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Bolivia - the left returns to power

by Otto Koenig and Richard Detje Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020 at 2:30 PM

The Bolivian people have proven that reason, dignity and fighting spirit cannot be suppressed either by a military coup or by government repression. The election result has implications not only for Bolivia, where it is an important step towards the restoration of democracy, but for the entire Latin American region.

Bolivia - the left returns to power

"The people have won"

by Otto König and Richard Detje

[This article published on Nov 17, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

"Wiphala" flags, the symbol for the indigenous people in Bolivia. Photo: educational disaster/ (CC BY-NC 2.0)

It was a moment of hope - not only for Bolivia, but for Latin America: Although the "Bible-wielding" putschists had announced a year ago that "the savages should never again come to power," on November 8, the newly elected left-wing president Luis Arce and his deputy David Choquehuanca were sworn into office. [1]

Bolivia is once again ruled by a democratically elected president, whose presidential sash once again bears the "Wiphala flag", the symbol of Bolivia's indigenous population. Under the right-wing conservative coup government, the symbols of the indigenous people, who make up about 62 % of the entire Bolivian population, had been removed from state institutions.

In his inaugural speech, Luis Arce appealed to the population to overcome "division, hatred, racism and discrimination. He believed in a better Bolivia, "in that we will go side by side, with the participation and collaboration of all Bolivians*, towards a peaceful coexistence. This should be characterized by "principles of self-determination of the peoples, non-interference, non-alignment and full legal and political equality.

The 57-year-old economist Arce was elected the 67th president of Bolivia on October 18 as the candidate of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) with 55.2% of the vote, followed by his challengers, the liberal-conservative Carlos Mesa (31.5%) and the ultra-right Luis Fernando Camacho (14%). The gap to Mesa, who came second, was an impressive 25 percentage points. According to the OEP, the left-wing party MAS won 73 of the 130 seats in the House of Commons ("Cámara de Diputados") at the same time, and in the House of Lords ("Cámara de Senadores") it will in future provide 21 of the 36 senators. And there is another positive aspect: 50% of the new deputies are women.

With this brilliant election victory, the Bolivian population has taught its political elite several lessons. On the one hand, it is a clear rejection of the right-wing and religious interim government of President Jeanine Áñez, which seized power in November 2019 after the unjustified accusations of electoral fraud[2] and the coup against Evo Morales. The de facto government used repression, bloodshed on the indigenous people and caused a significant economic and social setback which, coinciding with the COVID 19 pandemic, plunged the country into a deep crisis. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the Bolivian economy will shrink by 7.9 % in 2020.

However, the transitional government, which had only the task of preparing for new elections, made a series of political decisions that went far beyond its mandate and followed a reactionary agenda: embassies in Nicaragua and Iran were closed, structural agreements were signed between the national oil company of Bolivia and the Brazilian oil company Petrobras, which will affect the Bolivian economy for the next six years, and a loan was called in from the IMF without parliamentary approval.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that the physical and symbolic violence against the indigenous population, which was expressed in the massacres of Sacaba and Senkata[3] and the burning of Wiphalas, played a decisive role in ensuring that the indigenous majority voted unanimously for Arce. They did not want the old, colonial elites to return. The openly racist white bourgeoisie in the Departamentos Santa Cruz or Beni, which had celebrated the resignation of Evo Morales, forced by the military, as an "exorcism", had to painfully understand that whoever wants to govern in Bolivia must represent or at least include the indigenous population.

In the end, the mobilization of the population was decisive. Under the pretext of the Covid 19 pandemic, the Añez government had the new elections postponed three times until the organized population demonstratively said, "Enough is enough! Thousands of trade unionists and activists from peasant and popular organizations went on strike and blocked communication routes throughout the country to ensure that the election date in October was legally established.

The Bolivian people have proven that reason, dignity and fighting spirit cannot be suppressed either by a military coup or by government repression. The election result has implications not only for Bolivia, where it is an important step towards the restoration of democracy, but for the entire Latin American region in terms of democracy, national independence, economic and social progress and the fight against racism.

The urban middle class and the indigenous peoples associate the new president with an economic upswing, modest prosperity, the taming of inflation and a marked reduction in poverty. With the 57-year-old economist Luis Arce-under his mandate as Minister of Economic Affairs- Bolivia experienced one of the longest periods of growth in Latin America; he is considered a competent politician to consolidate the country, which was severely affected by the Corona crisis, also economically. Under his aegis as Minister of Economy during Evo Morales' 14-year term of office, Bolivia pursued a policy of nationalizing its oil and gas deposits. The raw materials boom allowed the country a generous redistribution policy, which reduced poverty. Per capita income tripled, the currency remained stable, and extreme poverty fell from 38 to 16 %.

Arce and his deputy Choquehuanca now face immense tasks. First they must clear up the economic and sociopolitical debris of the putschist regime. The crisis has set back the economy, which is based on the export of raw materials, by years, destroyed jobs and increased poverty. The health care system has been almost destroyed - also due to the politically motivated expulsion of Cuban doctors - and the education system is in ruins. "The current state of Bolivia is a result of the class interests of the rich," Arce stated in a BBC interview.

The MAS government will have to set priorities. It will have to reverse the measures that have been decided at the expense of the population, such as cutting back social programs and beginning to sell off raw materials like lithium to multinational corporations. No fewer than 256 proposals are contained in the program for improving the situation in Bolivia presented by Luis Arce at the beginning of his presidency: Bonus payments for the urgent alleviation of hunger and poverty, a tax on large fortunes, industrialization of the huge lithium deposits in the Uyuni salt lake, and the rehabilitation of the ruined health and education systems. Issues such as good education and work, environmental protection and an end to violence against women and girls are also gaining in importance.

Equally important will be the reorganization of the police and military, who supported the coup last year in large parts. Even though the blow in the elections may have weakened the right-wing conservative political elites, it is clear that they will not accept that the Bolivian people take their future into their own hands. It would be naïve to believe that they will now accept the result democratically without further ado.

In terms of foreign policy, Arce wants to work for the strengthening of Latin American alliances such as UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), and to revive the regional integration that was started by various progressive governments of the continent about 15 years ago. Diplomatic relations with Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, which Áñez broke off, are to be resumed and the strained relations with Argentina and Mexico improved. Bolivia would stand with him as president on the side of the progressive governments and movements, said Arce. This message signals how important the reversal of the "regime change" is not only for the Andean state, but for the entire region.

"A year ago Bolivia experienced one of the worst moments in its history, now democracy has been restored," said Evo Morales when he ended his exile in Argentina the day after Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca were sworn in. Thousands of sympathizers* gave the former Bolivian president and leader of the governing party Movimiento al Socialismo a triumphant welcome when he crossed the border into Bolivia on foot. Argentina's center-left president Alberto Fernández had accompanied Morales to the border bridge in the Argentine city of La Quiaca. Before the caravan, consisting of several hundred vehicles, set off through several regions to his home department of Cochabamba, Morales stressed: "The people have won, but we must remain vigilant.


1] The inauguration process was secured by several thousand activists from social movements, indigenous organizations and members of the Confederation of Trade Unions (COB). After the failed bomb attack on the MAS campaign office in La Paz on November 6, further attacks by violent opposition activists were feared. "We are on the streets because we know that we can achieve a lot. This includes preventing the transfer of office," the radical right-wing presidential candidate Luis Camacho from Santa Cruz had called for resistance.

2] The results of the elections in the Andean country revealed the farce of the so-called electoral fraud that was staged by the leadership of the OAS (Organization of American States), the Lima Group and the United States after the 2019 elections to legitimize the military coup. See also: Otto König/Richard Detje: Presidential and parliamentary elections postponed again. Bolivia's coup government intensifies political persecution, Sozialismus Aktuell of August 10, 2020.

3] On November 15, 2019, MAS activists marched to the country's fourth largest city, Cochabamba, to demand the removal of the illegitimate transitional government. In Sacaba they were stopped by police and military with deadly force. The balance: ten dead. Four days later in Senkata in the city of El Alto, police and military broke through a roadblock so that transports of fuel and liquefied gas could leave a factory. When the protesters tore down part of the factory's perimeter wall, the police and military fired on them, killing ten people and injuring more than 100. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) classified the two incidents as a massacre of the civilian population after an investigation on the ground. A commission of inquiry of the Bolivian parliament into the massacres concluded that the deadly projectiles came from weapons of the military and the police. It recommends opening legal proceedings against interim president Jeanine Áñez and her cabinet as the main perpetrators (America 21, October 28, 2020).

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