The deepening constitutional crisis in Bolivia may just get worse this week, as both sides of the argument take to the streets on the 21 February, or #21F (or #21FDia de la mentira), exactly one year after the Referendum result that initiated the crisis. At the same time, President Evo Morales, arguably Bolivia’s finest President, seems to have lost his magic touch, becoming increasingly known as ‘Ego’ Morales.
On 21 February 2016, in a Referendum organised by Morales & his MAS controlled Govt (MAS – Moviemento al Socialismo, or Movement towards Socialism – history or in brief). People were asked to vote Si (Yes) or No to a proposal that would allow any President a 3rd five year term of office. And MAS made it clear that Morales, elected President in late 2005 & already elected twice more, would be their candidate in 2019 (Morales first term in office has already been discounted under a previous constitutional change, so technically he’s only on his 2nd term now!). To the surprise of many, the NO votes won, by a vote of approx 51.3% to 48.7%, on a turn out of approx 85%.
Ever since, MAS, and Morales, have been looking for a way to get around this result. At their December 2016 conference MAS confirmed their desire for Morales to be their 2019 candidate. Those who voted NO fear that MAS will use their majority in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly to not just ignore the Referendum, but will arbitrarily amend the constitution. Therefore on #21F, this Tuesday, supporters of the NO vote, along with those who’ve always opposed MAS/Morales, will take action to demand the Referendum result is respected. At the same time, MAS and the social movements who are a part of it, will mobilise to support Morales & his Govt. This will happen nationwide, here in La Paz it’s understood the MAS supporters will gather around noon in the city centre, whilst the NO supporters & opposition will hold an evening event around 6.30pm in the centre. We’ll be there to watch what happens!
Looking at the situation objectively, it would seem MAS/Morales are just being stupid. With the support they have, and the success they’ve had in power since late 2005, the logical thing would surely be to put forwards a new Presidential candidate, and allow Morales to step back or sideways, perhaps into an equally powerful position. The percentage of their victories from 2005 onwards have seen the get the sort of vote that the likes of May (UK) or Trump (USA) can only have wet dreams about, such as 64%(2010) and 61%(2015). But for some reason logic doesn’t come into it, other forces are at play, and they could include the tradition of Latin American machismo, the Morales ego, and the tendency of the Latin American left leaders to become authoritarian strongmen..? Or maybe MAS just doesn’t have a candidate they can unite behind? Whatever, having any leader for this long is already unhealthy, it may be better to do away with all leaders, as they inevitably turn bad eventually.
Either way, MAS/Morales are playing into the hands of the opposition, disunited & fractured & beaten as it has been since 2005. When MAS/Morales came to power on the crest of a 5 year revolutionary surge, the remnants of the right & the old colonialist descendants retreated to a few of their historical bases such as Santa Cruz, to lick their wounds & plot away in their traditional classist & racist ways – and these people are truly nasty bastards. Until now, despite their best machinations, they’ve not had a look in, but suddenly Morales & MAS look weakened, and it’s not just been the Referendum result.
2016 was described by the media outlet PaginaSiete as ‘El annus horribilis del MAS‘ in their annual review, and with good cause. From a position of apparent invincibility – popularity combined with economic progress & greater social equality, everything had gone wrong! The Govt started running a budget deficit & growth was down; they pissed off some of their own historic supporters amongst workers & peasants; corruption scandals grew amongst MAS politicians or their contacts; Morales was outed as having had a secret girlfriend who (allegedly?) had his kid, and she worked for a Chinese firm who may have been favoured with contracts; and so on. On top of this Bolivia has had a state of emergency since November 2016 due to a terrible drought – climate change is not MAS’s fault but they’ve not handled it well and have tarnished their green credentials in other ways. And Evo’s Ego appears to have got the better of him – always a good self-publicist, opening a $7.1million museum about himself, in the village of his birth (population 900, and in an isolated location), in a time of hardship, was not a smart move. And that wasn’t the first such vanity project.
So many Bolivians face a tricky choice. Many voted for MAS/Morales numerous times and have welcomed the economic & political stability they delivered after centuries of colonialism, exploitation, racism & repression. Many celebrated the first indigenous President of a south American country. But many now fear for their newfound democracy as MAS/Morales show all the signs of ending up rather like the National Revolution government of the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (1952-64), where everything came down to staying in power however corrupt or unconstitutional it may be. Apart from a small minority, most Bolivians have no interest in the right-wing scum & colonial descendants, but may find themslves next to them on the NO mobilisations. They need to beware falling into such traps, and indeed need to find an alternative voice & format that can go beyond the cycles of Bolivia’s past towards a future where true equality & freedom is the natural state for all people.