Evo Morales, might have done more for democratic consolidation and expose the deep racist politics in the Andes, despite his forced exit.
Morales chose to depart rather than hide behind the constitution, unlike the current office holders in neighboring Peru, Ecuador, Chile and Venezuela. Nonetheless, his detractors, the same that used to call him the “Mugabe of the Andes,” are now accusing him of conspiratorial plans to emerge as a dictator for life. Morales, the first indigenous president in a country with 65% indigenous population, came to power through electoral means at a time when Bolivia was facing complete collapse.
At a time that neoliberal reforms were tearing the social fabric of the country apart in 2005. Over the last 14 years he has presided over a period of political stability, social tranquility and considerable economic growth. He has won three elections making him the longest serving, popularly elected president in Bolivian history. His governments have been able to substantial heal the long-standing and inherent racial and ethnic divides of a country which still bore the marks of extractive colonialism and devastating wars. According to 2017 World Bank reports, Morales’ accomplishments include substantial growth in a number of economic and social indices: including GDP growth while lowering deficits and the percentage of Debt to GDP; Decreasing extreme poverty, which 2005 was at 33% of the population to 15% by 2017; Increasing per capita income from $1020 in 2005 and $3300 by 2017; while increasing health care and education expenditures resulting in dramatic life expectancy from 65.3 to 70.9 years and decrease in illiteracy rates during the same period. Bolivia was able to accomplish most of these goals by renegotiation of the profits from the extraction of its natural resources. In 2006, the Morales government undertook partial nationalization of resources by altered the 80% to 20% proportion of profits between the private corporations versus the state, to a 50% to 50% adjustment. Consequently, Bolivia’s cash reserves have risen annually by 5% to record levels. Overall establishing Bolivia as an economic, social and political regional success story, and Morales the envy of friends and foes alike.
In 2016, Mr. Morales, acting like most previous regional political leaders, manipulated the constitution so that he can stand for election for an unprecedented third term. An error in judgment and policy, which caused him a great deal of good will, especially among his supporters who felt betrayed by “the business as usual,” approach. While his opponents finally felt justified, as this is what they had been warning against all along. Despite the tremendous positives, democracy is based on norms, on accepting limitations and mostly knowing when it’s time to go home.
Mr. Morales might have won the elections of October 20, but it appeared that he had lost the legitimacy, as the shadow of impropriety only served to reinforce the suspicions and the perceptions long-held by his opponents. Taking advantage of the “democratic perception” of street politics, the wave of resentment against Morales came to the surface. The racist undertones of the demonstrators fully materialized only after Morales left the presidency and the real forces behind the demonstrators came to the front, grabbing for power in the name of the colonial legacy. Ironically, on the day that in Spain, the former colonial power, the fourth election in four years witnessed the rise of the extreme right and the possibility of Spain devolving into a prolonged political crisis, Evo Morales might have done more for democracy by choosing country over office. Even at this late stage, unlike Piñera in Chile, Maduro in Venezuela, Moreno in Ecuador, or Vizcarra in Peru, Morales chose the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law and stepped down, after accepting the ruling of the Organization of American States for repeat elections. In the near future Morales will emerge as a regional statesman, as he chose a path that we have rarely seen before. Although the events and the deaths of the last week has proven that Bolivia’s racial divide is deep and violent, Morales actions over the last fourteen years have proven his detractors to be wrong. He might not be able to stop the bloodshed in Bolivia, but he is not solely responsible and political culture in Bolivia did not begin in 2005, but in the 1520s. In 2019, the politics of racism and ethnicity in the Andes, continue to be powerful than the drive for democracy.
* Petros Vamvakas, Associate Professor of Political Science; Department of Political Science and International Studies, Εmmanuel College Boston