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Bolivia’s GDP and Minimum Wage double under Evo Morales’ MAS ‘process of change’

Bolivia’s ‘process of change’: the balance sheet for 2012, and challenges to come

By Katu Arkonada | La Epoca* | December 18, 2012

2012 has been a year of transition for the process of change in the Plurinational State of Bolivia, notwithstanding the many events, problems and contradictions encountered by the executive branch during the last 12 months of its administration. A year of transition because we have left behind the 2010-2011 biennial of consolidation following the 64% victory of President Morales in the December 2009 election and are now entering a new biennial, 2013-2014, which will take us very rapidly to the presidential elections of December 2014.

By way of a balance sheet

2012 was without a doubt the year of the consulta [consultation] in the TIPNIS [Territorio Indígena and Parque Nacional Isiboro-Secure], the year when the government probably lost an international battle against a major marketing strategy designed in the offices of a certain opposition and some NGOs, but won the war for legitimacy in Bolivia. The result is overwhelming, leaving no room for doubt: of the 58 communities consulted (84% of them, since 11 refused to participate in the consulta), 55 (79%) approved the construction of the highway.[1] This result dismantles the postmodern and Rousseauist analyses that knew little of the history and actors of the TIPNIS, classifying them as good savages living in the woods without needing anything more, and demonstrated to us that the majority of the communities of the TIPNIS want a greater state presence for access to health and education primarily. In any case the conflict has not ended and no doubt during the next two years the opposition will campaign against the construction of a highway in a country so colonized and plundered that it still has no road connecting two of its nine departments.

But 2012 has also been the year of the economy. Bolivia continued to grow at an annual rate of 5.2% (above the rate in Brazil, Mexico or Uruguay, to cite three examples), and the per capita share of GDP increased in 2012 to $2,238, double what it was in 2006 ($1,182). As for foreign trade, exports in the first quarter of 2012 exceeded the total of all exports in 2007: $5.068 billion compared with $4.822 billion, and the international reserves reached $14 billion — almost 50% of the Bolivian GDP, giving the country the highest level of reserves as a percentage of GDP in all of Latin America.

Similarly, public investment in 2012 will exceed $2 billion, as opposed to $879 million in 2006, and the public external debt totals $3.704 billion, down from $4.947 billion in 2005. By June 2012 three out of every 10 Bolivians were receiving conditional direct transfer payments (bonos), producing a redistribution of wealth that has reduced poverty by almost 12 percentage points in five years (48.5% in 2011) and extreme poverty by 13 percentage points during the same period (24.3%). Another factor in poverty reduction was the rise of the minimum wage in 2012 to 1,000 bolivianos [USD$1 = 7 BOB], compared with 815 BOBs in 2011 or the 440 BOB in 2005 when the MAS was first elected.

Another important factor to mention, when analyzing the past year, is the accomplishments in foreign policy, particularly the actions carried out in the negotiations with Chile for sovereign access to the sea, and the legal demand that Bolivia is going to make in The Hague [2], as well as the recent application to become a full member of Mercosur, the fifth largest economic entity in the world. And we should also note Bolivia’s leadership within ALBA  [3] and the G77+China in such multilateral negotiations as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 or the COP [Conference of Parties] on Climate Change. Never before has Bolivia had a sovereign foreign policy, changing the paradigm from neoliberal diplomatic conduct to one of Diplomacy of the Peoples.

Lastly, we cannot complete this brief end-of-year balance sheet without mentioning the recently uncovered case of corruption in the Ministry of Government [the Interior ministry], a ministry that correctly confronted a political mutiny in June and that has now done what a government leading a democratic and cultural revolution had to do, acting forcefully to detain all of those involved and pursuing the matter irrespective of who it might bring down.[4] It is probable that we don’t (yet) know all of the ramifications of this case, but for the good of the process they must be brought to light and the harshest punishment meted out to anyone involved, and if they are a member of the government the penalty should be even greater, to demonstrate the latter’s integrity and coherency.

Challenges for 2013-2014

Notwithstanding the recent events in Venezuela, Chávez’s victory in winning election for six more years and the more than probable victory of Correa in Ecuador in February (almost certainly without the need for a second round), means that the process that is going forward in Bolivia will be menaced even more by those who feel threatened by the anti-imperialist and anticolonial policies being advanced by President Evo Morales. No doubt great efforts (and much money) will be spent in striking at one of the weakest links in the ALBA and the processes of change in the continent, and in attempting to consolidate an opposition alternative to the MAS government.

An initial step in the continued deepening of the process of change should be the victory in January of Jessica Jordán, the MAS candidate for Governor in Beni. A victory in this Amazon department on January 20 would be a definitive blow to the Media Luna and the hopes of repeating in Bolivia the Venezuelan scheme of the Mesa de Unidad.[5] Obviously this will not be an easy victory in one of the most conservative regions of Bolivia, in which the hacendado power still has a great capacity for action and mobilization, but the very fact that first place is in dispute is already a victory in itself and a palpable demonstration that things are changing.

Not to be overlooked, as well, are the middle classes that the MSM [6] is attempting to woo with a moderate management-oriented discourse. However, in October 2012 it was revealed that the Municipality of La Paz was spending only 26% of its budget [dedicated to public investment – RF], far below the 50% average across the ministries. We can conclude that if the MSM is not capable of managing a city hall, it will have a hard time managing a state. But within that middle class layer, and in expectation of the results of the 2012 Population Census, we are going to have hundreds of thousands of new voters who in 2009 were too young to vote and now need to be won over with a discourse that must go beyond the proposals for change and be accompanied by a political program that involves them in the construction of this country’s politics.

Finally, the bases that have been built and consolidated in the process of change cannot be overlooked. It may be that those bases that are closest are not at risk, but it is necessary to strengthen them, to continue expanding the hard core, the popular and subaltern sectors that are the soul [ajayu] of this revolution, because without them the revolution would collapse piece by piece, but with them we will be able to begin thinking of the Patriotic Agenda 2025,[7] converting the political and decolonizing revolution into a post-capitalist economic revolution.

The author, who describes himself here as a “militant in the process of change,” is a researcher at the Universidad de la Cordillera, a frequent contributor to the Bolivian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique, and works with the Ministry of Foreign Relations of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. He is of Basque origin.

[1] The lawfully mandated consulta (consultation) of the communities directly affected by the proposed highway project, which was the subject of much controversy and two recent marches by dissident indigenous activists, concluded its proceedings on December 7. The overwhelming majority of the communities that participated in the consulta approved the construction of the highway between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos. See: http://www.la-razon.com/nacional/Consulta-cierra-promesa-fondos-ecologica_0_1738626180.html. For a discussion of the issues involved, see my translation of a book by Bolivian Vice-President Álvaro García Linera, Geopolitics of the Amazon, published in five parts at Life on the Left, and on several other sites. — RF

[2] See Bolivia’s Morales to take Chile sea dispute to court. See also http://www.elcaribe.com.do/2012/11/17/bolivia-chile-debaten-salida-mar-cadiz.

[3] The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America [Spanish: Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América] is an international cooperation organization based on the idea of the social, political and economic integration of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

[4] In November several senior counsel in the Ministry were implicated in an attempt to extort money from a U.S. citizen, Jacob Ostreicher, who came to Bolivia four years ago and invested in rice production in Santa Cruz. He was indicted for money-laundering in June. The Bolivian suspects are alleged to have offered his release in return for his payment to them of $50,000. See Desbaratan red de corrupción y extorsión en la que operaban dos asesores del Ministerio de Gobierno, and Morales asegura que hay “infiltrados” que buscan desprestigiar al Gobierno.

[5] The four departments of the so-called Media Luna (literally, “half moon”) comprising the eastern portion of Bolivia have been centers of conservative resistance to the Morales government, their governors often collaborating in opposition to La Paz. In Venezuela the rightist opposition to Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution coalesced behind a single presidential candidate in the recent national election, when he was defeated by Chávez.

[6] MSM, the Movimiento Sin Miedo [Fearless Movement], a center-left opposition party that currently controls the mayoralty in La Paz.

[7] 2025 will be the bicentennial of Bolivia’s independence from Spain.

* Translation and notes by Richard Fidler

January 5, 2013 - Posted by | Economics | , , , ,

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