Socialists win big in Bolivia; Morales expected to return from exile by W. T. Whitney Jr.

Luis Arce, center, Bolivian presidential candidate for the Movement Towards Socialism Party, MAS, and running mate David Choquehuanca, second right, celebrate during a press conference where they claim victory after general elections in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020. Early results indicate Bolivian voters massively rejected the right-wing policies of the government that took power after former President Evo Morales was overthrown in a coup last year.| Juan Karita / AP

Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca, presidential and vice-presidential candidates, respectively, for Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS), scored an overwhelming first-round election victory on Oct. 18. They won 53% of the vote, showing strength in cities and rural areas alike. MAS was formerly headed by deposed President Evo Morales.

The Supreme Election Tribunal certified the voting results based on exit polls. Right-wing presidential candidate Carlos Mesa, president of Bolivia from 2003 to 2005, garnered only 31.2% of the vote. Right-wing nationalist Luis Fernando Camacho accounted for another 14.1% of the total. Some 7.3 million Bolivians cast ballots.

An Indigenous supporter of presidential candidate Luis Arce stands outside the headquarters of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party one day after elections in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. | Martin Mejia / AP

From Buenos Aires, where he lives in exile, former President Morales proclaimed, “We have recovered democracy.” MAS gained control of both houses of parliament. At a Monday morning press conference, Morales said the ending of his exile was imminent. “Sooner or later we are going to return to Bolivia, that is not in debate.”

Morales, in power from 2006 until being overthrown in 2019, was Bolivia’s first Indigenous president. On his watch, Bolivia’s poor and mostly Indigenous majority secured rights and economic gains. Nationalization of oil and natural gas production turned into a revenue bonanza for social programs. Bolivia’s government was put on a secure financial footing. Morales gained worldwide attention for espousing Indigenous rights and for bringing attention to the global environmental crisis.

A military coup backed by the United States and the Organization of American States brought down Morales’s government on Nov. 10, 2019. In the process, Luis Fernando Camacho, a lead plotter and a recent presidential candidate, displayed fascist-like ideology and own brand of Protestant fundamentalism. Jeanine Añez, the coup government’s interim president, did not run in the recently completed elections.

Late on election day, the Supreme Election Tribunal and government officials for several hours delayed the release of early election results. A spokesperson for MAS  leveled the accusation that they sought a period of uncertainty that “might yield a climate of violence leading to the elections being nullified.”

Following the coup of 2019, the government of Añez canceled presidential elections set for May and for September. Her pretext was danger from COVID-19; though many viewed it as an effort to stall a bad outcome for the right wing. An observer suggested the delays actually gave time to Bolivians, allowing them to experience “[White] supremacist, racist, fascist-like politics [and] to make comparisons with what had been a revolutionary process that over 14 years changed the face and whole nature of this Bolivia.”

Indeed, unemployment moved from 3.9% in mid-2019 to 11.8% a year later; poverty increased markedly in 2020, and the rate of economic growth fell almost 6%.

Luis Arce served as economics minister under Morales from 2006 until the November 2019 coup. He arranged for nationalization of hydrocarbon extraction and the financing of social programs. He was chiefly responsible for Bolivia achieving the highest rate of GDP growth for Latin America and accumulating great amounts of foreign cash reserves.

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales speaks at a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, after general elections in his home country, Monday, Oct. 19. 2020. | Marcos Brindicci / AP

Arce has proposed new taxation on Bolivia’s very wealthy. He recently claimed that MAS was “the only political party that guarantees that natural resources, including lithium, will not be privatized and handed over to transnationals.”

Many technology companies, including those that manufacture batteries for electric cars and mobile phones, have an interest in controlling the country’s lithium reserves, believed to be among the world’s largest.

Bolivia’s incoming vice president, David Choquehuanca, whose heritage is Indigenous and who is experienced in union organizing among rural workers, served as President Morales’s foreign minister from 2006 until January 2017.

Bolivian journalist and educator Mario Rodríguez saluted, “a victory in enemy territory, in a conservative enclave where the most fascist politics that can be are concentrated. [It’s] … a triumph over money, media power, and the dominant powers.”

In his own remarks, Luis Arce said nothing about inevitable speculation among democratic forces worldwide that his victory might strengthen resistance against recently installed neoliberal, U.S.–aligned governments in Latin America.

“We are recovering hope,” he declared, plus “the certainty that small, medium-sized, and big businesses will benefit, as will the public sectors and Bolivian families. I will govern for all Bolivians and, above all, with work to revamp efforts at achieving economic stability for the country.”

W. T. Whitney Jr.
W.T. Whitney Jr. grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont and now lives in rural Maine. He practiced and taught pediatrics for 35 years and long ago joined the Cuba solidarity movement, working with Let Cuba Live of Maine, Pastors for Peace, and the Venceremos Brigade. He writes on Latin America and health issues for the People’s World.

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