Bolivia has a long history of revolutionary struggle and popular protest by the indigenous majority, the workers and peasants, against the Hispanic ruling elite and their Yankee imperialist backers. With a militant and vibrant trade union tradition, unequalled in Latin America, and generations of political struggle against the feudal landowners and comprador capitalists, the Bolivian masses have ever been ready to make their own history by all means necessary.
The revolutionary upsurge in Bolivia has grown since the late 1990s, fed by absolute opposition on the part of the masses and indigenous people to the so-called economic liberalisation and consequent mass unemployment and poverty foisted upon them by the imperialists and their lackeys in the Bolivian ruling classes. Bolivia’s traditional political parties have been widely discredited and are unable to rule in the same old ways, and its working people and their indigenous allies are unwilling to be ruled in the same old way. In short, South America’s poorest country, and one of its most unequal, Bolivia, is ripe for revolution.
Evo Morales and the MAS
The slum dwellers of the barrios of El Alto, a huge township on the fringes of capital city La Paz, have taken the lead in the recent struggle in Bolivia. They are demanding a constituent assembly to lead to a democratic constitution. They also want to renationalise the oil and gas industry. Vitally, their struggle has been joined by the indigenous coca farmers of the Chapare (a rural rainforest area in central Bolivia) whose leader, Evo Morales, may be elected president if a fresh vote is held. Morales’s party, the MAS or Movement Toward Socialism, came a narrow second in Bolivia’s 2002 elections, an unprecedented success that caused a major upset to the traditional Bolivian parties and made Morales a celebrity across the continent.
During the election campaign, the MAS focused on US interference in, and domination of, the economic and political life of the country. Morales dubbed the US’s ambassador Manuel Rocha as “the owner of the circus” and the mainstream politicians as “the clowns”. The party’s election slogan was ‘Bolivians: You decide. Who’s in charge? Rocha or the voice of the people?’
When the results came in, Morales attributed much of the party’s success to threats from Rocha to remove US ‘aid’ from Bolivia, saying: “Every statement [Rocha] made against us helped us to grow and awaken the conscience of the people.”
Imperialist looting of natural resources
In the eastern lowlands of Santa Cruz, indigenous tribes are challenging the monopoly of local semi-feudal landowners. Meanwhile, the elite in Santa Cruz wants greater autonomy from the government in La Paz and to keep a larger share of gas revenues. These cronies of the Yankee superpower threaten to declare an independent state if the working masses and indigenous people persist in their anti-imperialist demands.
Bolivia is second only to Venezuela in Latin America in the size of its gas reserves. Just a few weeks after privatisation of the oil and gas industries in 1996, foreign investors suddenly announced that they had ‘discovered’ large reserves of gas in the south east of the country. This obvious piece of imperialist trickery (aided and abetted by local Bolivian lackeys) only infuriated the Bolivian masses still further. In response, the Bolivian government issued a law raising the taxes payable by foreign companies in order to fund the development of Bolivia’s gas reserves. Willing to strip Bolivia of her natural resources, but only if the Bolivians themselves pay for their own exploitation, the imperialists are now threatening legal action to halt the Bolivian demand that they pay taxes.
However, the revolutionary masses are not impressed by the government’s half-hearted attempts to get the imperialists to pay taxes. The still unpaid tax rise has not satisfied many ordinary Bolivians, who do not stand to gain from the imperialist exploitation of the gas reserves under their feet.
Old order in chaos
The resignation of President Mesa in the wake of the massive revolt of the Bolivian workers, peasants and indigenous peoples is the result both of the masses’ uprising and the need of the ruling classes to have some breathing space to regroup. The vice president was even more unacceptable to the masses than Mesa. In the end, unable to enter La Paz because of the people’s control of the streets, the Bolivian parliament met in the old capital of Sucre (safe in the heartlands of the Hispanic ruling semi-feudal elite) and elected as a fudge the head of the Constitutional Court to be acting president.
Were he to come to power, Morales would be welcomed neither by the elite nor by Washington. The call for a constituent assembly to re-forge Bolivian democracy in the interests of the masses and against those of the imperialists and their lackeys in Bolivia grows apace.
The Bolivian revolutionary movement underscores the fragility of bourgeois democratic institutions in the other semi-colonial countries in the Andes, such as Ecuador. It also reveals fatigue with liberalising economic ‘reform’ foisted on these countries by the imperialists and enacted by their tame lackey regimes in the region. Increasing poverty and disillusionment has provoked a revolutionary upsurge throughout the region, most conspicuously in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Uruguay.
Morales has forged a relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and other revolutionary democratic anti-imperialist forces in the region. Led by the working masses, together with the indigenous peoples of the Andes, Latin America stands on the verge of greater and greater battles with the imperialist enemy and its local semi-feudal and comprador capitalist allies.
The revolutionary democratic movements now emerging in the region are the international proletariat’s great allies in the struggle against oppression and exploitation. In aiding and abetting these movements we hasten the worldwide demise of capitalism and imperialism, bringing closer the day of our own emancipation from the yoke of capitalist slavery.