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“First Indian President” in Latin America: Evo Morales of Bolivia?

Radical in Conservatism? And why the US is not happy with Morales?

Significant changes in Latin America have mystified writers, journalists, academics and policy-makers who purport to comment on developments in Latin America . 

The case of Bolivia and two term President Evo Morales (2006 – 2014) is illustrative of the utter confusion in political labeling. (Seeking a fourth term)

A brief survey of his ideological pronouncements, foreign policy declarations and economic policies highlights a very astute political regime which successfully manipulates radical rhetoric and applies orthodox economic policies with a populist style of politics which insures repeated electoral victories and an unprecedented degree of political stability and continuity.

The Most Radical Conservative Regime: Bolivia under Evo Morales

The Morales Regime in Perspective

From a comparative-historical perspective the Morales regime would probably be considered as the world’s most conservative radical regime or the most radical conservative regime. 

This apparent contradiction is resolved by examining the policies and practices of the regime.  But what is not in question is that the Morales regime, his advisers and government, have extraordinary wide backing. 

His allies include leaders of the social movements at home, as well as overseas investors and  mining executives, trade union leaders and domestic bankers; agro-business exporters and business leaders and Indian coca farmers, all enthusiastic supporters of the “First Indian President” in Latin America and the region’s leading advocate of extractive capital!

The Morales regime has won every election, six in all, since 2005, including two Presidential elections, each by a larger margin.

His vote has increased from 50% to 60% and Morales, looking to national elections in 2014, promises to garner 70% of the ballots.  No President in the history of Bolivia has secured consecutive electoral victories, and ruled democratically for such an extended period of time (8 years)with political stability.

The Morales Formula:  Radicalism at the Service of Orthodoxy

The most striking aspect of the eight year rule of Evo Morales is his rigor and consistency in upholding orthodox economic policies – right out of the handbook of the international financial organizations.           

 Fiscal Policy

The Morales regime has exercised tight control over government spending, ensuring a budget surplus and keeping social spending and public investment at levels comparable to previous neo-liberal regimes. 

Pay raises for public sector workers are modest, barely keeping ahead of increases in the cost of living . 

The government has held the line against public sector unions, strongly resisting strikes and other forms of labor pressure. 

As a result, bankers and business people, both national and foreign, have benefited from low taxes, a stable currency and business friendly fiscal incentives.

Trade Policy

The Government has aimed for and secured favorable trade balances, based on the export of mineral and agricultural commodities. 

The Morales regime has used the billion dollar surpluses to triplicate foreign reserves, $14 billion dollars, guaranteeing foreign investors access to hard currency, when it comes to remitting profits. 

The boom in export earnings is a result of high commodity prices and an increase in government royalties.  Only a small share of the high earnings has gone into public investments in manufacturing and social programs; most funds remain in the banks

At best the regime has increased spending on infrastructure to facilitate the transport of agro-mineral exports. (As during colonial policies)

Investment Policy

The Morales regime has encouraged and protected large scale foreign investment in mining and agriculture.

It has not nationalized any large mining operation.  Instead it has bought shares in forming joint ventures and increased taxes to a modest and acceptable degree.

Corporate profits are high, remittances are unencumbered, environmental and safety regulations are lax and labor conflicts are at historical lows.

Labor Policy

The Morales regime has encouraged labor union officials under its influence, to negotiate, hold down wage demands and accept moderate increases, just above the rate of inflation.

 Morales has not increased labor’s power and prerogatives at the workplace, nor allowed labor any influence in shaping its extractive capital development strategy. 

Increases in the minimum wage have been incremental; the majority of labor, especially in the rural sector, live at or below the poverty line. 

Morales has rejected any notion of workers co-participation in public sector enterprises and upholds the authority of capital to hire and fire workers without adequate indemnification except under specific circumstances.

Morales, via his party (MAS – Movement to Socialism) exercises decisive influence over the leaders of the labor confederation (COB) and Indian movements, thus ensuring social stability and political certainty for the business elite.

His period of labor peace is in sharp contrast to the general strikes and popular rebellion of the previous decades.

Class Harmony:  Landlords and Indians, Mine Owners and Miners

Among the greatest achievements underlying Morales successful implementation of orthodox economic policies, has been his success in building a political and social coalition including historical adversaries.

During the first four years of his term as President, Morales faced strong and at times violent opposition from the regional elite in Santa Cruz , the wealthiest region in the country

He also faced powerful ‘personalist’ (caudillos) political opponents in Cochabamba and Sucre .  Using his mass base and the military he crushed the most violent opposition  and negotiated  political and economic pacts with the leading business and agricultural families.

  Henceforth agro-business plantation owners received subsidies and tax exemptions to encourage exports and land-reform for landless peasants  was relegated to marginal public lands,while small landholders received title to their existing plots Promoting  agro-export  became an integral part of Morales development strategy. 

Morales extended his electoral coalition to incorporate the elites in Santa Cruz , formerly the bastion of the Right.

To counter US destabilization, Morales terminated the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) activity, and expelled US Ambassador Goldberg following his blatant intervention in regional politics. 

Morales convoked a  constituent assembly to write a new constitution for a “plurinational state” which consolidated Indian allegiance to the  Morales regime.  Decentralized cultural diversity ensured conformity to centrally planned orthodox economic policies

Foreign Policy:  Radicalism Abroad Complements Orthodoxy at Home

While working closely and in conformity with agro-mineral, banking and foreign MNC interests at home, Morales launched a series of anti-imperialist manifestos against US intervention in Venezuela; repeatedly denounced the US blockade of Cuba; opposed the US backed military coup in Honduras’ and defended Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas Islands (what the Anglo-Americans call the Falkland Islands).

Morales joined the radical regional bloc, ALBA, initiated by President Chavez and supported ‘regional integration’ which excluded the US .  He denounced the TPP (The Trans Pacific Pact) as a ‘neo-liberal project’.

Evo Morales praised Edward Snowden and his revelations; denounced NSA spying and was especially indignant with Spain and France when his flight from Moscow was diverted and denied landing rights.

At the same time that he was denouncing European collaboration with the US Empire, he was addressing major investors in Spain urging them to invest in Bolivia under favorable terms.

Evo’s radical pronouncements were directed at imperial interventionist policies, especially coup-promotion and integrationist schemes that isolated Bolivia from its political allies and Latin American economic partners.

At the same time, Evo was careful to differentiate between imperial militarism which threatened his regime and foreign investment (economic imperialism) which fit in with his economic development strategy.

In this context, friendship with Fidel Castro provided radical legitimacy for his overtures to the world’s leading mining conglomerates.

The Social Policies of a Radical Conservative

On December 22, 2013, Evo Morales surprised his enthusiastic leftist backers when he pronounced his support and defense of child labor and opposed ILO’s (International Labor Organizations) global campaign to ban it.

According to Morales child labor was essential to supporting poor family income.

According to Morales, Bolivia ’s 850,000 child laborers (about one-fifth of Bolivia ’s labor force) employed in factory, field and mining developed a “social conscience” in sweat shops.

Inadvertently Morales revealed the extraordinarily lax labor code and lack of concern for the education and health of growing children.

In fact in Bolivia low-wage child labor depresses wages for adult workers. Child labor serves a “reserve army” allowing employers to replace militant adult workers.  Cheap labor is rampant in Bolivia , which has the lowest minimum wage in South America :  90 cents an hours (USD) and the lowest monthly salary ($143 USD).

Despite nearly $15 billion in foreign reserves and trade surpluses, 51.3% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. 

social expenditures have only marginally increased and have been accompanied by increases in inequality: the top tenth percentile receives 45.4% of household income and the bottom 10 percentile 1%.  The gini coefficient which measures inequality is 58.l2 (2009) compared to 57.9 in (1999).

Bolivia still depends on the export of raw materials and the import of finished goods.

Its main exports are oil and staples and it imports petroleum products, finished goods and prepared foods.

The promise to “industrialize” iron ore, petrol, zinc and tin has yet to take place.

The major agricultural export crops, soybeans, cotton, sugar cane, coffee are produced by large plantation owners grouped in the Santa Cruz ‘100 families’.

The most lucrative export for small farmers and peasants is coca leaf – the raw material for cocaine.


The Morales regime has successfully imposed a political economic model which has generated an unprecedented decade of political and social stability and a growth rate between 4% and 6%.

He has secured joint ventures and investments from over 50 of the biggest multi-national corporations and is in good standing with the international financial organizations.

Morales has received financial aid from both leftist ( Venezuela ) and rightist regimes (European Union).  The Morales regime has secured an ever increasing percentage of votes, over the past decade, ensuring the continuity of policies, personnel, institutions and the class structure.

Morales has successfully co-opted formerly militant trade unionists  and peasant leaders, through radical rhetoric, stipends and subsidies.

He has successfully converted them into “guardians of the status quo”.  He has converted Santa Cruz oligarchs into political allies.

Morales has isolated and stigmatized dissident peasant organizations and environmental groups protesting infrastructure and agro-mining projects devastating the environment as “tools of imperialism”.

Even as he invites imperial MNC to take over natural resources.

Morales has been a master, without peer in Latin America , at justifying orthodox, reactionary policies with radical rhetoric

In defense of extractive capitalist depredation he cites Pachamama the Indian goddess of the Mother Earth; in defence of the exploitation of child labor he claims work inculcates  social consciousness and contributes to family income. 

He provides a ‘bonus’ for school children while more than a third are out of school slaving at below minimum wage jobs (and achieving a “social conscience”). 

He provides a minimum pension that does not even cover basic survival living while he boasts of budget surpluses, a stable currency and the addition of billions annually to foreign reserves. 

He speaks to anti-imperialism yet embraces their neo-liberal economic orthodoxy. 

He describes his regime as a “government of workers and the poor” while his economic and social policies favor the top 10%. 

Evo Morales has secured a political-economic formula which has succeeded in gaining the support of the left and right, Fidel Castro and the IMF, the Santa Cruz agro-oligarchy and the Indian peasant coca farmers. 

He has defeated US destabilization and intervention by expelling AID and the DEA and strengthened the capitalist state and increased capitalist profits.

 The Morales model of ‘radical conservatism’ is probably not for export to other ruling classes in Latin America . 

After all how many Indian presidents with a mass following and orthodox economic policies are there in the world?  How many leaders can proclaim a “plurinational decentralized state” and centralize political power and economic decision-making in the hands of a small mestizo technocratic elite?

There is no doubt that Evo Morales is an exceptional leader, his multi-faceted politics reflect his genius as a political manipulator

He is not a social revolutionary or even a consequential social reformer.  His regime is certainly not a government of workers and the poor.  But Evo Morales is Bolivia ’s most successful democratic capitalist ruler and he is still expanding his electoral base.  The question is how long the “other 50%” will swallow his political chicanery.?

 What’s your position on legalizing smoking and planting marijuana?

Is there a referendum to take place in your state for legalizing marijuana consumption?

Most probably, the opposing group will show ads of a 12 year-old smoking a joint. The TV programs will portray potheads, clandestine growers and dealers.

The medical aspects will be highlighted with discussions and debates.

Does marijuana affect driving? Like using smart phone while driving? Or being under the influence of alcohol?

Suppose a car accident takes place and the police discover some marijuana in your glove compartment? Even if the accident is none of your fault, this salient issue at this particular period becomes the focus of attention.

“Marijuana kills yet another motorist” could be the caption on a few dailies.

Though the statistical relationship between smoking marijuana and car accidents is almost nil, possessing illegal marijuana becomes the prominent feature, a stand-out attribute.

The same salient effect is attached to the rare women who become CEO in major corporations.

Although no ethnic group is responsible for a disproportionate number of bank robbery, if the police catch Nigerians, Somalians, Porto Ricans… red handed, then the right wing propaganda will have a field day and they want to stop immigration of colored people or Africans or Moslem people…

The same salient effect with rape cases.

Mostly, salient effect is predominant in forecasting: sensational news get the upper hand over the long-term effect or growth, and supersede rational thinking processes.

Slow-to-develop and hidden factors are neglected.

No need to be blinded by irregularities each time.

Focus on the trend and statistical significant facts.

So far, in all Sates and nations were consumption of marijuana was legalized smoking dropped, crimes generated from both gangs and police officers reprisals have dropped… Cost dropped and rendered less attractive to traffic of this drug.

Uruguay legalized planting of marijuana and the crops dropped in quantity. And legalized gay marriages: Have no statistics yet if gay relationship dropped.

Bolivia legalized planting coca leaves and the production dropped. It is in the culture of the indigenous Bolivians to chew on the leaves for endurance sake. Like the qat in Yemen?

The less expensive the product and the lesser its emotional value.

This is the case of current drop of oil prices. It has nothing to do with this crappy equation of demand and supply.

Supply in crude oil is huge and demand is huge: The superpowers have exercised undue influence on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates to continue high output of oil in order for the western superpowers, which accumulated most of the capital, to replenish their depleted reserves under the illusion of potential world conflagration.

The decrease in oil prices is excellent news for the developing countries who have refineries: The deficit will shrink a bit. No refineries? the cost of gas and oil will never drop for the developing countries.

If the price of oil stays low for an extended period, the strategic psychological effect will kick in: Since oil is cheap then its effective value has been lowered emotionally to the common people.

The oil producing countries are shooting themselves in the foot by giving the impression that oil has lost in importance and value.

At least, if the oil producing lower their output for the sake of future generation: Oil is the most important raw material for chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

The same process is underway after Obama’s “blood mineral” import prohibition. All rebel movements in the Congo and in Africa rely on exporting raw minerals to sustain their movements.

You might think that this move is to make it harder on the Chinese companies to import from Africa. Wrong. The Chinese use fictitious companies (license produced within 2 days in due forms in Hong Kong) to import blood mineral products.

As it dawn on the rebels that it make sense to lower the prices because of the difficulty for them to export, very soon most raw materials in Africa will drop in prices and the capitalist nations will replenish their depleting reserves.

Bolivia Social economics does work: Evo Morales elected for third term

Ellie Mae O'Hagan

Evo Morales campaigns for the presidency
Evo Morales in the runup for the vote at the inauguration of a thermo-electric plant in Yacuiba in September 2014. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty

The socialist Evo Morales, who yesterday was re-elected to serve a third term as president of Bolivia, has long been cast as a figure of fun by the media in the global north.

Much like the now deceased Hugo Chávez, Morales is often depicted as a buffoonish populist whose flamboyant denouncements of the United States belie his incompetence.

And so, reports of his landslide win inevitably focused on his announcement that it was “a victory for anti-imperialism”, as though anti-US sentiment is the only thing Morales has given to Bolivia in his 8 years in government.

More likely, Morales’s enduring popularity is a result of his extraordinary socio-economic reforms, which – according to the New York Times – have transformed Bolivia from an “economic basket case” into a country that receives praise from such unlikely contenders as the World Bank and the IMF – an irony considering the country’s success is the result of the socialist administration casting off the recommendations of the IMF in the first place.

According to a report by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, “Bolivia has grown much faster over the last eight years than in any period over the past three and a half decades.”

The benefits of such growth have been felt by the Bolivian people: under Morales,

1.. poverty has declined by 25% and

2. extreme poverty has declined by 43%;

3. social spending has increased by more than 45%;

4. the real minimum wage has increased by 87.7%; and,

5. perhaps unsurprisingly, the Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean has praised Bolivia for being “one of the few countries that has reduced inequality”.

In this respect, the re-election of Morales is really very simple: people like to be economically secure – so if you reduce poverty, they’ll probably vote for you.

It’s true that Morales has made enemies in the White House, but this is probably less to do with rhetoric than the fact that he consistently calls for the international legalisation of the coca leaf, which is chewed as part of Bolivian culture but can also be refined into cocaine (via a truly disgusting chemical process).

Before Morales was first elected, the Telegraph reported: “Decriminalisation would probably increase supply of the leaf, which is processed into cocaine, providing drug traffickers with more of the profitable illicit substance.”

In fact the opposite has happened – in the past two years, coca cultivation has been falling in Bolivia.

This inconvenient fact is a source of great consternation to the US government, which has poured billions of dollars into its totally ineffective and highly militaristic war on drugs in Latin America.

Morales has – accurately in my view – previously implied that the war on drugs is used by the US as an excuse to meddle in the region’s politics.

Having said this, it would be dishonest to argue that Morales’s tenure has been perfect.

Earlier this year the Bolivian government drew criticism from human rights groups for reducing the legal working age to 10.

But what most news outlets neglected to mention is that the government was responding to a campaign from the children’s trade union, Unatsbo, which sees the change in legislation as a first step to protecting Bolivia’s 850,000 working children from the exploitation that comes with clandestine employment.

Although Bolivia has made massive strides in reducing poverty, more than a million of its citizens still live on 75p a day – a legacy of the excruciating poverty of Bolivia before Morales took office.

Nevertheless, Morales must make reducing the number of child workers a priority during his third term.

Not doing so will be a serious failure of his progressive project. In terms of social reforms, Morales should heed recent calls from the public advocate of Bolivia, Rolando Villena, to legalise same-sex civil unions and pave the way for equal marriage.

He should also follow the lead of Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, and completely liberalise abortion, which would be a good first step to tackling the country’s high rates of maternal mortality.

And Morales must also address the criticism of indigenous leaders who accuse him of failing to honor his commitments to protect indigenous people and the environment.

But however Morales uses his third term, it’s clear that what he’s done already has been remarkable.

He has defied the conventional wisdom that says leftwing policies damage economic growth, that working-class people can’t run successful economies, and that politics can’t be transformative – and he’s done all of this in the face of enormous political pressure from the IMF, the international business community and the US government.

In the success of Morales, important political lessons can be found – and perhaps we could all do with learning them.

Do you know Bolivia is located?  It is in Latin America with Capital La Paz at over 3,000 meters of altitude and bordered by five States.  There is this region at high altitude (5,000 meters) called Yungas with this city named Coroico rich in biodiversity of insects such as scarabs, butterfly, bees, and many other kinds of endangered species.

Traffickers of rare, endangered, and colorful insects living in restricted environment are called “Chinitos” or little Chinese (not necessarily from China but from Asia and Japan) visit these regions twice a year between February and May and carry their loads of insects.  The traffickers hire the local peasants to setting up traps of nets of gaze.

Primo among the insects are giant yellow butterflies spotted blue (10 cm long) and scientifically named “Agrias amydon boliviensis”; they are sold $2,000 apiece and bought for $10.  A plastic box (30*30 cm) may hold 100 butterflies.  Between two to three boxes are shipped every week to the USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, and Asia.

Bees named “Eulaema” of metallic color and specialized in pollinating orchids are very much in demand.  Peruvians buy scarabs in abundance.

This traffic generates $250,000 for local peasants (or one dollars for every insect on average). Only in 2009 did the Bolivian government decreed an environmental protection law #1333 with prison terms up to two years.  The problem is that there is no specialized police force or institutions to monitor and supervise this illegal traffic.

Public figures said last two weeks; (Feb. 18, 2010)

Actor Robert Duval said: “My often says that a good meal and a lovely tango suffice to be happy. She is right.”

Clare Short, Ex British Minister for international development on Blair PM decision for Iraq’s pre-emptive war: “The climate within the government sessions was like living in a psychiatric ward”

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin who walked on the moon is for canceling the project on moon exploration: “We have been there” (Let us move on and care for earth and people living on earth)

Neil Barofsky, general inspector of the US treasury, said: “The road is still ascending but this time around the car is faster” (This fast ascension should greatly worry us all since jobless rates and foreclosures are increasing)

The newspaper magnate of News Corp Rupert Murdoch said: “Platforms are proliferating but all these intelligent technologies are empty recipients.”

Avi Shapira, president of Israel comity for the preparation of earthquakes, said: “What happened in Haiti can happen in Israel”

Actor Johnny Depp denying news of his death: “I am not dead; I am in France”

President Barrack Obama: “I prefer being a good president for one term rather than a mediocre one for two terms”

President of Bolivia Evo Morales: “I am proud to announce that the period of humiliated and mendicant Bolivia is over.  People all over the world have decided to regain liberty and dignity”

Italy’s PM Silvio Berlusconi said: “Less immigrants less criminals”

Secretary General of Sweden Academy Peter Englund said: “I am taking paternity leave. This period will not hurt the Academy nor disturb the power structure between the sexes”

Tennis player Andy Murray after losing the game said: “I cry like Roger Federer but I don’t play as well as he does”

Move Inland, Son (May 7, 2009)

Sell your beach front residence; keep away from shallow islands, from tiny islands, from large rivers, from tropical regions, from vast pools of stagnant water, stay away from the Arctic regions, shun urban megalopolis, and cover your skin from head to toe.  Within ten years, almost every living person will be afflicted with one of the many viral epidemics sweeping regions considered safe, sanitized, and “civilized”.

The mosquitoes are coming and have climbed to 1,600 meters altitude, and are venturing to improbable locations and have craving for a taste of your blood.  Malaria, dengue, pork flu, aviary flu, and soon fish flue will mutate more cleverly than human mind has affected the environment.   Dengue has got hold of Latin America in Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina; more than 113,000 cases last year and climbing. There are no remedies to these epidemics but conventional medicine of resting, fighting dehydration, and praying that this time around you might be of the lucky ones to care for your neighbor.  I think we should get familiar with the method of incinerating our dead and have an incinerator in every town and village in cases of frequent quarantines.

Climatic change of an earth growing hotter and hotter, more precipitation and for longer duration, the thawing of the Arctic, the ever more violent monsoon, hurricanes, and tidal waves are giving me water nightmares.

Yes, human production of CO2 and greedy deforestation have altered earth environment. The level of CO2 produced in Europe has remained stable because, as a State save on clean energy, it resells its quota to the less performing State within the European Union.  The USA of the last decade was in a state of comatose climatically and in environmental research.  China has more cars on its highways than the USA.  India is producing much cheaper cars and its internal market is ready to absorb million of these less expensive cars.

Industries will have to satisfy the demands of an additional 200 millions middle class families who can afford equal rights for consumer goods as the US, European, and Japanese consumers enjoyed for a century.

A solution can be reached on a global policy; an International Body with mandate to control and manage global problems.  How can this be feasible if the USA cannot “afford” a National Health Care, but can always find money to maintaining and expanding fleets of aircraft carriers in every sea and ocean?




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