By Callum McCormick in La Paz
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Evo Morales wins third term in Bolivia

This article is over 9 years, 4 months old
Issue 2425
Evo Morales

Evo Morales (Pic: Flickr/presidenciabolivia)

Bolivians overwhelmingly re-elected Evo Morales as president for a third term last Sunday with over 60 percent of the vote.

His nearest challenger, fast food entrepreneur Samuel Doria Medina, got around a quarter of the vote.

Morales’ party MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) also won commanding majorities in both houses of the Bolivian parliament.

The bulk of Morales’ support came from the indigenous and working class majority, who have benefited most from increased state welfare spending and minimum wage increases during MAS’s eight years in power. MAS has overseen significant reductions in poverty and the disappearance of illiteracy.

But there are real contradictions at the heart of Morales’ political project. He is perhaps best known internationally for his denunciations of capitalism and its effect on “Pachamama”—the earth.

But his government has intensified the extraction of Bolivia’s own natural resources, often at severe environmental and social cost.

At various times these contradictions have exploded into open revolt—for instance in 2011 when huge protest from indigenous communities and their allies blocked a proposed highway construction through a national park.

Some social movements previously allied to Morales have either abandoned him or seen damaging splits.

He has committed his third term to extending the so-called “process of change” and to integrating the highly divided territory through investment in transport and communications.

The flagship for this policy is a magnificent new cable car system links the capital La Paz with the working class town of El Alto high on the mountain overlooking it.

Despite his environmentalist credentials the government plans extensive road building and new international airports. He also plans to construct Bolivia’s first nuclear energy facilities.

One big change in this election is the support Morales has received from previously hostile business interests in media luna—the eastern lowlands.

The business class has been impressed by Morales’ “careful” management of the economy. Bolivia has had some of the highest growth rates in Latin America under his rule. They compare his rule favourably with the “chaos” in Venezuela. These new found alliances helped Morales win for the first time in places such as Santa Cruz, home of the majority of Bolivian agribusiness.

The funding for this spending comes from Bolivia’s extensive natural gas and oil reserves. Morales said he wants Bolivia become the “energy capital of Latin America”.

His government has also seen a rebirth in the previously dormant mining industry, once the heartbeat of the Bolivian economy, and a government assisted explosion in the export of the highland Andean grain quinoa—now a staple of expensive health food shops in Paris and London.

Clearly though, as the election results testify, none of this has managed to halted the extraordinary political success of Evo Morales and MAS. For the majority Morales still represents a break from the dreaded neoliberal elites that dominated the country in the 1980s and 1990s. His success as the first indigenous president has challenged deep seated racism and class hatred.

Morales has proclaimed an anti-capitalist “democratic and cultural revolution”.  The next six years will test his ideals against the contradictions he faces.


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