Saturday, August 25, 2018

Bolivia's Morales

 Evo Morales is now the longest consecutively serving head of state in the Americas. He is the sole leader remaining from a wave of leftists, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who dominated Latin American politics early this century. For many, the years following Morales’s 2005 election were marked by jubilation and hope. Twelve years as president of South America’s poorest country, Morales, faces growing opposition from the diverse ethnicities that made him Bolivia's first indigenous president. After clashes with native groups over development, and controversial maneuvers to stay in office, he finds indigenous voters turning against him.

 For Bolivia’s more than 4 million indigenous people, support for Morales appeared to pay off. The poverty rate dropped from 59.9 percent in 2006 to 36.4 percent last year. Access for indigenous communities to electricity, sewerage and water service all grew, according to the World Bank.  He has presided over an economy that has grown by an annual average of 4.6 percent since he took office, more than twice the rate for all of Latin America. After nationalizing the country’s bounteous natural gas reserves, he pursued market-friendly economic policies and invested export revenue in social programs that helped lift more than two million people, nearly a fifth of the population, from poverty.

The Guarani people recently dissolved the local municipality and launched Bolivia’s first experiment in autonomous government. The move, made possible by the new constitution, is meant to replace distant, homogenous rule with policies tailored to the local, indigenous reality.  

Yet across Bolivia, indigenous people are increasingly turning against Evo.

 “He always said he would consult the people,” said Salles, the former Conamaq leader. “Now he doesn’t.”  

The dissatisfaction – over everything from proposed development of indigenous lands to his successful gambit to end term limits – is marring what had been widespread acclaim for a leader emblematic to first peoples’ movements worldwide.   

“His way of thinking and his actions aren’t indigenous,” said Gualberto Cusi, a former judge and ethnic Aymara, an influential Andean tribe from which Morales himself also hails. Cusi, who was barred from the Constitutional Court by Congress last year after disagreements with the government, now leads a group of indigenous dissidents. Cusi, the Aymara judge, was impeached by the Senate. The day before the May 2017 ruling, Cusi donned chains in front of government headquarters and scoffed at what he considered his foregone ouster. 
“Lord King Evo Morales,” he said before television cameras, “order your puppet senators to condemn me.”   

What particularly bothers some are moves by Morales, using supporters in Congress and the judiciary, to consolidate power. Although his own 2009 constitution set a limit of two five-year terms, Morales asked voters in a 2016 referendum to let him run again in 2019. When they said no, Morales convinced the Constitutional Court to let him anyway. The court, consisting of jurists nominated by Congressional allies, ruled that term limits are a violation of his “human rights.” In 2014, Morales began his sustained effort to stay in power. Despite the constitutional limit of two terms, Morales argued that his first administration shouldn’t be counted because he had been elected under a previous constitution. In the Constitutional Court, by then composed mostly of judges nominated by allies of Morales in Congress, he found a sympathetic audience. Morales ran for re-election and, with 60 percent of the vote, won a third term starting in January 2015.  In December 2017 Constitutional Court abolishes term limits from 2009 constitution, paving the way for Morales to seek reelection in 2019.

Support for the president among likely voters fell to 27 percent from 31 percent last November. A survey by pollster Ipsos this week showed a similar level of support, at 29 percent of likely voters, with a six-point drop over the past year in his approval rating, now at 43 percent.

 Morales proposed a 300-kilometer road through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory, or Tipnis, a Jamaica-sized refuge in the Amazon.  But native groups and environmentalists were enraged.  The road, they argued, more likely would facilitate drug trafficking, illegal logging and other unwanted activity. Protesters marched for more than a month, during which police and demonstrators clashed in clouds of tear gas and flurries of rubber bullets. 

“When Evo took office we thought indigenous people would never have to march again,” said Adolfo Chávez, a native Tacana and former president of The Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia, or Cidob, a grouping of 34 lowland tribes.  

The marching succeeded, at least for a time. Morales halted work on the road for further study. Last August, Congress approved a project to restart the Tipnis highway. Other construction projects are also drawing fire.  

  Two major indigenous rights organizations, Cidob and The National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu, left the Unity Pact.  Government supporters began to pressure both groups, using MAS loyalists to stage what some members described as coups within the organizations. Politics and loyalty to Morales began to matter more than the indigenous cause, they said. Cidob leader Chávez was voted out in 2012.  Using a charge long wielded against opponents by some leftists in Latin America, pro-Morales activists said previous leaders were acting on behalf of “North American imperialists.”

In February 2015, a government comptroller discovered a $10 million shortfall in a state fund for indigenous projects, finding records of initiatives that had been funded, but never carried out. Two of Morales’ former rural development ministers were convicted of misusing public funds and served brief jail terms. Some one-time Morales supporters were outraged.
 “It seems corruption has been institutionalized,” Edwin Prada, a lawyer and former advisor to Conamaq, said in an interview.

Early last year, students at the Public University of El Alto, a bastion of political activism, began demonstrating for more educational funding. In a clash with police, one student died. Police said the student, Jonathan Quispe, was killed when students hurled marbles. University officials said he was shot by police. 

At a cost of $7 million, Morales last year inaugurated a three-wing museum in Orinoca, the remote Altiplano town where he grew up herding llamas. The “Museum of the Democratic and Cultural Revolution” tells Bolivia’s recent history through Morales’ own achievements. This month, Morales presided over the opening of a new 28-floor presidential palace in La Paz. He calls the $34 million building “the big house of the people.”

In Charagua, the lowland Guarani region roughly the size of Panama, residents are struggling with autonomy. Charagua, in the 1930s was the site of successful resistance against Paraguayan invaders who sought to seize area gas reserves. Despite having gas, however, Charagua remains poor, accessible only by dirt roads. The regional budget, financed in part by La Paz, remains the roughly $4.5 million it was before autonomy. But locals say the national government has all but abandoned them otherwise. The region recently had to halt school breakfasts because money was needed for health centers. 

“Now we have land, but what good is that if we don’t have resources?”  Ramiro Lucas, a leader of a southern portion of Charagua told Reuters.

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