Bolivia: Evo Morales & the Recall

by Suzie Raven

I have developed a talent for living or staying in the middle of political protests. Readers may remember that during my stay in Buenos Aires, I lived a block from Argentina’s Congress. (Please see "The Spirit of Evita & Argentina's Protests," for more.) For weeks, the protesting farmers provided consistent background noise for the student residence by banging drums, and pots and pans.

After leaving Buenos Aires, I spent a politically uneventful week touring Peru. As soon as I arrived in La Paz, Bolivia’s capital though, people started to tell me exactly how controversial Bolivia's President Evo Morales has become. Out of the nine Bolivian states, only two support him. There will be a referendum tomorrow, Sunday, August 10th, some two and a half years after he took office, to decide if he should finish his term.

Sometimes, the generalization is made that the wealthy oppose Morales while the poor support him. However, it’s not that simple. During my first afternoon in the silver mining town of Potosí, I kept hearing dynamite explode as I walked through a museum. Miners (who are obviously not among the wealthy) filled the city’s main square and surrounding streets, protesting a new law regarding pensions. A loudspeaker attached to the sound system of a car amplified the cries from the rally, as if the dynamite wasn’t loud enough. My hotel is right on the main square, so I had the pleasure of hearing the ruckus into the night.

In addition to the miners, people in the city of Sucre hold a large grudge against the president. Sucre was the country’s first capital. During Morales’ campaign, he promised that Sucre would become the capital again, but changed his mind once elected. This inspired opposition to Morales in and around Sucre. Protesters have blocked attempts by Morales to campaign in the region. In the past few months as Bolivia considers a new constitution and the recall, other protesters have seized airports and pushed the country's military around in regions where Morales is not popular.

Despite these problems, there might be enough people who believe that the country has improved since Morales took office. Even if there aren't, almost half of Bolivia’s citizens are illiterate. Morales used this to his advantage during the last election. His supporters waged an effective campaign appealing to the illiterate, which included standing at the polls to tell people who couldn’t read which box to check if they wanted to elect a politician who would improve their lives.

President Morales constantly promises a “better Bolivia,” one in which the country will belong to all of it’s inhabitants. Yet so many citizens clearly are not getting what they want, or were promised. Clearly, Bolivia is not the only country to experience political discontent. Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has her fair share of enemies and U.S. President George W. Bush certainly isn’t winning any popularity contests. Even though these countries face different issues and varying degrees of discontent, one thing is certain. There’s no easy solution to any of these political and economic problems. I have yet to find a country with all the answers. I have a feeling it doesn’t exist.

(The photo of President Evo Morales of Bolivia is by José Cruz of Agência Brasil, the Brazilian news agency, which allows use of its photos through a Creative Commons License.)

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