Bolivia: The Two Faces of Evo

Source: In These Times

Ever since Evo Morales took office nine years ago, becoming Bolivia’s first indigenous president, he has been celebrated worldwide as a beacon of social and economic justice. The spectacular success of his “process of change” in reducing poverty and exclusion in South America’s most indigenous and poorest country has shaken the conventional wisdom that leftwing governments inevitably constrain growth and prosperity.

But Morales’s administration also provides a cautionary tale about the difficulty of achieving sustainability and genuine grassroots democracy in a country with a legacy of environmentally destructive natural-resource extraction and political instability. Bolivia had 14 coup d’etats in the 20th century, one of the highest rates in the world.

Morales sailed into office in 2005 on high hopes that his government would bring about a profound restructuring of society. Progressive critics argue that, instead, Morales has sidelined the social movements that put him into office and cut deals favorable to the wealthy ruling class to bring them under his party’s umbrella.

“Evo Morales has become a caudillo [populist strongman] like we have had throughout our colonial and republican history,” complains Bolivian history professor Felix Muruchi Poma.

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