Last Sunday, 12 October, saw Evo Morales and his party Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism – MAS) claim a victory of 60.9% in the Bolivian presidential elections. Leftist leaders from across Latin America have congratulated him on what he has promised will be his third and last term as president of Bolivia.
When Morales was first elected in 2006, he didn’t exactly have big shoes to fill. The period between 2001 and 2005 saw huge political turmoil: five presidents served in as many years. President Morales inherited a legacy of crisis, and he has turned the country’s economy around and won the faith of the Bolivian people.
Economic indicators show that the country’s economy has grown at an average rate of 5% per year since 2006, and there has been a fiscal surplus in every year of Morales’ presidency. His Socialist government have semi-nationalised the hydrocarbons industry, building up funds to spend on various public ventures. Unlike Venezuela’s long-serving ex-president, Hugo Chávez, a great ally to the Bolivian President, Morales has effectively re-invested the income from the sale of natural resources such as hydrocarbons, minerals, and agriculture (which make up around 75% of the country’s formal economy).
Over the last eight years, public spending has almost tripled to 21 billion bolivianos (£1.9 million). Especially in urban areas, Morales’ government has made huge investments in infrastructure, schools, and hospitals. And the public have embraced the changes that have been made. A recent study demonstrated that 74% strongly approve of Morales’ management of the country. The country trusts him, and so do international investors, as he has brought a stability to Bolivia that has only rarely been seen before.
But Morales walks a tricky line. He strongly opposes what he calls the ‘capitalist imperialism’ of the US and other wealthy countries, but the Bolivian economy relies heavily on their investment and on the income from the exportation of natural resources to these countries. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez were both great friends and supporters of the Bolivian president (Morales dedicated his victory speech to them), but he has managed to find a balance that they did not. When he won his first electoral victory, Morales claimed to be “The United States’s worst nightmare,” but he hasn’t quite lived up to the . He is pragmatic, and does not jeopardise the wellbeing of the Bolivian economy in his Socialist values and firm ideological opposition to US fiscal controls in Latin America. But he has successfully negotiated trade agreements with both the US and the EU over the last couple of years.
The Bolivian economy has seen continued improvement, but there is still much to be done. In the last eight years, poverty has fallen by 15%, and the cities are prospering, but in rural areas almost 50% of the population still live on less than $2 per day. Now that the economy is beginning to stabilise, Morales needs to diversify it, and reduce the reliance from oil and mineral exportation. The government must look to invest their new income in rural areas where poverty is still rife in order to prevent the perpetuation of huge income inequalities across the country.
Morales is a populist, and was re-elected for his charisma as well as the success of his first two terms. Having won the faith of the Bolivian electorate and the wider Latin American political community, he could truly pave the way for Socialist governance in the region, and maybe even further afield. During his most recent campaign, he vowed to work on legislation to protect women from domestic and sexual violence, a huge problem in Bolivia, and he engaged feminist organisations in his election campaign. This is exciting news for many supporters, who have found his lack of attention to women’s rights inconsistent with his Socialist ideals. It is encouraging to see Morales developing new policies even as he moves into his ninth year of presidency, still driven to bring change to Bolivia and the wider world.
One of President Morales’ big hopes has been to aid the spread of Socialism across the world. But while he is certainly proving that a Socialist political regime can bring prosperity (the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other well-respected global economic groups have commended his efforts), European and North American politicians have been reluctant to look seriously at the system that is spreading across Latin America.
In the United Kingdom, the recent success of parties such as UKIP have been taken as a sign of political disillusionment on the part of the British public. Why has there been a swing to the Right instead of to the Left? Part of Morales’ appeal is that he is a true representative of the population. He is Bolivia’s first president of indigenous descent; he was brought up by llama farmers and never went to university. His Socialist ideals come from his past experience of relative poverty. In this way, he comes from the same background as the majority of the electorate, quite the opposite to the MPs in Westminster.
People feel a natural affinity towards Morales, that he is on their side. Samuel Doria Medina, his closest rival who came in with 24.49%, is a wealthy businessman and this played a big part in his defeat since the public felt that they could not relate to him. So why are the British public merely looking different at wealthy white males in an attempt to change the paradigm? There appears to be a lack of viable left-wing candidates who could more accurately represent the public interest. Is there a gap in the market?
If we look across the Atlantic, in President Obama, we see someone who, by US standards is left-wing; although he managed to win two presidential elections, the political system and the US paradigm mean that he can seldom push a bill through Congress.
Part of Morales’ success lies in the fact that he is strongly supported by neighbouring countries. There is an alliance of Neo-Socialist politicians across Latin America, among them Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Uruguay’s José Mujica. Their support for one-another has no parallel in Europe, with resistance to the European Union growing across the entire continent, and the emergence of right-wing popularity. Many Europeans see Socialist policies as antiquated and ineffective, a thing of the past. They are unable to relate to the progress that Socialism has brought in Latin America, perhaps because many European countries are more developed by Capitalist standards.
However, through Morales and a growing number of politicians in Latin America, we can see that the movement to Socialism is most definitely a move forward.
Photographs: http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/33; http://www.taringa.net/posts/offtopic/18007863/10-encuentros-de-famosos-con-Chavez.html