Evo Morales won the Bolivian presidency in 2005 with an overwhelming 54% of the vote with his Movement toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo) gaining control of the lower house of congress. However, he failed to win the majority in Bolivia’s Senate, and that body was able to stop some of his radical initiatives. However, in the General elections of December 6th 2009, President Morales won 63%% of the popular vote and his party achieved 85 out of 130 seats in the House of Deputies and 25 of 36 seats in the Senate. With these results, the administration can pass any law or make any constitutional change it wants, which has many Bolivians and various democratic leaders deeply concerned.

Morales, who was declared the “first fully indigenous head of state, ran on the premise that he would “refound” Bolivia focusing on socialist and indigenous principles, but pledged to work with all Bolivians within the context of respect for the rule of law and tolerance. Unfortunately, he has turned his back on this promise and has lead Bolivia into one of its worst political crises.

Since the beginning of his mandate, Morales has focused on changing the Constitution and indefinitely extending his presidency following in the footsteps of his closest ally, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. On numerous occasions, he has repeated that he did not come to the presidential palace as a “visitor, or someone passing through, but we have come to stay for a long time, until we change Bolivia.” [1]

He also has publicly declared himself a “Marxist-Leninist,” which has many fearing the worst of outcomes for the future of the Andean nation. In order to extend his time in power, Morales inaugurated the Bolivian Constituent Assembly on August 6, 2006, to begin writing a new document. His aim was to also give more power to the indigenous majority, which he claims, has been “marginalized by the elites.”

However, problems immediately arose when, unable to obtain two-thirds of the votes needed to approve a new constitution, Morales announced that only a simple majority would be needed. Huge protests erupted, mostly in the eastern, richer provinces of Pando, Santa Cruz, Tarija, and Beni that form the Media Luna: a half-moon-shaped area on the country’s eastern border with Brazil. This region of Bolivia is where the majority of the opposition is centered, where much of the hydrocarbon wealth is located and is the source of most of the nation’s agricultural output. The reform process has been considered illegal at every stage, as the opposition has been excluded, sometimes even physically, from participating. Huge dissatisfaction and resentment towards Morales remains in these provinces and many there are in favor of their region becoming autonomous and separate from the rest of Bolivia.

As part of the process to change the constitution, a recall referendum was approved on December 2007, by the Chamber of Deputies, where the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party has a majority. The referendum was initially suggested by Morales in December 2007, but was rejected by the opposition at the time. However, the opposition-controlled Senate brought back the suggestion following their victory in the Santa Cruz province autonomy referendum on May 4, 2008. Analysts agree that the opposition miscalculated the degree of support it enjoyed. For the president, vice-president or prefects to remain in office, they had to win more votes than they had in the December 2005 elections.  On August 10th 2008, Evo Morales was ratified by 67% of the vote.

As part of the process to change the constitution, a recall referendum was approved on December 2007, by the Chamber of Deputies, where the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) party has a majority. The referendum was initially suggested by Morales in December 2007, but was rejected by the opposition at the time. However, the opposition-controlled Senate brought back the suggestion following their victory in the Santa Cruz province autonomy referendum on May 4, 2008. Analysts agree that the opposition miscalculated the degree of support it enjoyed. For the president, vice-president or prefects to remain in office, they had to win more votes than they had in the December 2005 elections.  On August 10th 2008, Evo Morales was ratified by 67% of the vote.

Following these results and after months of fierce battles between the government and the opposition group, PODEMOS, the parties eventually reached a compromise on October 20, 2008 and agreed to hold the referendum on January 25, 2009 and early elections on December 6 2009. Morales in turn promised he would not run again in 2014 after his reelection in 2009. The referendum took take place on January 25, 2009. With a 61% majority, a new constitution came into effect on February 7th.

The new document includes an entire chapter dedicated to Bolivia’s indigenous populations. It puts the economy in the hands of the state, limits landholdings and redistributes revenues from gas fields in the eastern lowlands to poorer areas of the country.

One of the most contentious issues for Bolivians is control over natural gas. Since his campaign, Morales vowed to tighten state control over this resource and the mining industries and as of May 1, 2006, he signed a decree stating that all natural gas reserves were to be nationalized. Bolivia has the second largest deposits of natural gas in South America – 1.38 trillion cubic meters – after Venezuela. Even though he promised that the nationalization would not take the form of expropriations or confiscations, he ordered the military and engineers of YPFB, the state firm, to occupy energy installations, giving foreign companies a six-month period to renegotiate contracts, or face expulsion. US Exxon Mobil Corporation, Brazil’s Petrobras, Spain’s Repsol YPF, UK BG Group Plc, and France’s Total are the main gas companies present in the country. All foreign energy firms were required to sign new contracts giving Bolivia majority ownership and as much as 82% of revenues. [2]

The opposition insists that the President wants to impose a socialist economic model, copying his Venezuelan counterpart, and argues that Bolivia is turning into a totalitarian state. “Podemos” insists that the President is only focused on making a new constitution to stay in power and unfairly privilege indigenous groups. They also accuse him of misusing the revenues of gas to instill a “socialist revolution.”

Analysts agree that Morales’ programs to assert greater state control over the economy will destroy national productivity. They also state that Morales, a fierce critic of Washington and a leader of the emerging Latin American left, is destroying democracy. Roger F. Noriega, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, and now visiting fellow at AEI and managing director of Vision Americas LLC, accurately states, “Morales has proven to be the archetypical new brand of authoritarian populist in Latin America who wins power by electoral means and then sets out to destroy the very democracy that elected him in the first place. Rather than make any effort to govern within democratic institutions meant to check state power… such caudillos abuse their popularity to wage warfare against their opposition and to impose their radical agendas. Determined to put Bolivia’s institutions and resources at the service of the indigenous majority… he considers it an essential part of his mission to shatter the old order and attack the privileged establishment.” [3]

Another problematic development is the government’s intolerance of any type of opposition. The Morales’ regime uses mass violent mobilizations to intimidate any dissident voice and independent media. He even confiscates personal property and illegally detains opposition leaders. On more than one occasion, he has expressed publicly that he views all opponents as traitors, “I want to tell you, companions and union leaders, to all of you, if you are not with the official party (MAS) at this time, you are the opposition. There is no middle ground. Define yourselves.” [4]

In addition to endangering the Bolivian people’s future by implementing a socialist, backward model, Morales has also developed close ties with the FARC and with autocratic, non-democratic states such as Cuba, Nicaragua and more recently Iran, in addition to Venezuela.

There are credible reports that there are significant numbers of Venezuelan military and governmental advisers in Bolivia and that the intelligence apparatus is being advised by Havana and Caracas. Both countries have sent special envoys to oversee matters of national security. It has also been reported that Venezuela is in charge of   voter registration rolls and that Bolivian passports are actually being printed in Venezuela and Cuba. This means that Chavez and Castro could have access to identification and registration files, enabling them to ensure MAS electoral victories. [5]

There is also information that each year, the Venezuelan regime directly pays millions of dollars to senior leaders of Bolivia’s military and that it is building a series of new military posts as well as providing intelligence training. At least another $110 million a year goes to directly paying for a presidential program called “Bolivia Changes, Evo Fulfills His Promises.” This money goes directly to the presidency with no outside accountability or oversight. [6]

An agreement between the two countries calls for Venezuela to train Bolivian troops and upgrade military equipment. Chavez also agreed to finance the construction of ten customs and border control installations and has also provided two Super Puma helicopters for the president’s transportation, as well as loaning Morales a Venezuelan presidential jet for international travel. In addition, Venezuelan security personnel act as Morales’ primary security providers. [7]

The Cubans are primarily in charge of placing hundreds of doctors across rural Bolivia to administer medical care, and oversee an ambitious literacy program, which many claim is being used to indoctrinate the population on the “benefits” of Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution.” Cuba is also reported to oversee internal security structures to actively monitor the opposition. [8]

In addition, documents found in the computer of Raúl Reyes, the FARC commander killed in the March 1, 2008 raid by the Colombian military, show the ties, including the training of Bolivian students in FARC camps. Some of the correspondence mentions FARC contacts with Morales, both before he was president and afterward. In one 2007 missive, Reyes asks a member of the FARC’s International Commission to “take good care of our relations with Evo.” [9]

Venezuela’s Chavez has been key in the close relationship now in place between Bolivia and Iran. Both countries have opened diplomatic relations with each other. Like Venezuela, Bolivia eliminated the need for Iranian citizens to get visas to enter the country and Morales recently announced that he’s moving his country’s only embassy in the Middle East from Cairo to Tehran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Bolivia in 2007, and Morales paid a reciprocal visit to Tehran in September 2008. Upon arrival Morales declared Bolivia and Tehran “two friendly and revolutionary countries.”

When Ahmadinejad visited La Paz in 2007, he promised $1.1 billion in aid to Bolivia over five years, including a television station, to cover all of Latin America. Morales said the station would turn Bolivia into “the center of revolutionary democracy,” Which has yet to materialize. Even though only a couple of factories have been actually built by Iran, Ahmadinejad has in fact given a $230 million loan to help Bolivia establish a cement company. There has been no public statement as for how that money has been spent.

The main problem with the Iranian presence is that it has a history of using its embassies to support and finance the terror activities of Hezbollah. Case in point, in 1992 and 1994 respectively, this terrorist group bombed the Israeli Embassy and the Amia Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

On the security front, the Bolivian-Venezuelan-Iranian axis poses a real threat to regional stability and democracy and because of the ties of Iran and Venezuela to terrorist groups such as FARC and Hezbollah, this alliance poses a significant threat to the United States. Morales’ continuation in power will deepen these relationships.

On the economic front, analysts say that in the short-term, Morales’s decision to nationalize all oil and natural gas companies was productive because of record high prices. The country’s economy grew by 3.7 percent last year. However, they also predict that things will prove much more difficult in his second term. Foreign companies no longer invest in Bolivia due to changing rules and the United States cut off the tariff benefits it used to give Bolivian-made products because of Morales’ decision to stop cooperating with the United States in its war against the drug trade. In addition, Venezuela will find it very difficult to keep sustaining Bolivia due to the current crisis it is going through. The upcoming months will be crucial, as Morales’ next moves remain uncertain. 

Nicole M. Ferrand is the editor of “The Americas Report” of the Menges Hemispheric Security Project. She is a graduate of Columbia University in Economics and Political Science with a background in Law from Peruvian University, UNIFE and in Corporate Finance from Georgetown University.

 


[1] INTO THE ABYSS: BOLIVIA UNDER EVO MORALES AND THE MAS. June 18, 2009. By Douglas Farah. Strategy Center.

[2] Tillerson’s Exxon Mobil Faces Eviction From Bolivia. May 5, 2006. Forbes.

[3] Ibid – Into the Abyss.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Into the Abyss – Ibid.

[6] “Iran’s Unlikely Embrace of Bolivia Builds Influence in U.S. Backyard,” McClatchy Newspapers, Feb. 9, 2009.

[7] Hugo Chavez And Evo Morales Increase Their “Cooperation” V Crisis. By Tony Pagliaro. June 2006.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Las FARC Buscaron el Respaldo de Bolivia Para Lograr Su Expansión,” July 21, 2008. La Razón, Bolivia.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Featuring Recent Posts WordPress Widget development by YD

?>