Morales wins in Bolivia – Will Obama win in America?


Yesterday (Dec. 6), a remarkable thing happened in Bolivia; Evo Morales won a second term as president!  Barak Obama shapes his presidency on the study of the successes and failures of previous presidents – he could learn a lot from the man from the Andes.

Speaking of one his misadventures, Michael Tyson once said that he was being sent to “Bolivian.”  Humorous?  There’s more to it than you might think; for most, “Bolivian” and “oblivian” are essentially the same – Bolivia  is virtually unknown.  When I trucked off to Bolivia in 1960s (as a Peace Corps Volunteer), few in my family knew where the country was – many thought it was in Africa.  Today, Bolivia’s place in most’s consciousness is not much different – it’s a poor country where women wear bowler hats, where there are lots of llamas, where the capital, La Paz, is “really high up”…and where there’s a really high altitude lake.  

But there’s more going on there than you might think, and it’s something that President Obama should learn.  Evo Morales, the current president, is something of a political oddity.  He’s an Aymara, one of the two major indigenous groups in Bolivia – he’s the son of a llama herder – he’s never attended from high school – and instead of a three-piece, look-important-suit, he wears a sweater.   Funny, humerous, cool – quaint?  Neither the Bolivian elite nor their foreign cronies think so.  They would tell you there’s a dark side to this romantic tale.   He’s a socialist; he’s the head of a political party called the Movement toward Socialism (MAS); he’s a friend of Hugo Chaves and Fidel Castro; and before becoming president, he was the head of the coca grower’s union!   More alarmingly, importantly, he taken bold action in behalof of the vast sea of forgotten poor living in his country.  For example, he’s renegotiated deals for Bolivia’s reserves of natural gas.  This has resulted in a huge new infusion of cash in the national coffers.  For once, the Bolivian masses have benefitted from the country’s natural riches instead of a cabal of rich, domestic and foreign ruling elite that has sucked the wealth out of the country for centuries.  Naturally, that elite doesn’t like this.  Another example, he’s redistributed lands in the eastern low lands.  This has given landless poor more than hope, it’s given them actual meaningful change.  Lo, more enemies – more of the elite being tweeked.  

Morales’ first election was as unique an event in Bolivian history as was Obama’s in the USA.  After all, he became the country’s first Indian president.  But it was a near-unique event because he elected by an actual majority.  Bolivia has a multiparty system on steroids.  There, there is an incomprehensible morass of parties, coalitions, and candidates involved in every election.  This has served the ruling elite well.  It has enabled them to maintain their power.  It has worked like this:  Usually, the three leading presidential contenders receive between 20% to 30% of the vote.  With no outright majority,  the decision goes over to the congress.  It’s there that the elite work their magic; they select the next president behind closed doors.  Not surprisingly, such a president is weak, such a president is one of their own.  

But this is where the story begins to sound more familiar.  The ” ” that held power before Morales’ first victory left the country in shambles – the selected presidential resigned and was followed quickly by his successor.  The third limped through what was left of the term.  Tired of hearing ephemeral promises and receiving mountainous dung heaps of disappointment, they turned to a loud, confrontational outsider.   Morales offered hope and change, but could he deliver…would he deliver?  He was wasn’t the run of the mill politician; maybe he meant what he said – maybe he could and would follow through.  Besides, where’s the loss if he didn’t? – things would merely stay the same.   Thus, Morales won his first electoral majority.   And this is where the learning should begin:  Morales did deliver.  This wasn’t easy.  Morales’ agenda was  clearly socialistic – it was enough to give your average neo-con (woops, neo-cons are never average) apoplexy, and his party did not control the Senate.  His opposition mounted a whithering attach.  There were threats of secession from the low lands, calls for his resignation, a national referendum contesting his rule.  But Morales stuck to his guns.  The man from the Andes knew that you can’t make substantial structural economic and political change by making nice to the beneficiaries of very structure you’re trying to change.  In spite of continued threats to his administration, Morales did not attempt to finesse the opposition.  Eschewing meaningless change, he persisted.  His bold actions were rewarded – the threats were repelled by the growing support of the populous – so much so, that in the current election he received 61% of the vote.  Even in the lowlands his popularity is growing.  His party now has a strong majority in both houses of the Bolivian Congress. 

In spite of his lack of formal education, Morales has shown wisdom and acumen – whatever the promises and rhetoric, people desert wishy-washy leadership.  I’m sure the Democrats would not be losing ground to such an unpopular opposition if Obama showed some leadership.  We need real, honest to goodness health care reform, and the last time I looked the Senate needs only a simple majority to pass legislation.  Yes, yes, I know – there’s the fillibuster, and there’s weapy-whiny Liberman and his ilk.  The fillibuster is an idle threat; looked at what happened the last time the Republicans shut down government.  Clinton won not by backing down, but by standing firm.  Meaningless legislation is not change even if the process is less contentious (which it isn’t) – it’s simply business as usual wrapped in another guise.  And while you’re at it, put some fresh, outside thinking in your economic team; hiring only Wall Street insiders to change the way Wall Street works, is absurd.  Cojones, Obama, cojones!

Jim from the Abyss.

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