from Weekly News Update on the Americas
On Dec. 23, with 99.7% of the votes counted from the Dec. 18 general elections, Bolivia’s National Electoral Court (CNE) announced that Evo Morales Ayma of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) had won the presidency with nearly 54% of the valid votes cast. Morales got more than 1.5 million votes; turnout was an unprecedented 84.52% of the country’s 3,670,971 registered voters. He will be inaugurated on Jan. 22 for a five-year term, taking over from interim president Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze, the former Supreme Court president who became president of Bolivia last June 9 after popular protests forced out the previous president, Carlos Mesa Gisbert.
Jorge Quiroga of the right-wing Democratic and Social Power (Podemos) coalition took second place with 28.59%. (Quiroga previously served as interim president from Aug. 7, 2001 to Aug. 6, 2002; he had been elected as vice president in 1997 on the ticket with former dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez, and took over the presidency after Banzer became sick with cancer and stepped down.) Two other right-wing candidates trailed: Samuel Doria Medina of the National Unity Front (UN) with 7.8% and Michiaki Nagatani of the formerly ruling Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) with 6.47%. The Indigenous Pachakuti Movement (MIP) of Altiplano campesino leader Felipe Quispe Huanca got 2.16% of the vote. Three other parties–including the right-wing New Republican Force (NFR), led by Manfred Reyes Villa, who came in a close third behind Morales in the 2002 elections–each got less than 1% of the vote. Parties which get less than 3% of the vote apparently lose their legal electoral status. (El Diario, La Paz, Dec. 24; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, Dec. 24 from AFP; , Dec. 23; CNE website, Dec. 25; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 24 from Reuters, AFP)
In the 130-seat Chamber of Deputies, the MAS will have a majority with 64 seats, followed by Podemos with 44, the UN with 10 and the MNR with eight. One seat each went to the MIP, the Agricultural Patriotic Front of Bolivia (Frepab) and the Social Union of Bolivian Workers (USTB). In the 27-member Senate, the MAS will hold 12 seats, Podemos will have 13, and the UN and MNR will have one each. (Reuters, Dec. 24; AFP, Dec. 23; ENH, Dec. 24 from AFP) The MAS also won at least three of the country’s nine governor’s posts in the Dec. 18 election. (LJ, Dec. 23) [NOTE: the governors or “prefectos” of Bolivia’s nine departments were elected for the first time this year, in response to autonomy demands in the east of the country. They were previously appointed by the president.–WW4R]
According to the CNE, 3.98% of the ballots cast were blank, and 3.36% were void. The CNE said repeat elections will be held in January at several polling places which suffered problems on election day, but results from those sites will not affect the overall results. (ED, Dec. 24; AP, Dec. 23; CNE website, Dec. 25)
The election was historic in a number of ways. In the eight previous general elections held since 1978–when democracy was restored in Bolivia following a period of military governments–no presidential candidate ever won more than 34% of the vote. Morales is also the first indigenous president in a country where the World Bank estimates that 62% of the population is indigenous. (Bolivia Press, Dec. 19; World Bank website] Morales was born into an Aymara indigenous family in the highlands, where he spent his childhood herding llamas and growing potatoes. He later migrated with his family to the coca-growing region of Chapare in the Cochabamba tropics, and gained prominence there as a leader of the campesino coca growers (cocaleros). Morales still owns his own coca leaf plot in the Chapare. (Miami Herald, Dec. 21 from AP)
The new vice president-elect is Alvaro Garcia Linera, a sociologist, mathematician and former member of the leftist rebel group Tupaj (or Tupac) Katari Guerrilla Army (EGTK), which was active in the late 1980s in Bolivia. In April 1992 Garcia and his companion at the time, EGTK member and Mexican national Maria Raquel Gutierrez Aguilar, were arrested in La Paz in connection with EGTK activities and tortured by the government, according to an Amnesty International report from March 1993. Garcia’s brother, Jose Raul Garcia Linera, and his companion Sylvia Maria Renee de Alarcon, both EGTK members, were arrested in March 1992 and were also tortured. (Amnesty International USA Reports “Bolivia: Cases of torture and extrajudicial executions allegedly committed by the Bolivian security forces,” March 18, 1993 and “Bolivia–Awaiting Justice: Torture, Extrajudicial Executions and Legal Proceedings,” Sept. 18, 1996) The four were among a group of 12 EGTK members–another was Felipe Quispe–who were charged and jailed for more than five years but never sentenced; all were eventually released on parole in 1997 following a series of protests and hunger strikes. Gutierrez fled Bolivia in May 2001 and returned to Mexico, violating probation terms which barred her from leaving the country.
ECONOMIC CHANGES AHEAD?
President-elect Morales met on Dec. 21 with the country’s private business leaders. “We want everyone to work together,” Morales told them. Morales said his first move after being sworn into office on Jan. 22 will be to overturn Supreme Decree 21060, the 1985 measure which made Bolivia the first country in Latin America to adopt “free market” and privatization policies. The new administration says it will work with Congress to pass a new law governing economic policy, and plans to impose new taxes on the rich. (Cronica, Buenos Aires, Dec. 24 from Telam)
On Dec. 21 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced it would erase 100% of Bolivia’s IMF debt, along with the debts of 18 other deeply impoverished countries. The total debt forgiveness package covers $3.3 billion; in the Americas the other countries to benefit are Honduras, Nicaragua and Guyana. The IMF will implement the debt forgiveness plan in 2006, according to IMF managing director Rodrigo de Rato, and other countries will likely be added. (El Nuevo Herald. Dec. 22 from AP) Bolivia’s debt with the IMF is $222 million, equivalent to 4.48% of its total foreign debt of more than $4.95 billion, according to Simon Cueva, the IMF’s representative in Bolivia. The World Bank is expected to make an announcement about a similar debt forgiveness program in the coming months.
Central Bank of Bolivia (BCB) president Juan Antonio Morales said on Dec. 23 that Bolivia currently has a surplus of $438 million; he said exports for 2005 are predicted to reach $2.686 billion, a record high, mainly due to an increase in production volume and favorable prices on the international market. Bolivia’s principal exports are hydrocarbons (oil and gas), metals and grains. The bank president said economic growth this year was expected to be 3.9%. (ENH, Dec. 24 from AFP) Vice president-elect Garcia noted that while Bolivia’s macroeconomic figures “are going well,” poverty has been increasing because of the “injustices of the [neoliberal economic] model.” (ENH, Dec. 25 from AP)
On Dec. 22, Morales and Garcia met with the powerful Federation of Neighborhood Boards (Fejuve) of the city of El Alto. The El Alto Fejuve, headed by Abel Mamani, has led radical protests demanding nationalization of Bolivia’s natural resources, particularly water and gas. The Fejuve leaders signed an agreement with Morales and Garcia, pledging to cooperate with the new government toward fulfilling a series of 18 demands. The agreement did not set deadlines. (El Mundo, Santa Cruz, Dec. 23)
On Dec. 23, at a meeting with leaders of the Mine Workers Union Federation of Bolivia (FSTMB), Morales again promised that one of the first actions of his government will be “to change the economic model” in effect since 1985. Economist Carlos Villegas, the future government’s main adviser, explained to the press that the neoliberal policies imposed with decree 21060 increased the informal sector and unemployment and weakened worker protections. (ENH, Dec. 25 from AP; La Jornada, Dec. 24 from Reuters, AFP)
The Bolivian Workers Central (COB) labor federation took a harsher tone with Morales: COB general secretary Jaime Solares warned the president-elect that his first action in office must be “nationalization without compensation, and for that you don’t have to go consult Washington or the president of Brazil, but simply apply the mandate of the Constitution.” The COB gave Morales’ government 180 days to fulfill his electoral promises. Solares also demanded that Morales make good on his promise to “reduce the president’s salary,” as well as the salaries of legislators, and to eliminate the salaries of alternate deputies in the Congress. (Economia y Negocios Online, Chile, Dec. 19 from AFP) Such cost-cutting measures were part of the 10-point plan put forward by the MAS during the election campaign. (El Diario, La Paz, Dec. 20)
On Dec. 20, Morales said that as president he plans to keep controls on coca production but said he will study expanding the areas where it can be legally grown. Current laws permit coca cultivation in 29,000 acres of Los Yungas in La Paz department, and 7,900 acres in the Chapare. Morales said his government will promote the “international decriminalization of coca” but that “there won’t be free cultivation of the coca leaf.” Morales directly addressed the US government, urging it “to make an alliance for an effective fight against drug trafficking. We are in agreement that there must be zero cocaine and zero drug trafficking, but there will not be zero coca nor zero cocaleros,” he said. “We don’t want the fight against drug trafficking to be a pretext for geopolitical interests and control of Bolivian sovereignty, or that it be a pretext for imposing military bases,” Morales added. The coca leaf is a mild stimulant which is consumed in Bolivia for traditional and medicinal use and is believed to help with acclimation to high altitudes; it can be chewed or included in products such as candy, gum or beverages. (Miami Herald, Dec. 21 from AP; ENH, Dec. 21 from AP) At Morales’ request, the European Union (EU) has agreed to provide $499,800 to finance a study to determine how much of Bolivia’s coca production goes for legal uses and how much is used to make cocaine. The EU will not participate in implementation of the study. (MH, Dec. 24 from AP) The cocaleros of the Chapare had originally proposed such a study in 2002. (ENH, Dec. 21 from AP)
Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 26
Weekly News Update on the Americas
See also WW4 REPORT #115
See also our last update on the struggle in Bolivia:
Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, Jan. 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution