Talk about Bolivia has been a guarantee that there will be controversy. In addition to the criticism that is already expected from public opinion liberal / conservative When any topic is approached from a critical and emancipatory perspective, in this case the disputes that arise around this topic within the organized social sectors, the left and the Latin American critical intellectuals.
Two sources of controversy stand out: how to assess the so-called “process of change” and how to characterize the overthrow of Evo Morales in 2019? More precisely: what would be the nature of the changes involved in that process, and if it occurred a coup last year.
The Bolivian case reflects in some way the main tensions that are manifested in the debates of the left in the region. Respectively, what is the projected horizon of transformation, and what is the role of democracy in this horizon. I will address them here briefly, in the knowledge that the positions presented will not fully satisfy any of the “parties” involved in these discussions. Which means that they will displease everyone.
Alberto Fernández bets on a progressive alliance with Bolivia from the South
First, let’s take stock of the process. It cannot be said that there have been no changes, nor that they have been of little importance. It is no small thing to change the social profile of government officials and parliamentary representation. Bolivia is today a country with a notable indigenous and female representation, one of the largest in the world in this sense. There has been a reasonable involvement of organized social movements in government, although increasingly limited. The Constitution approved in 2009 contributed interesting innovations such as plurality, the “community democracy “ and the presence of the values of sum qamaña or “live well.” Poverty has also been reduced considerably, social investment has increased and the role of State, without the national economy having been disorganized and collapsed, as is often the case when trying to introduce (minimal) changes in dependent countries.
On the other hand, we must admit that we bet a lot on Bolivia, and we are disappointed with the process. Among the countries of the so-called “pink tide “ Of the Latin American governments at the beginning of this century, Bolivia seemed to many of us the case with the greatest capacity for innovation and with the most solid social bases to sustain it. But in effect, what happened was a progressive departure from the proposals of “Development alternatives”, giving way to a project of “Alternative development” very similar to any neo-extractivist project recently implemented in the region (with its obvious structural limitations).
However, it should not be considered that there has been a “treason” to the hope of many. The Movement to Socialism (MAS) was already balanced before coming to power in at least two projects: one more alternative, based on Holistic and community indigenous cosmogony, of integration with nature and connection with past and future generations; another one statist and developmentalist, which echoes the national-popular traditions that referred to the 1952 revolution. It cannot be considered that he has promised one and fulfilled another, because the coexistence of both has always been explicit. Nor can it be said that they are completely irreconcilable, insofar as they continue to coexist in the same space – which is exemplified by the strategic binomial Luis Arce / David Choquehuanca, elected to the presidency and vice-presidency last October. The first is the middle-class academic responsible for “Economic success” from Bolivia; the second is the symbol of the sum qamaña.
Bolivia’s economic “miracle”
Let’s move on to the subject of the coup, that is, to the subject of the democracy. I defend that there was a coup on Nov 10, 2019. The violent overthrow by sectors of the State of a president serving a legal mandate it is usually a coup. Attacks on social movements and representatives of the MAS, the authoritarian and racist profile of the right (which hegemonizes the opposition) and the “invitation” of the military Morales’ resignation allows characterizing what happened as a coup, basically military and police. This rupture was supported by an international right-wing articulation, with the participation of the government of Jair Bolsonaro.
More than a year after those events, the destabilizing action of the Organization of American States (OAS) it is also evident. He offered the main motivation for the overthrow of Morales, defending the thesis of the election fraud. However, the report “manufactured” by the organization in the heat of the elections has been contradicted by various analyzes. Furthermore, the fraud argument in October 2019 becomes more problematic in light of the election results of October 2020. considering the 55% of the votes received by Arce, the 46% of a spent and illegitimate Morales becomes feasible. Since the difference between him and the second favorite was around 10% (as necessary to avoid a second round), there should have been at least one count to accurately measure that difference. Not recommending new elections, as the OAS did.
However, arguing that there was a coup implies the need to make two observations. The first is that the MAS insisted on the reelection of Morales after the defeat in the 2016 plebiscite, who had denied this possibility. With this, he lost part of his legitimacy and support. If a popular vote is lost, the result is accepted. There can be no room for discussion on this. The imposition of Morales’ candidacy could be understood as a “Institutional coup”, with the appearance of legality due to its acceptance by the Plurinational Constitutional Court of Bolivia. There was a (correct) perception that the possibility of greater state control and an authoritarian drift was open in the event of Morales’ re-election. He shouldn’t have been a candidate. This exemplifies the difficulties on the part of the left in assuming democracy as one of its ends, still understanding it as a means. More equality and “substantive” democracy are not contradictory to respect for game rules previously agreed.
Evo Morales, the other big winner: “We are going to restore dignity and freedom”
Another point is to recognize that part of the heterogeneous social sectors that took to the streets in the days after the 2019 elections were not looking for the coup d’état or the far-right government that resulted from all this. There were social movements, critical intellectuals, progressive sectors of the youth that demanded more participation and democracy. To hold them responsible for the coup would be to say that the protests of June 2013 in Brazil led to 2016 institutional coup and to Bolsonaro’s election in 2018. Nothing is further from reality.
We hope that the failure and defeat of the short and disastrous Bolivian authoritarian solution can lead at least to a temporary disarmament of the recurring situation of “Catastrophic draw” manifested in that country. We also hope that critical intelligentsia in the region can respectfully debate their dilemmas, which ultimately translate into how to achieve structural changes in democracy.
* Professor of Political Science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UNIRIO, Brazil). Deputy Director of Wirapuru, Latin American Journal of Ideas Studies (Ariadna Ediciones, Chile). Post-doctorate from the Institute for Advanced Studies of the University of Santiago (IDEA-USACH, Chile). www.latinoamerica21.com, a plural project that disseminates content produced by experts in Latin America.