Bolivia, with its people, moves forward
It was the most amazing act to avenge the 1492 criminal invasion of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. That Oct. 12 landing led to the decimation and genocide of Indigenous nations and the colonization of millions of people. This Oct. 12, more than five centuries later, the country with the largest percentage of Native people in the hemisphere affirmed its rightful place in history.
On this Day of Indigenous Resistance, which Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez officially instituted in 2005, Evo Morales, the first Indigenous president of the plurinational state of Bolivia, won for the third consecutive time the highest government post.
All day there was a festive atmosphere. Except for emergency vehicles, traffic is forbidden to circulate on election day, turning the streets into gathering places for families, full of music, food and young people playing soccer.
People started gathering early in Plaza Murillo of La Paz, waiting in front of the presidential house, celebrating with music, chants and fireworks. They knew, even before the Electoral Tribunal’s formal announcement, that victory was certain. Predictions showed Morales would win with an approximately 40-point lead over his nearest opponent, right-wing neoliberal Samuel Doria Molina of the Democratic Unity party.
Doria Molina had been the chief of the Economic Bureau from 1991 to 1993 under President Jaime Paz Zamora, both of whom were responsible for the implementation of disastrous privatizing policies.
With most votes counted, the Electoral Tribunal announced soon after 8 p.m. that “Evo,” as he is popularly called, had won with more than 60 percent of the vote, making a second electoral round unnecessary.
Shortly after the announcement, Evo addressed the crowd from a balcony with a short but eloquent speech. He thanked the people and the social movements, including the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB), for this “peoples’ victory,” dedicating it to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez and to all the peoples and governments fighting against capitalism and imperialism.
The Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), the party of Morales and Vice President Álvaro Linera, had won in eight of the nine departments in Bolivia. Only in Beni, part of the famous “Half Moon” that has been the stronghold of the right-wing opposition, did the opponent win, with 49 percent of the votes compared to 43 percent for the MAS.
It was the first time that the MAS won in Santa Cruz department, site of many confrontations with the rightist opposition in the past.
Morales reminded people that two opposing programs had competed for leadership. His nationalization program defeated Molina’s privatization plan. Morales also discussed the feeling of freedom from U.S. imperialism brought about by the sovereign decisions to end collaboration with the Drug Enforcement Administration of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and to stop U.S. interference by expelling its ambassador for intervening in Bolivia’s affairs. His speech was interrupted many times by people chanting “Evo! Evo! Evo!”
The people governing
That simple chant confirms the correct direction of Morales’ government, as he said towards the end: “We govern by obeying the people.” How true. Bolivia now is an example of how to integrate popular movements into the government and, therefore, into the decisions that will move the country forward.
His government is a block of Indigenous people, peasants, workers and other peoples’ movements. The Indigenous people are 62 percent of Bolivia’s population, who for the first time are making decisions on how the country is run. They are not merely being represented.
Afro Bolivians for the first time have representation and voice. Women and youth have exercised their power. There is even a new youth formation, “the Evo Generation,” who are youth supporting the process and pushing it forward.
The recognition of many sectors has been enormous under Evo. Prisoners exercise their right to vote in prison and even help organize the procedure. Bolivians living abroad in 33 different countries for the first time were able to vote for president and vice president.
Advances under Evo
The living standards have increased due to many social programs. Morales initiated the “National Development Plan for a Bolivia with Dignity and Sovereignty, Productive and Democratic, to Live Well under the Democratic and Cultural Revolution.” (Telesur, Oct. 13)
In the 10 years with Morales as president, Bolivia has turned around from the poorest country in South America into what even the World Bank confirms is the country with the first or second largest economic growth in Latin America. During the last eight years, there has been an average of 5 percent growth per year in gross national product. Meanwhile, international reserves have grown from $1.7 billion in 2005 to $15.4 billion in Sept 2014. (Telesur, boliviadecide) Poverty decreased 13 points in the five years from 2005 to 2010.
Much of this is due to Bolivia’s nationalizing of its resources, particularly gas and oil, on May 1, 2006. While 80 percent of the profits were sent out of the country before, now, with state ownership, the income reverts to the people in the form of social programs. The wealth is now redistributed among the population.
The result is subsidized housing and other programs to benefit seniors as well as school programs for school-age children, which decreased the rate of school dropouts from 7 percent to 1.4 percent in seven years. Literacy is now 96.2 percent, and maternity care is vastly improved.
Beyond the social programs, Bolivia is advancing with what Morales calls its “Dare to Dream Big” approach. The government focuses attention on technology research and development, initiating educational programs for its advancement, makes free software available and facilitates providing special well-equipped laptops for students.
In December 2013 with the help of People’s China, Bolivia launched the communications satellite Túpac Katari, which has helped reduce telephone and other communications charges. The government aims to intensify this trend.