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Post In Bolivia, Evo Morales Survives...Thrives? (From Gary Moore)
Created by John Eipper on 12/19/18 3:36 PM

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In Bolivia, Evo Morales Survives...Thrives? (From Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 12/19/18 3:36 pm)

Gary Moore writes:

Our moderator has asked me to round out the Socialism-Or-Not discussion with a look at Evo Morales, the Bolivian wild card of impertinently successful-looking socialism.

JE knows Bolivia far better than I do, but at any rate, if I'm going to pop off about cataclysmic lessons from chavismo in collapsed Venezuela, I should look at the (much smaller but hauntingly insistent) Bolivian counter-example. Bolivia has used some of the same rhetoric and ideology as staunch ally Hugo Chávez did in Venezuela (1994 to 2013), and yet Bolivia (2006 to now) has somehow gone the other way.

Juan Evo Morales, a lantern-jawed and dreamily smiling Aymara Indian, former coca grower and Nativity-like llama-shepherd in childhood, has been president since 2006 of South America's long-dismissed, poorest, landlocked, and indigenous-concentrated nation, Bolivia, since he was democratically elected on a flatly socialist platform in 2006. Evo enthusiastically joined Chávez and Castro in their anti-imperialist trading bloc, and he immediately proceeded with moves that horrified the World Bank, the IMF, and the White House: 1) he kicked out the US Drug Enforcement Agency presence in Bolivia (Bolivia embraces unprocessed coca--not processed cocaine--as a tea-like stimulant), for Evo said he had a better way to constrain coca production; and 2) (more sweepingly) Evo seemed to nationalize every mega-industry in sight, notably utilities and the cash-cow lowland natural gas production that feeds Brazil and Argentina. Isn't this exactly the kind of road on which Chávez and Venezuela met ruin?

But if so, how is it that within a few years more, the IMF and the World Bank were saying that Evo's Bolivia had constructed an effective growth-producing economy, and the DEA in the US was saying that, well, yes, Evo's alternative formula for non-intrusive and non-violent coca limitation seemed to have worked?

Bolivia, like Guatemala and Peru, carried the ruins of indigenous civilizations into slavery-like apartheid and poverty for large minorities, then it transformed into uneven capitalism in Peru, ungovernable street crime in smaller Guatemala--and, in Bolivia, eventually lifted to the top the startlingly different presence of Juan Evo Morales.

"Strange," "somewhat surreal," or merely eccentric are some of the diagnoses settling onto the man who has claimed that eating chicken wilts male virility, since, he said, imperialist chicken-growers inject their birds with female hormones (a claim long obsolete). And yet Morales, looking a bit like Buddha in his whimsical smiles at life's slings and arrows, pursued his program of securing a larger share of wealth for the disadvantaged, using a flexible approach that submerged radical ideology while serving its goals.

Like Chávez in Venezuela, Morales had a (smaller) cash cow to finance his dream, in his natural gas reserves. But, unlike Chávez, Evo renegotiated with the hydrocarbon giants, keeping them as contractors with a (very) reduced cut, an approach they ratified by accepting,

Bolivia's economy has been steadily growing--now with one of the highest growth rates on the continent--while its indices of poverty, exclusion, illiteracy and disenfranchisement have plummeted. For a lot of Bolivians who had long been labeled, tacitly or otherwise, as being beyond help, life has gotten better. And this expansion of prosperity's tent has not brought the whole tent crashing down. Growth and investment are continuing.

Of course all is not hunky-dory in this still-poorest nation, but the critics may actually confirm the glow, because they are vociferous on both the left and right sides of Evo. The conservative Heritage Foundation headlined Evo as "running Bolivia into the ground," yet strangely provided no concrete examples of how this might be true, while eerily ignoring, as if they weren't there, the positive accomplishments--strongly suggesting that few specific warts could be found, even by pro forma anti-socialism. Ditto another inadvertent endorser, a steady and rising stream of invective against Evo from the left, saying his socialism hasn't gone far enough, or is too imperfect in other ways--which is much like what a less impassioned observer might hope to find in an open and reasonably productive society.

But it should also be said that in this gentle anti-imperialist, the sort of personal grandiosity suggested by Hugo Chávez's fall has unfortunately begun to stalk the Andes, too. Popular outcries against Morales, though apparently still not forming a Bolivian majority, have risen in part because he keeps ignoring laws on re-election. His beatific style seems too recondite to hammer openly on the theme that one man's unique genius may have enabled the Bolivian exception, but Evo and his many partisans seem convinced he should stay--at least until, say, 2025. This of course distorts the very democracy that brought him to power, but the harrowing game of Latin American solutions seems to ask how far the rules can be stretched--before reaching a Chávez-style breaking point.

Nor are the questions quieted by Evo's building a $7-million museum to himself (and his dream) in his remote hometown, and much less by his scandalous building of a new 29-story presidential palace (also housing five cabinet ministries) which violates local architectural height restrictions, bizarrely rising like a beatifically dreamed phallic symbol above much smaller buildings huddled below.

And so: Do these warning signs mean that Bolivia's partially compromising socialism is sooner or later doomed, whether or not Evo rides out his life as the shepherd? Will deluge on both the right and farther left eventually come to plague less beatific heirs?

No matter what history's verdict may be on that, the chicken-wary but solution-blessed Andean aerie of Evo Morales bafflingly complicates debate on Latin American socialism. Because of it, one can't simply say, as the Heritage Foundation seemed to say by misleading omission, that redistribution of wealth by political solutions is always and inevitably self-defeating. But on the other hand, leftist apostles tend to censor out the other problem, the difficulty that the great dream is usually self-defeating--as the passions behind it fail to stop at the edge of the cliff.

Bolivia has roughly a third the population of Venezuela, and, even in Venezuela's awe-inspiring crash, the Venezuelan GDP seems to rise to nearly ten times that of Bolivia. But still, no matter how small this one candle flickering in chaotic night, and no matter how unarticulated the underlying implications, the Evo solution will contribute to keeping alive a complicated and often disastrous debate, among precarious llama paths on the cliffs.

JE comments:  Agree with him or not, Gary Moore does political analysis with...dare I say a poetic flair?  A "solution-blessed Andean aerie"--wow.  Most pundits assumed Evo Morales would be "Evo the Brief" (a safe wager in Bolivian politics), but here he stands, twelve years later.  With the Castros gone, Evo is the dean of sorts of Latin American leftist heads of state.  (Perhaps the title should go to the embattled Daniel Ortega.)  Will historians be talking one day about Bolivian "exceptionalism"?


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  • In Bolivia, Evo Morales Survives (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/21/18 11:20 AM)
    I am grateful to Gary Moore (December 19th) for his highly informative and well-balanced discussion of Evo Morales's Bolivia.

    Gary's post is a perfect example of why I spend my time reading WAIS posts from most participants. Criticized by both the right and left wings, this is how you know he is probably right.


    Happy Holidays to all in WAISdom!


    JE comments: Do you mean that Evo is right, or that Gary is right? (By the way, who remembers Gary Wright and his 1975 classic, "Dream Weaver"?)


    Either way, the happiest of holidays to you and yours, Tor.  The holiday greetings are starting to roll in to WAIS HQ.  First in line:  Ronald Hilton alumnus and WAIS stalwart, Richard Hancock.

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  • Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, Compared (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/23/18 11:38 AM)
    I enjoyed Gary Moore's post on Evo Morales and his "successful-looking socialism" (December 19th).

    The parallels between Evo and Chávez are very illustrative to better understand the Venezuelan and Bolivian processes. I would like to contribute a different perspective to the analysis. There are great differences as well as similarities between the two regimes.


    I believe the first step in this comparison would be the political thinking and profiles of both leaders. The second would be to describe the similarities and differences in the roads they took in social and economic development.



    Both were of humble origin, Evo an indigenous peasant, unionist and communard, a social organizer; Chávez the son of elementary school teachers and a mediocre military officer. Their knowledge of socialist theory was very limited if any, and their adoption of this ideology came almost accidentally. Evo's political doctrine is based on a sort of nationalistic-indigenous claim, Chávez's doctrine on a sort of nationalistic and anti-capitalist-imperialistic credo. But likely their main "political" motivation was more social resentment instead of social justice or progressive social demands. They lack economic knowledge and socialist theoretical clarity. Theirs is an eclectic and pragmatic thinking, but very much anti-capitalistic and anti-imperialist as much as any average Latin American person of their generation.



    They trusted nobody. Both had a charismatic personality, were religious in a non-devout manner, but spiritualist in their own particular way, superstitious, with strong conservative and traditionalist roots. Both had authoritarian, dominant and intolerant tempers, were very used to imposing their will with little dialogue or negotiation. They both needed confrontation and conflict as a way to strengthen themselves.  Dialogue and agreement were seen as weakening them.



    More importantly in political terms, democracy was just a power instrument for them, not an end in itself. They were hardly democrats, and for that reason they would disrespect constitutions, laws or elections and referendums when necessary, all to please their ambitions of power. However, occasionally, their pragmatism might disguise their will for absolute power by giving concessions to the political opposition, economic or strategic decisions; in this last aspect perhaps Evo distinguished himself more than Chávez, as we will discuss now. Anyway it seems that socialist paradigms have been less present in everyday Bolivian life than in Venezuela, where it was an almost ubiquitous cliché under Chávez and presently with Maduro.



    It seems obvious from the personality comparisons between Evo and Chávez that there are more similarities than differences. By the way, except for the first paragraph of this profile, the humble origin, the more I think about it I believe it could describe many other world leaders' populist personalities. For instance, could we imagine Trump fitting the description?


    Now regarding the economic achievements of both presidents, there also are more similarities than differences in several macroeconomic and developmental aspects.



    First it is important to consider the timeline and the framework of both processes. As I have mentioned in previous WAIS posts, when Chávez took power in 1998, Venezuela was a prosperous society, with high social mobility rate, a relatively low level of poverty, a high power of consumption and high GDP per capita, with a temporary crisis. It was a relatively industrialized country, and with mature oil and energy sectors, staffed by a highly trained and skilled personnel, fully nationalized since 1976. The Bolivian oil and gas sector, when Evo took power in 2006, was in the hands of foreign oil companies. The country was in a deep economic crisis, with an enormous poverty level, the largest underdeveloped and uneducated indigenous population (68%) in America, and a long history of social-political instability and turmoil. In summary, the frameworks for the two countries were very different.



    As a direct consequence, Bolivia's achievements under the early years of Evo´s presidency were more spectacular and more distinguishable. It is easier and faster to move from a very low level of development to a higher one, than to move from an average level to an excellent one. Furthermore, Bolivia had the strong support of Venezuela's financial resources, oil technology and the assistance of experienced Venezuelan personnel, as well as strategic support from Cuba.



    From 2006 until 2014, both countries greatly benefited from high oil prices, which gave them the resources to increase GDPs in a steady way. Bolivia increased its oil revenue and its GDP from US$1000 to almost US$4000 in only a few years. The increase has been steady for Bolivia until now, although the trend is slightly decreasing. In those first years and due to the enormous resources received, the country could implement huge infrastructure, energy and construction investments, and particularly abundant social expenditures, which reduced the level of poverty from 68% to 43% at present.



    If only the first 12 years of Chávez are considered, from 1998 to 2010, the social and economic achievements were perhaps as spectacular as those of Evo in Bolivia. The main difference is that Chávez did not nationalize the oil industry and he did everything possible to destroy it by replacing technicians and experienced managers by corrupt loyalists. Moreover, he used oil as a platform to internationalize his revolution or other populist purposes beyond the objectives of the industry, as well as to destroy the private business sector in a more radical socialist fashion.



    It seems that Evo did listen and rely on more experienced economists, managers and technicians to design and implement economic, monetary, and fiscal policies, and more importantly, to sustain the main source of Bolivian wealth, the gas and oil industry. Although both were suspicious, this apparent delegation of decisions to competent subordinates is a great distinction from Chávez, who was used to commanding in a military fashion. It was much harder for him to delegate authority.



    Perhaps as a consequence of these policies, Bolivia's macroeconomic indicators--inflation, currency reserves, devaluation, employment, etc.--have been solid and sustained.



    In summary, Evo´s "successful-miraculous" achievements have so far been based on:



    1) Oil industry nationalization and market prices.



    2) Huge public investments and social policies.



    3) A strong fiscal discipline with a low public debt.



    4) GDP growth based on increments of internal consumption.



    5) Public savings in international reserves.



    6) Monetary policies, control of inflation and devaluation.



    7) Political and social stability through the integration of unions with political institutions and decision-making.



    In spite of Evo´s pragmatism, the Bolivian development social-model may eventually be consolidated. Can these conditions maintained after the first 12 or 14 years?



    Bolivia has started its development from a very low level and it was easy and fast to its present levels. It remains to be seen if it can be maintained. Bolivia might face pretty much the same risks as Venezuela after the first 12 years of Chávez´s regime; low gas and oil prices, mono productive dependence, strong dependence on the energy sector of an undiversified industry, corruption, a lack of funds to support social policies, the possible destruction of the private business sector, inflation and devaluation, the lack of legal certainty, low prices for Bolivia's export products and some other risks, all products of Evo's undemocratic attitudes and actions, particularly disrespecting the Constitution to stay in power and consolidate a dictatorship.


    JE comments:  Another brilliant analysis, Nacho!  One feather in Evo's cap is #3 above:  strong fiscal discipline.  How has he managed to do this?  Populists of both right and left (but especially of the left) tend to give away the store--until there is nothing left to give.


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