Between the Bible and Lithium

Dora Longo Bahia, Paraíso – Consolação (project for Avenida Paulista), 2019. Acrylic, water-based pen and watercolor on paper (24 pieces) 29.7 x 21 cm each


Bolivia on the eve of elections

Latin America in the 21st Century

The neoliberal cycle that devastated Latin America in the 1990s had as a response, from the beginning of the 2000s, the arrival to power of moderate leftist leaders, in a movement that came to be called “pink wave”. Thus, in 2003, Luís Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Néstor Kirchner in Argentina assumed the presidency – unlike Carlos Menem in Argentina, Fernando Henrique Cardoso was not able to completely dismantle the social and economic fabric of Brazil, even though this design is not strange to the PSDB – in 2005 Tabaré Vázquez became president of Uruguay, in 2006 Evo Morales came to power in Bolivia, in 2007 Rafael Correa took office in Ecuador and in 2008 it was Fernando Lugo's turn in Paraguay. Prior to that, in 1999, Hugo Chávez took over as president-elect of Venezuela, seven years after leading a failed coup d'état, which had landed him in prison.

In general, this moderate progressive cycle, which lasted about a decade and a half, brought with it a revaluation of the role of the State, economic growth, less or no dependence on the IMF – an institution that had been a ghost haunting the 1980s. and 1990s –, a decrease in unemployment, investment in infrastructure, education, social policies and policies for minorities, in addition to a geopolitical reorientation seeking to assert greater autonomy for the subcontinent in relation to the United States. The creation of UNASUR and Lula's initiative to form the BRICS are two symbols of the south/south orientation that guided Latin America's foreign policy during this period. However, as highlighted maristella svampa, the tendency towards social inclusion of the governments of this cycle coexisted with a pact with big capital, namely agribusiness, the extractive and financial sectors, and, in the case of Brazil, the large construction companies. In particular, it should be noted that such a combination was based on the tree of the international prices of commodities boosted by China's growth.

Social inclusion policies were, therefore, backed by Chinese expansion and the supply of raw materials such as grains, meat, ores and oil to the Asian country by Latin American countries. So that, for the latter, such dynamics implied the reprimarization of their economies and dependence on China to guarantee internal prosperity. When China slowed down following the economic crisis of 2007-2008, the viability of continuing the primary-progressive model began to be called into question. Added to the negative economic effects of the Chinese downturn was the development of conservative opposition agendas (the paradigmatic case of this is Brazil) during the progressive period and, as pointed out by Ramon Grosfoguel, a renewed US interest in Latin America stemming from its failure in the Middle East.

The impeachment of Fernando Lugo in 2012 pioneered a new type of power grab, theorized by Wanderley Guilherme dos Santos under the name of parliamentary coup. But the definitive mark of the decline of the progressive period was the parliamentary coup in Brazil in 2016, which removed Dilma Roussef from power. In addition to these two cases, right-wing forces returned to power through elections in Argentina in 2015 with Mauricio Macri, in Ecuador with Lenín Moreno in 2017 and in Uruguay in 2020 with Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou. At the end of 2019, Evo Morales suffered a white military coup and resigned from the presidency. It is in the Bolivian case and in the role of the presidential elections that will take place in the country soon on the 18th of October that we will focus next.

Bolivia in 2020

The first indigenous president of a country where more than 60% of the population identifies as such, Evo Morales was elected in 2005 following the widespread protests that became known as the “gas war” in 2003 and the political crisis that led to his resignation. by President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2004 and by his successor Carlos Mesa in 2005. The gas war involved a dispute over this natural resource opposing the central government, which intended to export it to the United States and Mexico via a port Chilean, to popular claims that this should not be done until the extension of its domestic and industrial use in the country is guaranteed. Morales played a prominent role in this process and won the 2005 elections with 54% of the vote.

Consistent with his origins as a leader cocalero and with the platform of his party, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), Morales carried out the nationalization of gas and oil from the 2005 Hydrocarburos Law, quadrupled the GDP from 9,5 billion dollars in 2005 to more than 40 billion dollars in 2018, reduced extreme poverty from 38,5% to 15,2% in the same period, reduced income inequality measured by the Gini Index, which went from 0,60 to 0,47, implemented education, health and agrarian reform, and reduced the country's dependence on the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The great symbolic milestone of the Morales government was the promulgation of the new Bolivian Constitution in 2009, approved in a popular referendum by more than 60% of voters, which transformed the Republic of Bolivia into the Plurinational State of Bolivia.

The 2009 Constitution recognized indigenous autonomy and self-government, their languages ​​and cultures, established the wiphala (traditional Andean flag) as a symbol of the State, prohibited land ownership, promoted gender equality and freedom of religious belief (as per the previous Constitution , Catholicism was the official religion of Bolivia) established basic services that must be provided by the State to the population (such as the provision of drinking water, electricity, gas, sewage collection, etc.) .

In 2016, during his third term, Morales held a referendum (which took place on February 21 and became known as 21F) to consult the Bolivian population on the possibility of running for president for the fourth time. More than 50% of voters were against this possibility, but even so, the Plurinational Constitutional Court (TCP), equivalent to the country's supreme court, decided that Morales could seek re-election in 2019. Morales' resignation on November 10 last year.

Morales received 47% of the vote in the 2019 elections, while his opponent Carlos Mesa (the same Mesa who had resigned in 2005) won 36,5%. As an absolute majority or more than 40% of the votes with a difference of 10% from the second candidate was required, Morales was re-elected. During the counting, the vote accounting system went offline and, when it came back, the scenario that seemed to indicate a second round pointed to a victory for Morales already in the first round. This fact caused the opposition to Morales to raise the suspicion of electoral fraud. This, added to the indignation of the opposition due to the disrespect for the referendum, culminated in a wave of protests for the overthrow of the re-elected president. The Organization of American States (OAS) was called in to audit the elections and mediate the crisis that had taken hold. But, as reported Sue Iamamoto and Rafaela Pannain, the OAS pointed out the existence of fraud even before concluding its investigation, even though no evidence was presented to prove it. In addition to having directly influenced the existing environment of great tension, the OAS played an intervention role that it did not fit as an international organization that mediated the situation.

The army forced Morales to resign, but power was taken by a civilian, Senator Jeanine Áñez. The participation of the army makes it possible to characterize the coup in Bolivia as closer to a military coup than to the family of parliamentary coups that took place in Paraguay and Brazil and made use of the instrument of the impeachment. The symbolic act of the arrival of the conservative Áñez to power was her entrance to the presidential palace carrying a bible and stating that now this holy book returned to the building. By establishing the secularity of the Bolivian State, the 2009 Constitution had replaced the oath on the bible with the oath on the constitution during the president's inauguration. Morales, for his part, left the country and went into exile first in Mexico and then in Argentina. However, this sequence of events did not occur without popular reaction: a series of large protests – mostly by peasants, indigenous peoples and popular movements – took place in the country in defense of democracy and respect for the results of the polls. These protests were suppressed by strong state repression, expressing the authoritarian bias of the new government.

In addition to the Bolivian right, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who has an interest in Bolivia's lithium reserves, hinted that he was involved in Morales' departure from the presidency. In what has come to be called “Lithium Stroke”, the intervention of major players in the global market in Bolivian politics became clear, with a view to facilitating the appropriation of this natural resource, increasingly coveted by some sectors of the industry, such as automobiles, since Morales placed it as a condition for exploitation of lithium the directing of earnings to social programs. Given the current scenario, the exploitation of lithium assumes a relevant role in reinforcing the tradition of mining extractivism in Bolivia.

Also, in recent interview, the current MAS candidate in the October elections, Luis Arce, pointed to the participation of the Brazilian government in the overthrow of Morales. And, as he pointed out Atilio Borón here in this space, the coup cannot be understood without taking into account the actions of the US government. In that regard, Emiliano Mantovani highlights the neo-imperialist offensive led by the United States against the processes of popular inclusion in Latin American countries, which are in a moment of stagnation and setbacks in the transformations that occurred during progressive governments.

Áñez was supposed to head a transitional government until new elections, but these were postponed four times on the pretext of the infeasibility of taking place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. of the model built by MAS. Now, finally, they will take place on the next 18th. Luis Arce leads the polls, ahead of second place, the unavoidable Carlos Mesa. With the withdrawal of the current president from participating in the election, the Bolivian right is less divided and Arce's victory in the first round, which until a few days ago was in sight, should not occur.

If Arce emerges victorious in these elections, it will be the first case of the new wave of Latin American coups to be defeated at the polls. But even if the MAS returns to power, its contradictions and impasses will not disappear overnight. As in the case of other countries in the region, the Bolivian development model is based on the export of primary products. The primary-progressive cycle that ended invested in investing the revenue obtained from the sale of these products in social inclusion policies and infrastructure. And during this cycle, China has become the region's biggest trading partner. One of the meanings of recent coups is the guarantee of private appropriation of these revenues by local elites and transnational corporations, preferably from the United States and Europe.

If it is true that the model of the pink progressives may seem less worse than that of global corporations, it has proved to be insufficient and limited in taking Latin American countries out of their historic situation of dependency. The most radical case of this trap is Venezuela, which inspired the anthropologist Fernando Coronil in his The Magical State: Nature, Money, and Modernity in Venezuela talking about “nature exporting societies”. For the time being, where they have returned (as in Argentina) and where they have not yet returned (as in Bolivia and Brazil) to power, there does not seem to be any questioning on the part of Latin American progressive forces of the primary-export model that they set in motion at the beginning of this century.

*Ricardo Pagliuso Regatieri is a professor at the Department of Sociology at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).

* Nataly Sousa Pinho is a graduate student in Social Sciences at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).

* Tainã Pacheco Caires is a graduate of the Interdisciplinary Bachelor of Humanities at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA).


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