Socialists are rebuilding Bolivia

Image: Paulinho Fluxuz_ (Entrance of the National University of La Paz on the day of the delivery of the title of Doctor Honoris Causa to Hugo Chaves. 24/01/2006)
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By JEREMY CORBYN*

We have a lot to learn from the achievements of the Bolivian left in power

In the first year of the new government of Luis Arce and the Movement to Socialism party (MAS – Movement to Socialism), Bolivia has made significant advances in remedying the damage inflicted on the country by the right-wing coup regime led by Jeanine Áñez, who preceded it.

The 2019 coup, planned well in advance by right-wing opposition leaders and high-ranking military officials, predicted that longtime and constantly re-elected president Evo Morales would once again win the presidential election.

Predicting that the final result would give Morales an expressive victory in the first round, as the votes of rural regions, indigenous populations and pro-Morales were counted, the right promoted violent demonstrations. Such protests still received carte blanche from the police, who rose up – first in Cochabamba, and then throughout the rest of the country.

Unconstitutionally installed in Morales' place, after he resigned to avoid further bloodshed, was Áñez, until then a right-wing senator.

Under the coup regime, the country was hit by a wave of human rights abuses. Trade unionists, indigenous activists and MAS supporters were the target of widespread rights violations, in attacks that even led to loss of life – for example, in the racist massacre of indigenous demonstrators in Sacaba and Senkata by military and police forces.

During its eleven months in power, the coup regime was characterized by little more than widespread repression and a neoliberal approach to economic and social policies.

Critically, he failed to develop a coherent strategy to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic and mitigate the economic crisis that accompanied it. Instead, public sector spending was sharply reduced in the last quarter of 2019. Public sector wages were severely reduced and the face value of the minimum wage was frozen for the first time since 2006.

During 2020, 400.000 Bolivians lost their jobs, remittance incomes were cut by almost half, and poverty and inequality soared as brutal austerity measures took effect. External debt was raised to US$11.2 billion, including a US$300 million loan requested from the International Monetary Fund, while state-owned companies were put up for sale or donated to coup supporters.

But, through it all, a broad coalition of union, peasant and indigenous movements, together with neighborhood organizations, informal workers' unions and the MAS, heroically resisted the repression and demanded the holding of new elections.

When they finally came, in October 2020, MAS candidate Luis Arce won a decisive victory, receiving 55% of the vote to 29% for his closest opponent, former President Carlos Mesa. The MAS also gained control of both houses of Congress. When we say, “don't whine, get organized”, we are inspired by these achievements of Bolivian popular politics.

How, then, did President Arce and the MAS face the legacy of the coup regime?

To correct the devastating impact on the population's income in one of the worst economic crises faced by the country in recent history, one of Arce's first actions was to enact the laws that would support the Bonus Against Hunger initiative. This initiative had been approved by the national assembly mostly composed of the MAS, to be later interrupted by Áñez.

Payments began to be made in December, benefiting more than four million people, reducing the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable families and reactivating the Bolivian economy.

Coupled with other measures, such as an increase in pensions and an annual tax targeted at the very rich (those whose income exceeds 4,3 million dollars), this initiative helped the Bolivian economy to grow by 5,3% in the first four months of 2021.

For the long term, the government is developing a sustainable industrial strategy and, at the same time, created a US$214 million fund to finance initiatives by municipal governments and indigenous communities, especially those focused on projects and productive infrastructure.

In health, the Áñez coup regime mismanaged the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, even participating in the corrupt acquisition of overpriced and inadequate respirators for use in intensive care.

Outsourcing, privatization and clientelistic capitalism have characterized the response of many right-wing governments to the pandemic – such as here in the UK – but the good news is that Bolivia has shown that such an approach can be reversed.

The Arce government has embarked on a three-pronged pandemic response strategy. It involved mass testing, carried out by municipalities; coordination between departmental and municipal governments; and the national provision of necessary tests, supplies and medical staff – and the purchase of vaccines. In October, more than 60% of the country's population over eighteen years of age had already received the first dose of the vaccine, while 47% were twice vaccinated.

On the international stage, Bolivia began to rebuild ties with allies and partners that had been broken by the coup regime. The government renewed its support for regional integration in Latin America, resuming its participation in three of the most important regional organizations for exchange, dialogue and security: ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América), CELAC (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanas y Caribeños) and UNASUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas). Diplomatic relations with Venezuela and Cuba were restored, and a comprehensive agreement was signed with Mexico.

Bolivia has been unfairly impacted by the effects of climate change, and at the upcoming COP26 discussions in Glasgow, Bolivia will again be at the forefront of advocating for real action and international cooperation to address the climate catastrophe.

At home, the new government is committed to holding accountable those involved in a wide range of crimes and misdemeanors committed under the coup regime. For his role in the massacre of protesters in Sacaba and Senkata, the Bolivian police chief is facing criminal charges – as is Áñez, who is facing charges relating to the systematic violation of human rights, sedition and conspiracy against the Morales government, as well as allegations of corruption.

Given the degree of military support for the coup and the coup regime, President Arce also acted quickly to effect changes at the highest levels of the armed forces with the aim of reducing the chances of them allying themselves again with reactionary movements against the elected government.

But the government and its international backers still need to remain vigilant of destabilization attempts by anti-democratic right-wing elements. Opposition organizations, led by key players in the 2019 coup such as Luis Fernando Camacho and Carlos Mesa, recently called for a “civic strike” against the Arce government.

Among their demands were the readmission of police officers involved in the coup and the dropping of charges against the Resistência Juvenil Cochala (a paramilitary group involved in destabilization activities), while Mesa and Camacho also called for freedom for Áñez. However, thousands of citizens from different parts of the country, in response, took to the streets to demonstrate in defense of the government.

We have a lot to learn from the achievements of the Bolivian left in power – from protecting nature in its constitution to including multiculturalism and organizing in communities and workplaces in search of real change.

As internationalists, we must continue to demonstrate our support for the MAS, the social movements and the Arce government against any attempts by reactionary forces – inside and outside the country – to go back in time and destroy the MAS's efforts to advance democracy, the human rights, equality and social progress in Bolivia.

*Jeremy Corbyn is a member of the English parliament. He was Leader of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition in the UK House of Commons from 2015 to 2020.

Translation: Daniel Pavan.

Originally published on the portal Tribune.

 

 

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