. For my immediate reaction to the measure, and a description of the political theatrics, see Jeffery R. Webber, “Bolivia’s Historic May Day: The Nationalization of Gas,” Counterpunch, May 3, 2006. For photos and description of the mobilization of the military see the following: “Militarizan campos petroleros,” La Prensa, 2 de mayo de 2006; “Evo nacionaliza el gas y el petróleo,” La Prensa, 2 de mayo de 2006; “FFAA controlan los campos petroleros,” La Prensa, 2 de mayo de 2006; “Evo guardó el decreto, sorprendió y se movilizó para desatar una fiesta popular,” La Razón 2 de mayo de 2006; “Las refinerías pierden el 51% de sus acciones,” La Razón, 2 de mayo de 2006.  One hostile reporter described the day’s events as follows: “As political theatre goes, it was pure agitprop.  Evo Morales chose May 1st, his hundredth day in offrice as Bolivia’s president, to lead troops into his country’s biggest natural-gas field, operated by Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras.  Wearing an oilworkers’s hard hat, he read out a nine-point decree under which the Bolivian state proclaimed its control of the country’s oil and gas industry. ‘The plunder has ended,’ Mr. Morales, a socialist of indigenous descent, declared,” in “Now it’s the people’s gas,” The Economist, May 4th, 2006.
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  16. Gaceta Oficial de Bolivia, Decreto Supremo 28701, Evo Morales Ayma, Presidente Constitucional de la República, Héroes del Chaco.
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  17. This legal criteria was reiterated in Constitutional Tribunal judgment No. 00 19/ 2005, March 7, 2005.
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  18. When Morales pointed this out to the press at the Fourth Summit of the European Union, Latin America, and the Caribbean in Vienna this month, petroleum companies erupted in what can only be described as spasms of fury.  That the law should apply to them!  The audacity of this third world Indian. See, “Morales desata la indignación de Brasil y de la empresa Petrobras,” La Razón, 12 de mayo de 2006.
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  19. A central justification for the militarization of the offices, refineries, gas fields, etc., was to prevent employees of the transnational petroleum companies from destroying or leaving with documentation required for the audits.
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  20. “Now it’s the people’s gas.”
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  21. For one report which “explains” how no one knows how this will work, see “Acciones de tres petroleras pasan a control de YPFB,” La Prensa, 2 de mayo de 2006.
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  22. “El respaldo del eje troncal a Evo Morales baja de 80 a 62%,” La Razón, 29 de abril de 2006.
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  23. Far from meeting the demands for nationalization without compensation emanating from the streets, Mesa’s announcement of Law 3058 set off the Second Gas War of May-June 2005, which eventually forced his resignation.
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  24. “San Alberto y Sábalo tributarán el 82%,” La Prensa, 2 de Mayo de 2006.
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  25. Quoted in, Abdel Padilla, “El tsunami del gas: El impacto político de la nacionalización,” en El Pulso, 5 al 11 de Mayo de 2006.
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  26. Ibid
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  27. .

  28. “Now it’s the people’s gas.”
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  29. Both quoted in “El tsunami del gas.”
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  30. CEDLA, Legitimando el orden neoliberal: 100 días de Evo Morales.  Documentos de Coyuntura, No.12., La Paz: centro de estudios para el desarrollo laboral y agrario, Mayo de 2006, 6.
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  31. Ibid., p.5. CEDLA economists guess that contradictory, general aspects of the decree will be diluted in favor of Law 3058.  This appears to be clear according to the law, as expressed in an interview with current superintendent of hydrocarbons, Víctor Hugo Sainz, in which he states, “Laws have priority over decrees, and these [decrees] over administrative resolutions.” He goes on to say that if there are differences between the nationalization decree and the existing hydrocarbons law, appeal can be made to the hierarchy of these procedures as indicated in the constitution. See “Las 25 dudas sobre la nacionalización del gas,” La Prensa, 7 de Mayo de 2006.
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  32. Fernando Molina, “Un decreto en alta mar: La nacionalización choca con el viejo ordenamiento jurídico,” en El Pulso, 12 al 18 de Mayo de 2006.
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  33. Legitimando el orden neoliberal., 6.
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  34. Ibid., 3.
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  35. “Entrevista, ‘El BCB tiene $US 2.200 millones en reservas,’ Luis Arce Catacora, ministro de Hacienda habla sobre el buen momento por el que pasan las cuentas fiscales del país y sobre sus perspectivas,” La Razón, 7 de Mayo de 2006.
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  36. “Evo garantiza estabilidad y recibe respaldo de la banca,” La Prensa, 10 de Mayo de 2006.
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  37. Legitimando el orden neoliberal, 3.
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  38. Banco Central de Bolivia. Informe de Política Monetaria. La Paz, abril de 2006, cited in Legitimando el orden neoliberal., p. 4. Also see, “El BCB sugiere que haya un aumento salarial moderado,” La Razón, 13 de abril de 2006.
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  39. “El tope técnico para el aumento salarial es 20%,” La Razón, 30 de abril de 2006.
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  40. “Expectativa por el salario,” La Razón, 4 de Mayo de 2006.
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  41. Legitimando el orden neoliberal., 4.
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  42. “100 días de espera, el cambi no llega: el desempleo y las malas condiciones de trabajo mantendrán,” alerta laboral, La Paz: CEDLA, Mayo de 2006.
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  43. “Evo crea el Propaís para generar 100 mil empleos,” La Razón, 12 de abril de 2006.
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  44. “100 días de espera, el cambio no llega.”
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  45. “Álex Gálvez, Ministro de Trabajo: ‘Un decreto devolverá estabilidad laboral a los trabajadores,'” La Prensa, 30 de abril de 2006. Also see, “Los contratos comerciales y civiles ya no son válidos,” La Razón, 4 de Mayo de 2006; “El gobierno explica cómo evitará los contratos ilegales,” La Razón, 5 de Mayo de 2006; “Nadie demandó la nulidad del artículo 55 del Decreto 21060,” La Prensa, 30 de abril de 2006; and “Empresarios en contra de la derogación del Decreto 21060,” La Prensa, 19 de abril de 2006.
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  46. Legitimando el orden neoliberal., 12.
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  47. “100 días de espera, el cambio no llega.”
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  48. CEDLA, “La refundación de COMIBOL se aleja cada vez más: se Mantendrán los contratos de riesgo compartido,” alerta laboral, La Paz: CEDLA, Mayo de 2006.
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  49. “Cooperativistas y asalariados libran una batalla por Huanuni,” La Razón, 7 de Mayo de 2006; and “Mineros y autoridades se reúnen para tratar problema de Huanuni,” La Prensa, 10 de Mayo de 2006.
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  50. Marthadina Mendizábal Rivera, “EBX: El costo del mal desarrollo,” La Prensa, 13 de Mayo de 2006; José Guillermo Tórrez G.O., “La licitación del Mutún,” La Prensa, 13 de Mayo de 2006; “Quien se adjudique el Mutún tendrá exclusividad por 20 años,” La Prensa, 9 de Mayo de 2006; “El gobierno asegura que adjudicará el Mutún en mayo,” La Prensa, 14 de Mayo de 2006; “El gobierno propone generar una minería de pequeña escala,” La Razón, 16 de abril de 2006; “Celinda Sosa Lulnda: ‘Las empresas deben responder a las exigencias del Estado,'” La Prensa, 23 de abril de 2006; “El gobierno se desdice y aclara que no nacionalizará una mina,” La Razón, 26 de abril de 2006; “El gobierno deja a la empresa EBX fuera del proyecto Mutún,” La Razón 27 de abril de 2006; “EBX le pide a Lula interceder por su proyecto siderúrgico en Bolivia,” La Razón, 29 de abril de 2006; “Los mineros se enfrentan de nuevo por Huanuni,” La Razón, 29 de abril de 2006; “Interezadas en el Mutún rechazan plan del Gobierno,” La Prensa, 29 de abril de 2006; “Un juez ordena allanar EBX y militares custodian la zona,” La Prensa, 30 de abril de 2006; “Mineras caen en bolsas por temor a la nacionalización,” La Prensa, 3 de Mayo de 2006; “El caso EBX provoca un enfrentamiento entre dos comunas,” La Razón, 4 de Mayo de 2006; and “Las mineras de EEUU no se nacionalizarán,” La Razón, 5 de Mayo de 2006.
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  51. On the growing debates around land see the following: “El gobierna anuncia una redistribución de tierra,” La Prensa, 5 de mayo de 2006; “Evo alista una nueva reforma agraria,” La Prensa, 8 de Mayo de 2006; “Santa Cruz se anticipa con un plan de tierras para su gente,” La Razón, 9 de Mayo de 2006; “Dotarán 14 millones de hectáreas,” La Prensa, 9 de Mayo de 2006; “Evo le dice a Santa Cruz que el Estado define el tema tierra,” La Razón, 10 de Mayo de 2006; “La confiscación de tierras en Venezuela,” La Prensa, 10 de Mayo de 2006; “Para el Gobierno, el plan cruceño e ilegal,” La Prensa, 10 de Mayo de 2006; “Empresarios de Santa Cruz están alarmados por la tierra,” La Prensa, 11 de Mayo de 2006; “Costas escucha a la CAO y convoca a comisión agraria,” La Prensa, 12 de Mayo de 2006; “La CAO y la Anapo piden al Prefecto diálago por tierra,” La Razón, 12 de Mayo de 2006; “La Prefectura cruceño convoca a diseñar propuesta sobre tierras,” La Prensa, 13 de Mayo de 2006; “A partir del martes el Gobierno concertará su política de tierras,” La Razón, 15 de Mayo de 2006; and “Gobierno ampliará plazo para sanear las tierras,” La Prensa, 16 de Mayo de 2006.
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  52. Quoted in “La anticumbre fue otra palestra,” La Prensa, 14 de Mayo de 2006.
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  53. “Agenda abierta al diálago,” La Prensa, 17 de Mayo de 2006.
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  54. Miguel Lora, “El plan tierra del gobierno respetará el latifundio productivo,” El Juguete Rabioso, 14 de Mayo de 2006.
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  55. In fact, Lora argues, the constitution dictates that any large estate is illegal, whether productive or not. Ibid.
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  56. Ibid.
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  57. “El Estado promoverá desarrollo de tres ‘plataformas’ agrarias,” La Prensa, 17 de Mayo de 2006.
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  58. For coverage of the relationship between Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia see the following: Miguel Lora, “Evo, Fidel y Hugo Chávez, el Alba y el TCP para integrar la patria Latinoamerican,” El Juguete Rabioso, 14 de Mayo de 2006; “La influencia de Chávez se comenta en todo el mundo,” La Razón, 4 de Mayo de 2006; “La Operación Milagro se extendió al Chapare,” La Razón, 11 de Mayo de 2006 “El TLC con Europa peligra por la salida de Venezuela de la CAN,” La Razón, 23 de abril de 2006; “Bolivia convoca a presidentes para evitar muerte de la CAN,” La Prensa, 25 de mayo de 2006; “Pedido de congelar el TLC no halla eco entre andinos,” La Prensa, 26 de abril de 2006; “El Gobierno y los exportadores analizarán el TPC,” La Prensa, 26 de abril de 2006; “Bolivia, Venezuela y Cuba firmarán el TCP el día 29,” La Prensa, 26 de abril de 2006; “TCP no define qué productos venderá a Venezuela y Cuba,” La Prensa, 27 de abril de 2006; “Entrevista con David Choquehuanca: ‘El TCP no sólo es comercial, va más allá, es más amplio,'” La Razón, 27 de abril de 2006; “Evo fracasa en su intento de salvar a la CAN sin TLC,” La Razón, 28 de abril de 2006; “Evo, Chávez y Fidel firman un tratado de corte socialista,” La Razón, 29 de 2006; “Evo asergura recursos de Venezuela y Cuba,” La Prensa, 30 de abril de 2006; “Venezuela, Cuba y Bolivia hacen 2 pactos anti EEUU,” La Razón, 30 de abril de 2006; “Evo va con Chávez a la Cumbre para enfrentar a Lula y Kirchner,” La Razón, 4 de Mayo de 2006; “El proyecto político de Chávez y Morales comienza a tomar cuerpo,” La Razón, 8 de Mayo de 2006; and “El Alba llegó a Bolivia antes de que Morales lo firmara,” La Prensa, 9 de Mayo de 2006, among many others.
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  59. On this I concur with the analysis in Orellana Aillón’s dissident and compelling essay Nacionalismo, populismo, y régimen de acumulación en Bolivia.
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  60. “Fejuve entre la umbral de la Gloria y la desilusión,” El Alteño, 19 de abril de 2006; “La COB define hoy si sigue en las calles o con el Gobierno,” La Razón, 20 de abril de 2006; “COB y Estado Mayor dialogan para evitar confrontaciones,” La Prensa, 20 de abril de 2006; “Con divisiones, la COB confirma el paro de hoy,” La Prensa, 21 de abril de 2006; “El MAS movió a su gente para frenar la marcha de la COB,” La Razón, 22 de abril de 2006; “Evo Morales tejió una compleja estructura para cambiar el país,” La Razón, 23 de 2006; “Técnicos conforman el grupo que toma las decisiones del Gobierno,” La Razón, 23 de abril de 2006; “El MST expulsa a Durán, le acusa de estafar a jóvenes,” La Razón, 25 de abril de 2006; “Magistrado dice que Evo actúa como un dictador,” La Prensa, 25 de abril de 2006; “Felipe Quispe dejará la dirrección de la CSUTCB,” La Razón, 26 de abril de 2006; “MST: Ángel Durán iniciará proceso a Machicao,” La Razón, 26 de abril de 2006; “El MST se fragmenta por denuncias de corrupción,” La Prensa, 27 de abril de 2006; “El 1 de mayo profundiza las diferencias COB-Gobierno,” La Razón, 29 de abril de 2006; “La agonía de la COB,” La Prensa, 30 de abril de 2006; “El Gobierno aplica un plan para controlar ‘hasta el pensamiento,” La Razón, 30 de abril de 2006; and “Algunas tácticas del MAS para mantener a Evo en el gobierno,” La Razón, 30 de abril 2006.
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  61. “Parte del MAS promueve el NO y el apoyo a las autonomies cae,” La Razón, 15 de Mayo de 2006; “Evo arma aparato que ayude en la solución de conflictos,” La Prensa, 16 de Mayo de 2006; “Desnudan debilidades del oficialismo,” La Prensa, 17 de Mayo de 2006; and “El Ejecutivo desiste de impulsar el SI en la consulta autonomica,” La Razón, 17 de Mayo de 2006.
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ATC 123, July-August 2006