How Evo Morales’s Third Term Will Challenge Bolivia’s Social Movements

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

The strategy of “defeating” the political right by incorporating elite sectors into Bolivia’s ruling MAS party will be put to the test in Evo Morales’s third term.

Evo Morales and the MAS

On January 22, with officials from 40 countries in attendance, Evo Morales—Bolivia’s first indigenous president—was sworn in to begin his historic third term. Set to govern until 2020 with the ruling MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) party, Morales is now the longest serving head of state in a country once famous for its frequent military coups and political turmoil. By some accounts, he is the most popular head of state in Latin America.

Aqui no mandan los gringos, aqui mandan los indios” (“here native people, not foreigners, govern”) Morales reminded the assembled multitudes.  The previous day, at the prehispanic ruins of Tiwanaku, thousands of indigenous, campesino, and international observers witnessed Morales receiving the blessing of Andean priests in a highly ritualized traditional ceremony.

While these symbolic gestures help to reaffirm the indigenous and insurgent roots of Morales’s political project, much about Bolivia and the MAS has profoundly changed since Morales first came to power. Back in 2005, Morales was elected (with 54% of the vote) by an alliance of indigenous, campesino, and other popular movements, on a radical platform to redistribute land, reassert state control over the country’s natural resources, and refound Bolivia as a plurinational state. He was fiercely opposed by conservative elites in the eastern lowlands departments (the “media luna” or half-moon), whose secessionist threats subsequently brought the country to the brink of civil war.

By contrast, in last October’s election Morales carried 8 of Bolivia’s 9 departments, including 3 of 4 in the eastern lowlands. He won with 61% of the vote, close to 40 points ahead of his nearest opponent (representing a badly fractured opposition). On Morales’s coattails, the MAS gained a 2/3 majority in both legislative chambers, assuring the “super-majority” needed for some laws and for potential constitutional changes.


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