Friday, October 31, 2008

Bolivia: From Portside

Bolivia: Unprecedented Alliance Defeats Right-Wing Assault

By Federico Fuentes

The B u l l e t
Socialist Project - E-Bulletin No. 150, October 30, 2008

LA PAZ: After three months of intense class struggle, there
can be no doubt that the U.S.-backed right-wing opposition to
the government of President Evo Morales has suffered three
important defeats. The right's offensive to topple Morales,
which climaxed with the September 11-12 "civic coup" attempt,
has been decisively rolled back by the combined action of the
government and social movements.

The government secured a historic vote in its favour with
more than 67% endorsing Morales' mandate in a referendum in
August that also revoked the mandate of two opposition
prefects. Another opposition prefect was arrested for his
role in the coup. And now Morales has secured a referendum
for the new draft Constitution to "refound Bolivia" on the
basis of justice for the indigenous majority.

More importantly, a strengthened Morales government now
counts on an unprecedented alliance of indigenous, peasants'
and workers' organizations determined to defend their
government and the Morales-led "democratic and cultural

Third wave of struggle

With the turn of the century, Bolivia's social movements --
united behind Bolivia's powerful indigenous peasant movement
-- began to rise up in opposition to neoliberalism and
indigenous oppression, overthrowing two presidents and paving
the way for the victory of the Morales-led Movement Towards
Socialism (MAS) in early general elections in 2005.

On assuming the presidency, Morales moved to nationalize
Bolivia's gas reserves and convoke a constituent assembly to
draft a new Constitution -- the two central demands of the
mass movement.

A concerted campaign led by reactionary forces grouped around
the prefects of the "half moon" -- the eastern departments of
Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz and Tarija -- to wear down government
support in order to pave the way for Morales' downfall,
succeeded in stopping the advance of this process for most of

Mistakes by the government and a relative demobilization of
the movements also contributed.

With their ability to mobilize an important social base
against the government in the east around defense of
"regional autonomy" and to stall the constituent assembly
around the demand for a two-thirds majority vote on the new
Constitution, these forces spread their support outside of
the half moon to the central departments of Cochabamba, where
violent clashes occurred in January 2007, and then

Racist attacks against indigenous people and the assembly
delegates in Chiquisaca's capital Sucre forced the assembly
to reconvene, first in a military barrack and afterwards in a
different state -- without the opposition -- to approve the
final text.

Bolivia appeared to be approaching the abyss, as regional and
ethnic tensions deeply divided the country.

Victory at the ballot box

Believing that the time was right to move to get rid of
Morales, the right-wing Podemos party (which controls the
Senate) approved a law for recall referendums on Morales and
the prefects.

This was also partly an attempt by Podemos to seize the
initiative within the opposition from the half moon
opposition prefects.

The opposition prefects, now grouped together in the National
Democratic Coalition (CONALDE), initially opposed the
referendums. However, following a series of meetings with
U.S. ambassador Phillip Goldberg, they agreed to accept the

A June by-election resulted in an anti-MAS prefect replacing
the MAS predecessor in Chuquisaca, further lifting the
right's hopes.

But the results of the August 10 vote demonstrated a totally
different reality. Morales' mandate was endorsed with an
historic 67.4% of the vote.

Morales also won in Pando, tied in Tarija and got over 40% in
Beni and Santa Cruz, with the opposition's support base
isolated to the main cities, encircled by MAS-aligned rural

In the majority of rural electorates Morales scored over 90%,
while in poor urban areas like El Alto in the west and Plan
3000 in Santa Cruz his support was above 80%.

Opposition prefects were also recalled in Cochabamba and La

Together with social programs that had begun to change the
lives of millions, the deep connection felt with a president
"just like us" that exists among the indigenous and poor
urban sectors helps explain this result.

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