|December 28, 2005||Posted by Fred Foldvary under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
Bolivia’s Indian Chief
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
For the first time since the fall of the Inca Empire, a Native American Indian is chief of state of the Republic of Bolivia. The election of Evo Morales as president of Bolivia is a great moment for the Indians of the Americas. But how long will he stay in power?
Bolivia was named after Simon Bolivar, one of the leaders of the war against Spain. Bolivia became an independent state in 1825. At first Bolivia had a small sea coast; it was ceded to Chile in 1884, but the government of Bolivia again claims this corridor to the sea.
The majority of the countrys nine million people are Quecha and Aymara Indian, 30 percent of the people being Quecha, 25 percent Aymara, 30 percent mixed ancestry, and 15 percent of European ancestry. The Aymara were conquered by the Quecha Incas, but retained their own language.
Evo Morales, an Aymara, has been the leader of the political party called Movement Towards Socialism. He is a farmer who grows coca, the plant from which cocain is produced, although in its leafy raw from coca is legal in some parts of Bolivia and has been chewed for centuries as a stimulant to help get workers through the day. Morales has been an advocate for the cocaleros, the coca farmers, seeking to expand coca growing while preventing its use for cocain.
Bolivia is a typical example of a land rich in natural resources — minerals, forests, natural gas, tourist opportunities — but plagued by massive poverty. It is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, two-thirds of the people being classified as poor, especially so the Indians.
While the election of Morales is a victory for the long-oppressed Indians, the prospects for lasting beneficial reforms is questionable. Since independence, Bolivia has suffered 189 military coups. The political turmoil has continued to the present day, with five presidents since 2000, two of whom were ousted by demonstrations led by Morales.
The success of reforms and economic development in Bolivia depend on cooperation with other countries, especially the United States, as the U.S. and its war on drugs dominates the politics of the Inca region of Latin America. In 2004, the United States spent $150 million on coca-eradication programs in Bolivia. But rather than seeking cooperation, unfortunately, Evo Morales seems to be seeking confrontation, as if he did not expect to last long in power. Morales has called President George W. Bush a terrorist. In an interview with Al Jazeera television, Morales stated, The only terrorist in this world that I know of is Bush.
Even if he thinks that the U.S. war in Iraq is state terrorism, it is, to say the least, undiplomatic and counter-productive to make such a harsh personal accusation of the president of another country, especially since his plan to expand coca growing and defend the interests of the cocaleros will confront the U.S. policy of eradicating the coca plant in South America.
It also does not help that Morales is a socialist who admires Fidel Castro, whose totalitarian socialist policies have created a national prison in Cuba, from which people risk their lives to escape in boats and rubber rafts. Morales also opposes free trade. If Morales pursues state socialist central planning, restrictions on trade, and confiscations of private enterprise, this will guarantee that Bolivia will remain among the poorest countries in Latin America.
During his election campaign, Morales boasted that he would be Americas nightmare, like Che Guevara of Cuba, also admired by Morales, who fought his failed communist revolution in Bolivia. Besides the expansion of coca growing, Morales seeks to confront Chile about the recovery of the lost sea coast. Bolivia has access to Chiles sea ports, so Morales should avoid a land-grabbing war with Chile, a war which Bolivia would surely lose.
In the measurement of economic freedom, Bolivia is 6.5 on a scale of zero to ten, ten being the highest, with a ranking of 59, meaning 58 countries have more economic freedom. Bolivia is especially low in its legal structure, counter-productive labor laws, and restrictions on private enterprise.
Morales should confine his socialism to the rent of natural resources of Bolivia, and keep his revolutionary hands off of private enterprise. Tapping the rental value of natural gas, minerals, forests, farms and urban land would provide sufficient revenue for government without hurting the incentive to produce. To eradicate poverty, Morales should embrace free trade and encourage investment by the elimination of restrictions and taxes on labor and private property.
Morales is not the first Indian to become head of state in Latin America. In Mexico, Benito Juarez was an Indian president in the 1800s and enacted beneficial reforms, but the reforms were not fundamental enough to liberate Indians from lasting poverty and oppression. The election of Morales is an exciting opportunity to lift the Indians of Bolivia from subjugation to equal citizens and from poverty to prosperity. But this prospect will be squandered if Morales persists in needless confrontation with the U.S. government and seeks to nationalize the economy.
Bolivia could be transformed into the richest country in South America, but only if Morales seeks and achieves an equal benefit from Bolivias natural resources while liberating not just coca growers but all labor and enterprise from taxes and restrictions.
Copyright 2005 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report. Also see:
If Morales Wins in Bolivia
Bolivia’s Remarkable Vote, Not Covered by Mainstream Media
Bolivian Rebellion Against Water Monopoly
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