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James Bond and Evo Morales

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| Categories: Bolivia

Will the new constitution in Bolivia break the rule of imperialism and put an end to poverty?

In “A Quantum Solace,” the new James Bond movie, the villain tries to topple the Bolivian government with the help of a former military dictator and the CIA. His plan is to get all the water in the country under his control and sell it back to the Bolivians at high prices.

Something like that really happened in Bolivia: in the city of Cochabamba, a multinational corporation wanted to privatize the water in 2001. This plan was stopped, however, not by James Bond but by mass protests led by then trade union leader Evo Morales.

“the most social constitution”

In early 2006, Morales became president of Bolivia – the first president of indigenous origin in the history of the Andean country. From the moment of his inauguration, his central project was passing a new constitution. For this, a constitutional convention was called and then a referendum was held. Since January 25, Bolivia has a new “Political Constitution of the State” which prohibits the privatization of natural resources like water – whether by James Bond villains or multinational corporations.

Against the opposition of the right-wing, racist opposition in the East of the country, and also of the Catholic Church ( “Vote for God! Vote No!”), the draft constitution won over 60% approval. Morales praised “the most social constitution in the world”, as it guarantees rights such as education and health care. More importantly, it recognizes the rights of the indigenous peoples of Bolivia (that is, those descended from the native peoples of America) which are a majority of the population but have been oppressed for centuries (60 years ago they were not even allowed to vote!). According to the new constitution, the indigenous peoples can use their own languages, which are now equal footing with Spanish, and manage their own communities. The coca plant, which plays an important role in indigenous culture, but which the U.S. government wants to eradicate as part of the “war on drugs”, enjoys special protection.

But this “most social constitution” guarantees the right to private property and hence the right to exploitation. And of course a “right to work” isn’t of much use to a Bolivian worker who loses his livelihood in the wake of the economic crisis. The constitution represents many compromises between the Morales government and the capitalist class, which only be at the expense of the exploited workers of Bolivia. That is why leaders of the right-wing opposition have said for the record that they are not happy with the new constitution, but they can live with it.

The land question

In Bolivia, after Haiti the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere, many people live from agriculture. As in most Latin American countries, latifundismo (large land ownership) is a central problem – a few wealthy families own several hundred thousand hectares each. For example, a single family owns an area two thirds the size of Rhode Island!

The abolition of large land ownership and the distribution of land to poor farmers would be a central task for any “refoundation of the country,” for any “decolonization”. Indeed, in the first draft of the constitution there was a clause that established a maximum limit on land ownership. At the same time as the referendum on the constitution, there was a separate vote on whether this limit should be 5,000 or 10,000 hectares. The result – over 80% for the lower limit! – clearly showed the population’s desire for land reform.

But after violent protests by the right-wing opposition in September 2008 (which were supported by the U.S. Embassy and culminated in a massacre of over 30 poor farmers), who took to the barricades to defend their privileges, the government agreed to compromise. One of these compromises is that the limit on land ownership is no longer retroactive. This means that people who have several hundred thousand hectares of land are allowed to keep them! In any case it is not difficult for a rich family to distribute land titles amongst various family members so that they remain under the legal limit and can still own huge strips of land.

For Andean socialism!

Evo Morales is referred to in the press as “socialist”. But his goal was never the introduction of socialism in Bolivia; the strategic objective of the Morales government is called “Andean capitalism” – a vague concept of regulated capitalism with many social programs and special rights for the indigenous population. Even if the democratic reforms of recent years to fight discrimination and corruption are worthy of support, they will not alleviate the crushing poverty of the masses. For individual indigenous people – as Morales himself and many officials of his party – there are now opportunities for advancement, but the vast majority is and remains poor.

The deepening economic crisis is hitting Bolivia especially hard. The industry, almost entirely oriented towards exports to the USA, is suffering from falling demand, and the natural gas production, which was nationalized under Morales, is suffering from low prices. While the workers have to accept wage cuts or are thrown out on the street, Morales preaches the cooperation of all Bolivians, whether rich or poor. Strikes could only disrupt such a “class peace”…

The Bolivian workers’ movement has a militant, revolutionary tradition: in 1952 they practically took power in the country, and again in 1971. In 2003 an insurrection took place which brought down a neoliberal government, and again in 2005. These experiences provide an indication how the situation could develop differently. The militant unions such as the miners could present their own program with their own forms of struggle against the crisis. Because a “socialism of the 21st Century ” which is based on private property – as is shown by the experiences of recent years in Venezuela, Ecuador, Paraguay and Bolivia – offers no solution for the poor masses. This can only be revolutionary socialism, which expropriates the capitalists and places the economy under the direct control of the working class.

by Wladek, Revo Berlin

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