Curiously enough, while much was made of Bachelet's victory in Chile introducing the first woman president to the country, comparatively little has been said about the fact that Morales is the first Indian president in Bolivia. It isn't that Bachelet's being a woman is insignificant - it just may be the only significant thing about her victory. Whereas Morales background intersects with the whole variety of reasons why he was elected. In short, this is the first Indian political leader Bolivia has had, in a country with an Indian majority, since Spanish colonialists conquered the area in 1525. It was the Indian population that provided an army of slave labourers to augment the "international help" in exploiting the silver mines. It was the colonial elite that controlled the country even after the colonists had been kicked out in 1809 - and a weak elite it was, too, susceptible to invasion and the loss of territory on all sides. It is fairly safe to say that this elite would have been dispatched a lot more rapidly and properly buried had it not been for US intervention. For although the Nationalist Revolutionary Movement had, following the 1952 revolution in which it ousted much of the old landed oligarchy and expropriated the mines, begun the process of consolidating the rule of the domestic middle class, it did create the conditions in which dual power could subsist. That was terminated by a CIA supported military coup in 1964, which saw Rene Barrientos take power until 1969, during which time miners had their wages cut and were massacred at Catavi. There was a short-lived left-nationalist regime under Gen. J.J. Torres in which workers's self-government was created in a popular assembly, and - yes - that too was supplanted after a mere two years by yet another CIA backed coup in 1971. General Banzer, after seven years of rule, was followed by a succession of military dictators known for their corruption, illicit narco-trafficking, and extraoardinary brutality. Subsequently, a sequence of liberalising governments allowed the country's nationalised assets to be bought off in large chunks by foreign investors - the so-called 'capitalisation' programme. Gen. Banzer won power electorally in 1997, with a mere 22% of the vote, and proceeded to crack down hard on the coca growers whose militancy had dogged previous governments, privatise industry, and renege on his pledge to suspend the privatisation of the oil company. All in accordance with the wishes of Washington. In 2001, he gave way to a former IBM employee, who in turn gave way to another 'technocratic' neoliberal. However, by then the genie was out of the bottle again - in 1998, the World Bank refused to guarantee a loan to finance water services in Cochabamba unless the utility was privatised and the costs passed on to consumers. In 1999, consortium led by Bechtel won the contract, and immediately doubled the price of water, which meant that for many it cost more than food. The World Bank kindly announced that it supported the full-cost pricing and declared that none of its loan could be used to subsidise water for the poor. In 2000, mass strikes and demonstrations broke the government and Bechtel were ordered out.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Lenin at leninology.blogspot.com wrote an excellent post on Bolivia today. An excerpt follows, but I encourage you to read the whole thing: