Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Can Morales Succeed?

In reading Alma Guillermoprieto's essay on the rise of the MAS and Evo Morales in Bolivia in the August 13 issue of the New York Review of Books, I find myself wondering if Morales has any chance to succeed. Certainly my sympathies are with him and the people of Bolivia.

Bolivia has long been the poorest of Latin American nations and has been governed by a long series of dictators who have cared little for the masses of impoverished residents. Morales' win came after two decades of struggle that culminated in the turmoil that has characterized Bolivia in this decade. First came the government's attempt to privatize the water supply of Cochabamba in a contract given to Bechtel that, among other unconciousable provisions, would have made harvesting rainwater illegal. Then the government passed a massive tax increase that included high burdens on the poor. After Cochabamba the left was in the ascendacy in Bolivia and they managed to bring down a sucession of governments until the election that Morales won. But can he succeed? Bolivia has so much going against it--a poor and uneducated population, natural resources such as tin that are almost worthless on the international market, no border with an ocean, deep animus to Morales from the conservative and largely non-Indian elite, and US opposition to growing coca. In addition, the poor now expects the government to do something for them.

While all citizens should expect this of their government, Morales leads a country that is too poor and too lacking in options to deliver overnight and I worry that an impatient populace will demand too much too soon from Morales. Morales has taken bold steps in his early months, particularly nationalizing Bolivia's gas industry. This has shocked nations such as Brazil and Argentina that rely on Bolivia for much of their energy needs and were used to virtually taking the gas for free. Getting control of their natural resources is a strong first step to creating an effective government, finding revenue streams, and helping out the Bolivian people.

That said, the Morales government faces many obstacles, not the least of which is a pissed off Brazil that shares some political sympathies with Morales. The best thing he might have going for him now is a distracted United States. No American administration since Grover Cleveland has paid as little attention to Latin American affairs as this one and the lack of resources to fight the drug war at this time will help forestall active US opposition to Morales, as will the Bush administration animus toward Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.

The outcome of the Morales administration, perhaps the most indigenous dominated government in the history of Latin America bears watching and deserves our attention and support, even at a time when the eyes of the world are focused on the Middle East. A good first step is reading all of Guillermoprieto's article which gives an excellent firsthand background on just what the MAS has accomplished so far and the long years of struggle to reach this point.