Bolivia After the Referendum

Against the Current, No. 137, November/December 2008

Jeffery R. Webber

THE MONTH FOLLOWING Bolivia’s recall referendum on August 10, 2008 tragically confirmed the class polarization of that country. The right-wing autonomists of the Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni, Tarija and Sucre departments (states or provinces) escalated their destabilization campaign against the Morales government, while the latter singularly failed to assert its rightful democratic control over all Bolivian territory. A small, racist and virulently right-wing minority has been able to shut down large parts of the country and spill indigenous peasant blood with impunity.

In late August and early September, autonomist forces, grouped together in the Consejo Nacional Democratico (National Democratic Council, CONALDE), ramped up their destabilizing tactics against the central government, as well as their efforts to effectively assert sovereign control and illegal parallel governments in five of Bolivia´s nine departments.

The scope of these proto-fascist activities is difficult to exaggerate. Roads were blockaded; natural gas stations that control major pipelines to neighboring countries were taken over; violent and racist attacks against unarmed pro-government rallies proliferated; gang-land terrorization of poor, mainly indigenous neighborhoods in the eastern lowlands took place with escalating frequency; armed assaults on police barracks and police and military personnel guarding public institutions were carried out; airports were occupied, taken over, and shut down; state offices – including customs offices, immigration centers, and the offices of the state-owned oil and gas company; YPFB, among others – were occupied; others were entirely burnt down; and state-owned media outlets were looted and vandalized in different parts of the country.

“The reactionary rampage in the lowlands is the result of a desperate, cornered minority that has been given considerable breathing room by a weak, vacillating central government that nevertheless enjoys massive popular backing,” explains radical historian Forrest Hylton. “The opposition has demonstrated the central government´s inability to impose the rule of law amid public-private terror against its supporters – a spectacular triumph for any right-wing movement.”

On September 10, President Evo Morales took belated action against what appeared to be a mounting coup attempt by expelling U.S. ambassador Phillip Goldberg for meeting with autonomist leaders in the lead up to the coordinated chaos of the preceding weeks. According to Morales, the United States was behind this attempted coup.

This was an atypically bold anti-imperialist measure by the Bolivian government and was almost immediately followed by Hugo Chavez´s expelling of the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Patrick Duddy. Unfortunately, Morales´ anti-imperialism here was unaccompanied by measures against the domestic sources of anti-democratic, right-wing belligerence.

On September 11 – a date infamous in Latin America as the anniversary of the 1973 fascist coup in Chile – the foreseeable fatalities of reactionary violence took place, though on a scale that exceeded most expectations. Indigenous peasants in the department of Pando set off from the community of El Porvenir on their way to a gathering in Cobija, the department´s capital. Along the way, they were intercepted by paramilitaries, some using official vehicles.

Machine-gun terror left at least 15 peasants dead, over 30 injured, and more than 100 missing. These figures were arrived at by a preliminary investigation of the Asamblea Permanente de Derechos Humanos de Bolivia (Bolivian Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, APDHB). Desperate peasants fleeing their would-be assassins leapt into the adjacent river – well-known for its abundant populations of crocodiles and venomous snakes.

The Face of Fascism

The central government finally declared a state of emergency in the Pando. Then-prefect (governor) Leopoldo Fernandez has been arrested and is awaiting trial in the capital city of La Paz, along with several other of his cronies, for involvement in the massacre. President Morales has appointed an interim military prefect, Landelino Rafael Bandeira Arce.

A brief political portrait of Leopoldo Fernandez reveals the character of the contemporary Bolivian right. He is a descendant of big-player families in the rubber and nut industries of the Northern Bolivian Amazon.  Since the late 19th century, these industries have been notorious for subjecting their workforce – local indigenous workers and migrant workers from the Andean region – to conditions of extreme exploitation, and even servitude.

Today, Fernandez is one of the key producers in the nut industry in the eastern lowlands, and a major operator in the ranching sector as well. He got his political start during the most brutal dictatorships of Luis Garcia Meza (1980-81), and Celso Terrelio and Guido Vildoso (1981-82), Fernandez was a director of the Instituto Nacional de Colonizacion (National Institute of Colonization, INC), in Pando.

It has been well-established that Garcia Meza in particular paid for the “services” of loyal regional civilian and military functionaries by handing out large tracts of land. Fernandez, as a director of INC, was in charge of administering huge parcels of fertile territory. Through these and other channels Fernandez was able to transform Pando into something like his personal fiefdom.

His political power was on display again during the second presidency of ex-dictator Hugo Banzer, and vice-president Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga (1997-2002), when he worked variously as congressperson, prefect, and Minister of Government. Until his recent imprisonment, the movers and shakers in the logging, agro-industrial and nut sectors of Pando´s economy – like the Sonnenschein, Hecker Hasse, Becerra Roca, Vaca Roca, Penaranda, Barbery Paz, Claure, and Villavicencio Amuruz families, who together own almost a million hectares of fertile territory – have operated with impunity under Fernandez´s protection.

The Regional Response

In the wake of what has already become known as Massacre of El Porvenir, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called an emergency meeting of the South American Union (UNASUR) in Santiago on September 15. The outcome was the Declaration of La Moneda, a document signed by 12 governments, denouncing the secessionist violence that is attempting to undermine the Morales government.

While this display of South American unity and independence from American imperialism is to be celebrated, analyst Guillermo Almeyra rightly points out that much of the solidarity only runs so deep. Cristina Fernandez and Lula da Silva, the presidents of Argentina and Brazil respectively, are motivated principally by their countries´ dependence on the continued flow of Bolivian natural gas to their markets.

Meanwhile, the solidarity of other signatories – like Colombia, Peru, Chile and Uruguay – along with that of the Organization of American States (OAS), is predicated on Morales reaching a negotiated conciliation with the far-right, rather than imposing the popular democratic will in support of fundamental, transformative change in the country.

In other words, the regional solidarity has effectively isolated the Bolivian extreme right, but the domestic process must transcend the boundaries of a negotiated exit – preferred by many regional governments – if the outcome for the popular majority is not to be severely compromised.

At the end of September just how internal Bolivian dynamics and the particular correlation of social forces will reveal themselves in the current conjuncture is not yet clear. On the one hand, 20,000 mostly indigenous peasant supporters of the government mobilized and marched to the outskirts of the major eastern lowland city of Santa Cruz, to denounce the massacre and to demand the radicalization of the process of change in the country.

This march received public support from some sectors of the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) leadership, but only very tepid and conditional support from the President himself. Road blockades had been lifted temporarily – although no demobilization had occurred – after Morales called for this so that negotiations with the extreme right, taking place in the city of Cochabamba under the auspices of the OAS, could continue without interruption.

In these negotiations, the right has thus far shown its unwillingness to concede any of its central demands. And despite the fact that Morales was behind the lifting of the road blockades, the still-mobilized peasants have suggested they will resume their siege of Santa Cruz on October 15, if the autonomist forces do not give in substantially at the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, the Bolivian Workers´ Central (COB) is split. The leadership has entered into an uncritical pact with the MAS government, but leading sectors of the COB, such as the miners´ federation (FSTMB), have continued to call for working-class independence – meaning that the working class will act militantly against any right-wing threats to democracy, but will not allow the Morales government free reign to give in to the old neoliberal order.

The Factory Workers of Cochabamba have also recently called for militant working-class mobilizations against the autonomists, suggesting that a just solution cannot be found at the OAS-mediated negotiating table.

The outcome of the next few weeks may well determine the trajectory of the Bolivian process in the coming years. Will there be a break with populist reformism and a turn toward indigenous liberation and a transition toward socialism? Or will there be a deeper turn toward costly compromises with the far right, deceleration of social change, loss of confidence in the popular classes of the possibility of transforming the country, and the steady resurgence of right-wing power against even modest changes?

The tide in Bolivia began to turn in 2000 with the heroic Cochabamba Water War, which ignited five subsequent years of left-indigenous insurrection in the countryside and cityscapes of Bolivia. The insurrectionary cycle reached its apogee in the “Gas Wars” of 2003 and 2005, with their base in the western altiplano (high plateau) and the twin cities of El Alto and La Paz. Two neoliberal presidents – Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Mesa – were overthrown in less than two years.

Lacking a revolutionary party and project to overthrow the existing capitalist state and rebuild a new sovereign power rooted in the self-governance of the largely indigenous proletarian and indigenous majority, however, the insurrectionary cycle of 2000-2005 was channeled once again into the more domesticated terrain of electoral politics, in which the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) party was the only viable option for voters who sought change of internally colonial race relations and the system of capitalist exploitation in the country.

It was in this context that Evo Morales won 54% of the vote in the elections of December 2005, despite the MAS’s absence in the streets during the 2003 revolts and support for the neoliberal government of Mesa during its first 14 months in office.

During the first two and a half years in office Morales’ administration has given concession after concession to the extremist autonomist right of the media luna departments – Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija, while offering only moderate reforms to its popular constituency. It has declared socialism to be an impossible aim in the country for 50-100 years, and instead seeks “Andean-Amazonian” capitalism that tries to reconcile the conflicting interests of imperialism and capital on one side and those of the impoverished peasantry and working classes on the other.

The right wing has used the space provided to it by the MAS to rearticulate its political bases from historic lows in 2003 and 2005, to a situation of dominance in half the country, including in the richest and most populated department of Santa Cruz. This is the backdrop that needs to be taken into account when we consider the meaning of the August referendum.

It would be a tragedy of immense proportions for left-indigenous forces and the Morales government to follow the paths of left-populist governments of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1980s. Viewed together these experiences represent the signature failure of left-wing populism when it does not confront the economic and political power bases of the urban capitalist and landowning elite, even in situations when popular mobilization and radicalization was positioned to make these sorts of inroads on elite control of society.

Bolivia is living once again through a critical moment. The restoration of right-wing power – today articulated through a fiercely racist “autonomist” movement – must be stopped by a shift in the MAS’s moderate reformism to revolutionary audacity. This will depend on the self-organization of the popular classes and indigenous majority to mobilize strategically against imperialism and the media luna racist elite, and to force the Morales government off its track of conciliation with the far right.

It will also depend on the widest international anti-imperialist efforts to combat the financing and training of Bolivia’s autonomist right, support for the Morales regime when it makes reforms that improve the livelihoods of the popular majority and their chances of pushing reforms further, and solidarity with the worker and peasant radicals that are seeking to transcend the strict parameters of the reformist government.

The August Referendum

Over 400 observers from the Organization of American States (OAS), the Latin American Council of Electoral Experts, and parliamentarians from Europe and Mercosur countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) were present for the recall referenda of eight departmental (state) prefects (governors) as well as President Morales and Vice-President Álvaro García Linera on August 10.(1) All stood to lose their jobs or reinforce their support base.

Referendum day went relatively smoothly, with the only reported irregularities being intimidation of voters in the media luna departments by the proto-fascist Unión Juveñil Cruceñista (Cruceño Youth Union, UJC) – the thuggish, racist, and pathetic shock troops of the autonomist right. Turnout was an exceptional 83%.

Voters were asked to decide whether prefects and the President and Vice-President should continue in their positions. In the case of Morales and García Linera, voters were also asked whether they favored the continuation of the government’s process of change.

Perhaps the most striking component of the results is that Morales and García Linera increased their nationwide support by 14% compared to the December 2005 elections. Their support increased in every department save Chuquisaca. On the question of prefects, too, right-wingers Manfred Reyes Villa of Cochabamba and José Luis Paredes of La Paz lost their posts – although the deeply undemocratic Reyes Villa initially said he would not step down. According to the referendum law, Morales will appoint interim prefects in these departments until new elections are scheduled.

Many on the left have taken the results as a triumphant victory for the MAS’s “democratic and cultural” revolution.(2) Speaking at the Presidential Palace – Palacio Quemado – on the evening of the vote, Morales suggested the large turnout was a “democratic festival of the Bolivian people.” He rejoiced in the “triumph of the democratic and cultural revolution of the Bolivian people. We dedicate this to all the revolutionaries of Latin America and the world.”

On the one hand, Morales stressed that his government had won a new mandate for moving forward: “What the Bolivian people expressed today with their vote is their support for this process of change. Therefore, I want to say to the Bolivian people, with much respect, that we are here to continue advancing the recovery of our natural resources, the consolidation of nationalization, and the recovery of our state enterprises.”

At the same time, he promised reconciliation with the opposition and the recognition of the media luna’s demands for departmental autonomy: “But I also want to say brothers and sisters, we are convinced that it is important to unite Bolivians, and the participation of the Bolivian people works to unite the different sectors of the countryside and the city, the east and the west. And that unity will be brought together in the New Political Constitution of the Bolivian State with the autonomous statutes.” He called on “patriotic business people” to help the government help the poor.(3)

Even before the referenda, much media attention across Latin America was generated by a meeting in La Paz of the Red de redes en defensa de la humanidad (Network of Networks in Defense of Humanity), a group of famous artists and intellectuals from across the region, formed in Mexico in 2003. The group released a statement on July 29 denouncing the exploitation and oppression of the indigenous majority in Bolivia and expressing their solidarity with the MAS government: “The groups that dominated Bolivia for decades, and that still maintain the major part of economic and media power, are the same groups that subjugate to poverty, underdevelopment and racial discrimination the vast majority of the population.”

Referring to the large numbers of Bolivians who have emigrated, the declaration states:  “Three million Bolivians have felt obliged to search for the minimal conditions for their survival in other countries. This tendency will only be reversed when the economic structure of the nation can recuperate from the injustice, inequality and exclusion it has suffered until now.” They came “to support the revolutionary and democratic process that the Bolivian people and the government of Evo Morales are pushing forward.”(4)

While the denunciations made by artists and intellectuals of injustice, racism, and inequality are exemplary, the unadulterated celebration of the expected results of the referendum before, and the actual results after, seem to neglect some crucial components of what the referendum has meant.(5)

The autonomist right never expected to oust Morales and García Linera at the national level. Of course, Reyes Villa (Cochabamba) and Paredes (La Paz) did not want there to be a recall referendum in the first place. They objected when PODEMOS, the main right-wing party that holds a majority in the Senate, supported the referendum law because they expected to be kicked out.

But in terms of the short-term strategy of the autonomist right, Reyes Villa and Paredes were relatively expendable. What counted was gaining the bourgeois respectability of legal recognition for departmental autonomy in the core media luna departments. The illegal and widely-condemned autonomy referendums in those departments earlier this year were insufficient for moving forward with the concrete enactment of “autonomy,” asserting departmental control over natural gas and agro-industrial wealth.

After these latest legal referenda, right-wing autonomists maintain their control of five of nine departments. What’s more, they have increased their popular support in these departments, and laid the basis for a destabilization campaign against the Morales government, the assertion of new controls over their department’s natural resources, and the beginnings of a campaign to prevent the MAS’s reelection in 2010 when its five-year mandate ends – if toppling it through extra-parliamentary means proves impossible beforehand.(6)

This will reinforce “the de facto division of the country” and concede “to the subversive separatists a halo of legality they did not possess earlier.”(7) To justify the illegal extension of departmental power over national wealth, the autonomists will invoke the referendum results of August.

The Morales government seems to be clinging to a naïve faith in the eastern lowland oligarchy’s openness to negotiation, and to playing by the rules of the game. Morales is seeking to combine some of the demands of the autonomists with its own objective of introducing the draft of a new Constitution – approved by the Constituent Assembly in Oruro some months ago – to a popular referendum.

The Morales administration appears to be convinced that “Andean-Amazonian” capitalism is compatible with a softer version of bourgeois departmental autonomy in the media luna. But the right-wing autonomists want nothing more than to see this project of the MAS fail, for the government to stumble from one debacle to the next, and are showing clear signs of renewed destabilizing energies since the referendum.

The Belligerence of the Autonomists

In the immediate aftermath of the referendums Morales and García Linera invited the opposition prefects to La Paz to negotiate. But the right has signaled that it is completely uninterested in achieving any national agreement or social pact with the MAS government.

Rubén Costas, the prefect of Santa Cruz, had this to say in the wake of his resounding victory: “This insensible, totalitarian, masista, incapable government has neglected the development of the people and only seeks to concentrate power and transform us into beggars before it.”

Costas spoke of a “masista dictatorship” which has as its true intention the destruction of departmental autonomy. When denouncing the alleged role of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez in propping up the Morales regime, he indulged in the same racist epithets characteristic of the Venezuelan opposition: “No to the big foreign monkeys!”(8)

After showing up at negotiations with the government on August 14 for a few hours, the five right-wing prefects ceremoniously broke off talks in a ritual that had clearly been rehearsed. Gathering together in Santa Cruz immediately after the La Paz meeting with Morales, the prefects called for a civic strike and mobilizations for August 19; Chuquisaca’s prefect called for a new illegal referendum on departmental autonomy and insisted again that Sucre should be the new capital of the country; and all five departments declared that “national authorities” are unwelcome in their territory until various demands are met.(9)

In the early evening of August 13, 2008, nine Molotov cocktails were hurled at the Santa Cruz offices of the indigenous rights organization, Centro de Estudios Jurídicos e Investigación Social (CEJIS). The police took over one hour to respond.(10) This follows on earlier attacks on the offices in November 2007, and the general intimidation and frequent violence meted out against dissidents in the media luna departments.

Costas has interpreted the results of the referendum as a new mandate to drive forward the bourgeois autonomist agenda. He has announced a host of illegal initiatives: the formation of a departmental Legislative Assembly; creation of a new departmental tax agency that will control and collect taxes on natural resources in the department; and the election of sub-governors within the department of Santa Cruz.(11)

None of this should be surprising based on the seditious recent history of social forces behind autonomy. Working through their political party apparatus – PODEMOS – departmental prefects and civic committees, and fascistic shock troops like the UJC (and similar groups recently formed in Sucre and Cochabamba), the right repeatedly sought to destabilize the Constituent Assembly process and the Morales government throughout 2006 and 2007, to the point of raising the threat of civil war.(12)

In the period immediately prior to the August referenda, a group of 200 autonomist reactionaries took over the Tarija airport, successfully impeding a planned meeting between the Presidents of Venezuela, Argentina and Bolivia. A tiny group of 35 autonomists were able to take over another airport. And a vehicle in which the Minister of the Presidency, Juan Ramón Quintana, was traveling, in the eastern lowland city of Trinidad, was shot at by autonomist forces.(13)

The Morales government backed away from enforcing the law in each of these cases. Heinz Dieterich is correct to point out, “the counterrevolution has conquered ‘liberated zones’ in which the central government can’t enter.”(14)

A recent report on the relationship between natural gas and agro-industry and the autonomy conflicts in Bolivia argues that the concentration of land in Bolivia is the worst in the world after Chile. Much of the concentrated landholdings are located in Santa Cruz, the leading department in the autonomist movement. Branko Marinkovic, leader of the Pro-Santa Cruz Civic Committee, to take but one example, reportedly owns some 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of land.(15)

Santa Cruz accounts for more than two million of Bolivia’s inhabitants, 33.7% of its territory, and 28.2% of its GDP. Tarija, with only 4.9% of Bolivia’s population, accounts for 60% of the country’s natural gas production and 85% of gas reserves. Santa Cruz follows with 22.3% of production.

In excess of 82% of natural gas production, then, is located in these two media luna states. Under the current complex arrangement of distributing hydrocarbon (natural gas and oil) revenue – split between the national government, the national gas and oil company YPFB, prefectures, municipalities, and universities – the four media luna departments receive 30%. The other five departments (with 79% greater population than the media luna) receive only 19.7%, and in 2007 the media luna departments had a per capita income of roughly 1.4 times that of the other five.(16)

As Tom Lewis suggests, “The present political conjuncture in Bolivia is indeed contradictory. In principle, regional self-determination and the peoples’ right to immediately recall their elected officials are pillars of democracy. But in today’s Bolivia, ‘regional autonomy’ means handing over the country’s wealth – lock, stock and barrel – to the most reactionary sectors of the Bolivian ruling class and to continued exploitation by the transnational corporations.”(17)

The MAS bears considerable responsibility for allowing the autonomist right to reconsolidate itself to the extent it has. In crafting the Constituent Assembly in 2006, the government distorted the revolutionary notion of the assembly envisioned by left-indigenous movements between 2000 and 2005, by seeking to make left-indigenous participation virtually impossible except through the party, and by accommodating the right, whose strength at the time it vastly overestimated.

The government has sought continuously either to demobilize autonomous rural and urban protest – such as invasions and occupations of large landholdings by landless peasants in the east in 2006, and urban revolt against Reyes Villa in Cochabamba in late 2006 and early 2007 – or to strategically mobilize its bases against the media luna (especially the cocaleros of the Chapare region), but within very strict perimeters, predetermined by government elites.

The Federación de Juntas Vecinales de El Alto (Federation of United Neighborhood Councils of El Alto, FEJUVE-El Alto), one of the most powerful organizations in the 2000-2005 wave of revolt, has sadly lost its independence from the government, and is unable to mobilize effectively to advance the cause of the city’s indigenous informal proletarian masses.

When, in October 2006, the government faced mobilizations of state-employed miners in Huanuni, who were demanding nationalization and workers’ control, the miners were denounced by government officials as “Trotskyists” and “provocateurs.” Later that month when private cooperative mining interests, allied with transnational mining companies, attacked the state-employed miners, the government initially supported the cooperative miners rhetorically, and failed to send in the army to circumvent the bloodbath that followed.

Most recently the same miners, with the support of the COB, struck against the MAS’s neoliberal proposal for a new pension law. The state’s coercive forces violently broke up a road blockade in the department of Oruro, leaving two miners dead and approximately 50 others wounded – some gravely.  Contrast the treatment of the miners with that of the 200 proto-fascists who took over the Tarija airport.

On August 1, 2008 the executive committee of the COB released the following resolution:

The Bolivian Workers Central, loyal to its glorious history of revolutionary struggle, will never be a political instrument of the oligarchy and imperialism. Our iron commitment is with the defense of the democratic political process opened up in the heroic days of October 2004 [sic., 2003] and May-June 2005 with the blood of the Bolivian people and workers. We are convinced that the revolutionary, patriotic and popular forces have to unite in a single front to crush the oligarchy and imperialism, but not at the cost of giving up our social rights that have been curtailed by neoliberalism, much less of getting caught up in the political games [pongueaje politico] of this or any other government.”

The documents calls on the unity of the workers and the Bolivian people, solidarity against the oligarchy and imperialism, and for driving out the right-wing of the MAS, led by Vice-President Álvaro García Linera.(18)

Oscar Olivera, a former shoe-factory worker and the principal voice of the Cochabamba Water War, wrote this passage as part of an open letter during a recent collective hunger strike of factory workers in Cochabamba:

The workers of yesterday and today should feel proud of our identity of being the producers of the material goods that we and others need to live, proud that we are those who use the strength of our arms and our minds and our hearts to transform mother earth’s, Pachamama’s, gifts into well-being. We have managed to resist. We have managed to subsist as an organized body. We have been able to salvage some of our rights, and we have passed into a long and dark tunnel in these years of invisibility and now we are disposed to making ourselves visible again by showing our indignation for our working conditions. We are also doing this because of the indifference of our current government, which for more than two years has ignored us. In spite of the fact that we workers struggled to put this government where it is today, our leaders have forgotten about us. We have been struggling in the streets since April for BREAD, WORK and HOUSING because they don’t listen to us, they don’t see us, they don’t feel us, because they no longer live like us, the simple working people who live from their own work and not others’ work. We ought to feel proud because with our struggle, we are pushing for the so-called ´process of change` to be not just a slogan but also a reality. The only way to change things, to change our working conditions and our lives is through unity, organization, mobilization, the recuperation of our memory, of our values. We must remember our fathers and grandfathers, our mothers and grandmothers, our older brothers and sisters and we must ask them face to face if what we are doing today is OK and what else we are missing in order for their inheritance to be preserved and augmented, so that the well-being of our sons and grandsons, and all of dignified life, forever preserved.

Unfortunately, it would be wildly misleading to suggest that the COB’s resolution and Olivera’s statement reflect the leading ideas of left-indigenous sectors on the ground in Bolivia today. Rather there has been a demobilization of independent political action from below and an increasing reliance on elite   negotiations between the MAS leadership and the autonomist oligarchy – when the latter decides to participate.

Recent weeks in Latin America have seen the inauguration of Paraguay’s new President, Fernando Lugo, a former priest and liberation theologian. The left has celebrated this addition to the “pink tide” in the region. Simultaneously, there have been wide-scale celebrations of Morales’ seeming victory through recall referendums.

But The Economist, one of the most important mouthpieces of international capital, recently pointed out that for all the talk of a “pink tide” Mexico, Peru, and Colombia remain in the hands of the hard-right, while the “left” in Latin America includes many governments – such as Lula’s in Brazil – that have in practice reinforced neoliberal policies.

The London magazine concludes: “The past few years of rapid economic growth have helped incumbent governments of all sorts. The next period looks tougher. To make matters worse for the incumbents of the left, the two issues now uppermost in Latin American minds are inflation and crime, which both tend to move votes to the right. This gives the centre-right an opportunity to regain ground – though the conservatives will need to arm themselves with credible policies both to reduce poverty and to promote equality of opportunity.”(19)

A cursory glance at the coverage in the main opposition papers in Bolivia and Venezuela in recent weeks suggest that the right is counting on these opportunities.(20)


  1. Bolivia Information Forum Bulletin, Special Edition, London, August 2008.
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  2. For one representative example see Ángel Guerra, “Bolivia, después de la victoria,” La Jornada, August 14, 2008.
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  3. Mensaje del presidente Evo Morales, Palacio Quemado, La Paz, 10 de agosto de 2008. Available at:
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  4. Declaración del Encuentro de Intelectuales y Artistas en apoyo al proceso boliviano, La Paz, Bolivia, July 29, 2008. Available at:
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  5. “Bolivia: Divided We Rule,”, August 11, 2008.
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  6. Tom Lewis, “Evo Morales’ Hollow Victory,” Socialist Worker, August 12, 2008. Available at:
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  7. Heinz Dieterich, “Washington y la oligarquía triunfan en Bolivia: referendo ratifica desmembramiento del país,” Rebelión, August 12, 2008. Available at:
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  8. Simon Romero, “Recall Vote Seen as Win in Bolivia,” New York Times, August 11, 2008.
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  9. “La media luna rompe diálogo y declara paro cívico regional,” La Prensa, August 15, 2008; “El diálogo falla y el Conalde convoca a paro en 5 regiones,” La Razón, August 15, 2008; “Chuquisaca también para y pide capitalidad para Sucre,” La Prensa August 16, 2008.
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  10. Centro de Estudios Jurídicos y Investigaciones Sociales (CEJIS), Comuniqué, Santa Cruz, August 13, 2008.
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  11. “Evo y la oligarquía cantan victoria,” Econoticias, August 11, 2008. Available at:;  Heinz Dieterich, “Washington y la oligarquía triunfan en Bolivia.”
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  12. See Jeffery R. Webber, “Left-Indigenous Politics in Bolivia: The Constituent Assembly and Evo Morales,” in Yildiz Atasoy, ed., Hegemonic Transitions, the State, and Neoliberal Crisis in Capitalism, London and New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2008; Jeffery R. Webber, “Dynamite in the Mines and Bloody Urban Clashes: Indigenous Ascendant Populism and the Limits of Reform in Bolivia’s Movement Towards Socialism,” Socialist Studies/Études Socialistes, 4,1: 79-117, 2008.
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  13. “Evo: Blando con la oligarquía, feroz con los obreros,” Econoticias, August 7, 2008. Available at:
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  14. Heinz Dieterich, ” ‘Desterrado’ Evo Morales en su propia tierra,” Rebelión, August 7, 2008. Available at:
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  15. Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandoval, The Distribution of Bolivia’s Most Important Natural Resources and the Autonomy Conflicts, Issue Brief, Washington, D.C.: Center for Economic and Policy Research, July 2008, 5.
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  16. Ibid.,  6-9.
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  17. Tom Lewis, “Evo Morales’ Hollow Victory.”
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  18. “Evo: Blando con la oligarquía, feroz con los obreros.”
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  19. “The Bishop of Democracy” in The Economist, August 9, 2008, 10.
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  20. Mark Weisbrot and Luis Sandova, op. cit., 9.
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ATC 137, November-December 2008