«Martin Nilsson BOLIVIA UNDER THE LEFT-WING PRESIDENCY OF EVO MORALES—INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND THE END OF POSTCOLONIALISM? ABSTRACT: This ...»
INTERDISCIPLINARY POLITICAL AND CULTURAL JOURNAL, Vol. 15, No. 1/2013
35–48, DOI: 10.2478/ipcj‐2013‐0003
BOLIVIA UNDER THE LEFT-WING PRESIDENCY
OF EVO MORALES—INDIGENOUS PEOPLE AND THE END
ABSTRACT: This article explores the development in Bolivia under president Evo Morales, through a critical postcolonial approach. From a traditional liberal perspective, this article concludes that the liberal democratic system under Morales has not been deepening, though certain new participatory aspects of democracy, including socio-economic reforms have been carried out. In contrast, this article analyses to what extent the presidency of Evo Morales may be seen as the end of the postcolonialism, and the beginning of a new era in which Bolivia’s indigenous people finally have been incorporated into the forward development of a multi-ethnic society. By analysing issues such as time, nation, land, space, globalization and language, the conclusion is that the new constitution marks a fresh beginning, one beyond the colonial and postcolonial eras, for indigenous groups, but it will not bring back the old indigenous societies as was dominating the territory of today’s modern state.
KEY WORDS: Bolivia, postcolonialism, indigenous people, democracy, socio- economic development.
Introduction By 2009, as many as fourteen presidencies in Latin America were held by the political left. In Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Chile, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Panama, Peru, Paraguay, and El Linnaeus University, Senior Lecturer / Head of Political Science, Linnaeus University, Department of Political Science, 35195, Växjö, Sweden, E‐mail: martin.nilsson @lnu.se. This article has been sponsored by Linnaeus University Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies, Linnaeus University.  34 Martin Nilsson Salvador, the reformist and social-democratic presidents have attempted to enact liberal democracy, with modest social and economic reforms. However, in other Latin American countries, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, the presidents have been far more radical, challenging or trying to challenge the existing political, social, and global economic order (Katz; Walker;
Moreno-Brid and Paunovic). These governments are considered radical for several reasons: one is the promotion of radical socioeconomic agendas and how democracy is understood as a concept; in reality, it is the ambition to deepen democracy through peoples’ participation in the political and socio-economic spheres. This stands in sharp contrast to the liberal representative democratic tradition and its focus on elections, political rights, and vertical and horizontal accountability (see Dahl).
Bolivia’s political development differs somewhat, mainly because the Bolivian left remains strongly supportive of its indigenous people’s claims to restore their legacy after several hundred years of colonization and postcolonisation. After independence in the early nineteenth century, the legacy of the former Spanish colonial political and socio-cultural order was taken over by white or mestizo landlords, capitalists and the military, and this postcolonial approach endured until the 2000s.
In late 2005 this finally changed, when Evo Morales, a former coca-peasant from one of the major indigenous groups, won the presidency. Morales represented the former social movement, Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS, Movement for Socialism), which quickly became the country’s most important political party.
Morales and MAS secured victory by forming a coalition of supporters, including indigenous peasants, miners, landless peasants, and indigenous movements, and by promoting cultural, civil and social rights. These supporters shared a common hostile view of western globalization, capitalism, and neoliberalism, but lacked any larger representation before the emergence of MAS (Postero, Anria). After Morales took office, a call for a sociocultural and democratic revolution was made, demanding the nationalization of gas and oil, sweeping agrarian and land reforms, and the creation of a constitutional assembly that could create a more equitable constitution for all citizens in Bolivia— particularly its indigenous people. Morales’ objectives could be seen as attempts to bring land, resources, and national identity back to the state enjoyed prior to the colonial and postcolonial periods.
35 Bolivia under the Left-wing Presidency of Evo Morales… A great amount of previous research on the Latin American and Bolivian political left has focused on issues such as the definition and classifications of the leftist governments: populist, participatory, radical, social-democratic, or the nationalist left (e.g. Castañeda; Walker; Katz; Moreno-Brid, and Paunovic), the left wave as a phenomenon (Castañeda, and Morales), the leadership related to populism, different topics and cases related to the left (e.g. Cameron and Sharpe), and the outcome of leftist policies, their relation to democracy, and a few about the role played by indigenous people (e.g.Lupien; Valdivia; Kohl and Bresnahan). But analysis of the left’s ambition to restore the legacy of the indigenous people role in Bolivian society and the outcome of this process remains so far relatively underexplored.
In order to be able to conduct this, a postcolonial critical approach will be used. Therefore, the aim of this article is to analyse to what extent to the presidency of Evo Morales may be seen as the end of the postcolonial period, and the beginning of a new era in which the voice and socio-cultural demands of Bolivia’s indigenous people finally have been incorporated into the forward development of a multi-ethnic society.
Background: Deepening Democracy under Morales—from a Traditional Liberal View The second most radical and controversial case of the left in Latin America, after Chávez’ Venezuela, has so far been Bolivia (Walker; Maxwell and Sharpe). In late 2005, Evo Morales won the presidency, and the Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) became the most important political actor. The background of Morales and MAS’s victory is that they managed to form a coalition of supporters, including indigenous peasants, miners, landless peasants, and indigenous movements, claiming cultural and civil rights. They all share a common hostile view of globalization and neoliberalism, and lack any larger representation before MAS began to succeed (Postero; Anria). After Morales took office, a call for a socio-cultural and democratic revolution was made proclaiming nationalization of gas and oil, agrarian and land reforms, and that a constitutional assembly would create a more equal constitution.
As in the case of Venezuela, Morales initiated reforms of the political system through the game of the liberal institutional 36 Martin Nilsson setting when a new constitution was introduced. After the landslide victory in 2005, an election to a constitutional assembly to rewrite the constitution was held. However, since MAS lacked the required two-third majority to vote for the outcome, the majority of MAS decided that each article would pass with a simple majority, but that the draft of the entire constitution still needed two-thirds majority. In December 2007, the elected constitutional assembly, with the majority of the MAS, voted for major changes to the constitution: The changes would establish both direct and indirect democratic institutions, and Bolivia was about to become an official multi-ethnic country, in which social reforms was supposed to be financed by the national mineral resources. According to Postero (“The Struggle to Create a Radical Democracy in Bolivia” 67), however, some critical voices, mainly from the political right and its allies such as landlords, entrepreneurs and other rich people, were raised on how the constitutional process was run (see also Anria, De la FuenteJeria, Valdivia, Rocabado). As a consequence, some of the richer regions held referendums that resulted in proclaiming autonomous regional status.
However, these referendums were not recognized by the central government or by the judicial system; this was followed by demonstrations and uprising against the Morales administration.
The problem was now how to succeed with the constitutional work, since a new constitution by the law needed two-thirds majority pass. A majority of the opposition was against most parts of the constitution meanwhile the regional prefects, in addition, demanded to move the capital from La Paz to the historical capital of Sucre. For a while, it looked like that the constitutional process would end. But after several months of death lock, Morales used a constitutional weapon when he launched recall referendums about his presidency and the regional prefects. Morales won the referendum and several opposition leaders lost. According to Cameron and Sharpe (72) this changed the balance of power in Bolivia; from now on, the leaders of the opposition in Congress, and the regions were more or less forced to negotiate a new draft of the constitution. Finally, on January 2009 the constitution was approved in a referendum by over a sixty percentage margin (Postero, “The Struggle to Create a Radical Democracy in Bolivia” 67).
As a contrast to for example Venezuela where the liberal democratic institutions have eroded in the 2000s, the leftist government under Morales has so far not contributed to 37 Bolivia under the Left-wing Presidency of Evo Morales… decreasing civil and political rights in Bolivia, nor have any major military coups taken place against the democratically elected government. Though there had been periods of social unrest since Morales took office, such as during the constitutional debate in 2008, and in 2010-11 when some subsidies of gas were decreased, there has been no real attempt of coups, or similar uncivil actions (Anria, Valdivia, Kohl and Bresnahan, Kohl). Nor has there been any decline of liberal democratic institutions, such as civil and political rights.
The key question is, however, to what extent the Morales administration has deepen democracy, and to what extent one could criticize the democratic path. In accordance with the liberal democratic tradition, the voters have continued to vote for Morales and MAS in the completely free fair elections in the constitutional assembly 2006, the recall referendum in 2008, and in the referendum for a new constitution in 2009, and in the presidential-, and Congress elections in 2009. Regard to Freedom House’s (2005-2012) index of liberal institutions—civil and political rights, Bolivia is considered as a young democracy, but the recent reports shows that civil and political rights have been stable around 3 (on the scale: 1-7) during the Morales administration. It is the same when Morales assumed office.
Regard the horizontal accountability, according to Anria, the congress has weakened its position, but this has to do with the crisis of the party system and the weak and unorganized opposition, rather than as a result of illegal actions taken by the Evo Morale’s presidency.
Though the old liberal democratic institutions remain relatively intact in Bolivia, but as we will see the new constitution has broaden and widening the scope of the democratic system, including more opportunities for participation as well as other radical socio-economic initiatives (Montambeault, Lupien, Kohl, Regalsky). In the new constitution, democracy is defined as a combination of direct participatory democracy and indirect representative liberal democracy. Participation takes place through actions such as referenda, citizens’ initiatives and prior consultations, while representative democracy is practiced through the regular elections. The new constitution also recognizes departmental autonomy as well as municipal, provincial, and indigenous autonomy. When it comes to economic issues it is stated that Bolivia will have a mixed economy with both 38 Martin Nilsson ownership of the state, communes, and private people. It means for example also that natural resources such as gas, oil and water will be administrated in the collective interest through the state.
Finally, in addition, the constitution gives the people several social rights to water, food, education, health care and other basic socio-economic conditions.
To summarize, as a result, in accordance with the western liberal tradition, the constitution includes the possibility to deepen democracy, both directly through institutions, but it also gives the possibility for radical reform policies, in accordance with the core content of the new constitution. Though the liberal democratic system has not been developed during the Morales administration, the new constitution and other policies taken have created several mechanisms to increase participation as parallel to the existing democratic system. But the question is how this all relates to the issue about the indigenous people’s demand to restore their historical legacy.
Postcolonialism and the Question about Indigenous People
According to Young (2003), a postcolonial status was reached when the former colonial territories received independence in Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, the world did not change very much as a result, and in most cases the same former colonial powers or elites continued to dominate the former colonies after independence. The new, autonomous countries continued to be highly connected to Europe and North America, particularly in regards to capitalism and liberal democracy. This postcolonial approach criticizes the western way of thinking in which developing countries are viewed as being composed of homogeneous people and cultures (Said, Chakrabarty). Quite often this insular view has reduced all countries outside the western powers into a collective third world, or developing world, sharing the same characteristics and facing the same obstacles.