Following the conquest of the Inca Empire by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, systems of forced labor were imposed, for the purpose of supplying raw materials integral to the development of the world-economy. With respect to Bolivia, these raw materials were first silver, then tin, then natural gas and petroleum. For decades in Bolivia, the peripheral function in the world-economy co-existed with autonomous indigenous communities, agricultural societies with communal forms of land ownership. But as the world-economy expanded and developed, it increasingly encroached on indigenous land and autonomy. By 1930, the indigenous lands comprised only one-third of national territory, and the numbers of landless peasants exceeded the number of persons living in indigenous communities.
During the twentieth century, Bolivian mine workers, peasants, and factory workers formed unions that were the base of a popular movement, which resulted in a developmentalist project of the government from 1930 to 1985. This project, typical of Latin America in the period, was forged through an alliance between the popular sectors and the national bourgeoisie. It makes some concessions to popular demands and provides some protection for national industry, without threatening the interests of foreign corporations. The high point of the Bolivian popular movement was the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, when the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement took control of the government, nationalized tin mines, and distributed land to peasants. But this occurred at a time when the tin mines had reached exhaustion, so that the economic and social transformations envisioned by the movement were not attained.
As the signs of the terminal structural crisis of the world-system began to appear in the 1970s, a consequence of the fact the system had reached and overextended the geographical and ecological limits of the earth, the global elite turned to the Right, aggressively pursuing its interests. Beginning in 1980, the neoliberal project was imposed on the world, culminating today in a world-system characterized by financial speculation, military interventionism, ideological manipulation, the declining sovereignty of nations, growing inequality, overreach of vital natural resources, increasing threats to the ecological balance of the earth, political instability, and interferences in the affairs of those nations that seek an alternative road.
In the case of Bolivia, the neoliberal project was imposed in 1985, resulting in the elimination of the protective measures for the people and for national industry that were put in place during the developmentalist period. This gave rise to a revitalization of popular movements during the 1990s, in the form of mass mobilizations protesting specific measures that were part of the neoliberal package. In the period 2000-2006, the popular movement intensified. Mass mobilizations, road blockings, general strikes, work stoppages, and hunger strikes culminated in the resignation of the president in 2005 in the midst of a generalized chaos.
As the renewed popular movement unfolded in the period 1990-2005, new political parties were formed, and they were effective in taking popular electoral backing away from the traditional political parties that had cooperated with the imposition of the neoliberal project. One of the parties was the Movement toward Socialism (MAS), a federation of social movement organizations and unions, founded in 1995. Its principal leader was Evo Morales, an indigenous coca farmer who had been born and raised in a poor town in the Bolivian high plains and who emerged as a leader in the coca farmers’ union. Proposing a constitutional assembly and the nationalization of the natural gas and petroleum companies, Morales finished second in the 2002 elections, in which a traditional party with its neoliberal commitment prevailed. But in the next elections, held on December 18, 2005, Morales and MAS won the presidential elections with 54% of the vote, obtaining an absolute majority in the first round.
The government of Morales has sought to put into practice an alternative economic model based on control of the natural resources of the nation and the establishment of national sovereignty. It has attempted to break with a political-economic system in which the transnational corporations, the international finance agencies, the national elite, and the United States are the principal political actors in the country. It has followed a vision of endogenous development tied to the demands of the popular movement, in which the social actors include indigenous organizations, peasant organizations, unions of workers in the petroleum and gas industries, professionals, and small and medium sized businesses.
In accordance with his campaign promise and a fundamental popular demand, Morales convoked a Constitutional Assembly, which was convened on August 6, 2006, and which led to a new Constitution, approved on January 25, 2009 in a popular referendum, with 61.4% of the vote. The new Constitution recognizes the autonomy of the indigenous communities, and thus it established the Plurinational State of Bolivia. The Constitution establishes a maximum extension of land of 5000 hectares for personal property; it guarantees access to health services, education, employment, and potable water as constitutional rights; and it prohibits the establishment of a foreign military base in the country.
The government of Morales renegotiated contracts with natural gas and petroleum companies, resulting in a great increase in state revenues, which are used to develop a variety of social programs, including programs in literacy and credit for small farmers. The Morales government has initiated a land-reform program, beginning with the appropriation of land that was unproductive or that was fraudulently obtained, a common practice during the era of the neoliberal governments. And Bolivia became the third member of the Boliviarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), joining Venezuela and Cuba. Today, Bolivia’s membership in ALBA enables it to negotiate mutually beneficial economic and social relations with Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba, and several Caribbean nations.
By 2007, a counterrevolution had taken shape, formed by the owners of the large estates, large-scale businesspersons, leaders of the traditional political parties that benefitted from the previous political-economic order, and transnational corporations. The US government has provided financial support to the counterrevolution.
In 2009, Evo Morales was re-elected president of Bolivia with 64.22% of the popular vote. MAS won a majority in the National Assembly, including a two/thirds majority in the Senate. MAS won control of six of the nine departments of the country and 228 of the 337 municipalities.
Along with Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales has emerged as one of the charismatic leaders in the new political reality that has been forged in Latin America, which has challenged not only the neoliberal project but the structures of the neocolonial world-system. Reflecting this reality, Bolivia was named this year as the President of the G-77 plus China, and Morales led an anniversary commemoration in which the presidents adopted a declaration, “Toward a New World Order for Living Well.” (See the Address by Evo Morales on the occasion of the transfer of the presidency of the G77 plus China to Bolivia on January 8, 2014; for more on the phenomenon of charismatic leadership in revolutionary processes, see “On charismatic leaders” in the Blog Index).
In his address at the 69th Morales expressed a perspective on global affairs that reflects an understanding and moral evaluation that is typical of the charismatic leaders, movements, and governments of the Third World. He affirms the need to live in harmony with Mother Earth; the social and economic rights of all persons, including the rights of access to water, electricity, telecommunication, nutrition, education and health services; the right of the nations of the Third World to sovereignty and true independence; and the right of Third World nations to control their natural resources. He maintains that capitalism undermines these rights of persons and nations, and he calls upon the world to combat the “omnipresent power of banks.” He calls for a fundamental reconstruction of the global financial architecture, maintaining that the principal global financial institutions must no longer be controlled by the developed countries. He proposes the development of mutually beneficial relations among nations, based in the principle of solidarity; and he applauds the steps taken to this end in Latin America and the Third World.
Morales expressed opposition to the wars launched by the “great powers and corporations” in pursuit of “imperial and neocolonial interests.” He condemned US interference in Iraq, maintaining that the US war in Iraq created the present crisis. He rejected the present policy of waging war against war, which he labeled a perverse formula, maintaining that war should be attacked at its structural causes, which include “marginality; poverty; the absence of opportunity; cultural, political and social exclusion; discrimination; inequality; the seizure and robbery of territory; ruthless capitalism; and the dictatorship of transnational interests.”
Morales also condemned the “barbarous and cruel genocidal action of Israel against the civil population of Palestine” as well as the US economic and financial blockade of Cuba.
Evo Morales concluded his address to the General Assembly with the following words:
“This is the century of peace, but peace with sovereignty, with freedom for the peoples and not freedom for the market. This is the century of Agreements of Freedom for Life and Peace, and not Agreements of Freedom for Commerce. There will not be harmony if the arrogance of the empires and their renewed colonialism hounds, seizes, and assassinates the human beings, cultures, and peoples of the world. The empire of the finances, the empire of the markets, and the empire of the arms industry must succumb in order to give way to the wisdom of life and to life in harmony and peace.”
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Evo Morales, UN General Assembly, Bolivia