“Bolivia’s current economic model provides an example to follow for countries around the world at a time of increasingly crisis and instability.”Ollie Vargas, Kawsachun News
By Ben Hayes, Islington North CLP & Arise Festival Volunteer
Thousands joined Friends of Bolivia’s online event Solidarity With Bolivia – the People in Power, with an international panel chaired by Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America‘s Christine Blower discussing the achievements of the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) government since returning to office after the 2019 coup.
You can read the report-back or watch the meeting in full below:
Addressing the online meeting, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington John McDonnell stated that “people-powered alternatives to neoliberalism” such as the model followed by Bolivia were “more important than ever.” He explained that the left in Britain “were too often good at telling people what they should be doing but not so good at listening and learning lessons from what they are doing”.
McDonnell pointed to the successful alliance of the government with trade unions and social movements to implement policies such as the introduction of a Wealth Tax, initiatives to tackle hunger, investment in health and education and an increased minimum wage as a model for progressives around the world to follow. He also slammed the Tories’ record on Latin America, describing their alliances with the Bolsonaro administration in Brazil, the reactionary repressive state in Colombia and support for coups, and sanctions in relation to countries such as Bolivia and Venezuela as “the opposite of what is needed”. His contribution concluded with a call to “learn from and work in solidarity with the people of Bolivia,” arguing that this was an important task both in terms of material living standards in the here and now and the global prospects for socialist politics more widely.
Friends of Bolivia‘s Tim Young gave an outline of the MAS’s record on “restarting an interrupted process of change” since returning to office, with the Bolivian economy having grown by 3.4% last year and being projected to grow by another 3.8% this year. He detailed this using examples of the new Wealth Tax generating twice as much income as anticipated, a return to investment in municipal government, officials responsible for coup regime’s massacres facing prosecution, and a return to a foreign policy based on regional cooperation – breaking from the alignment with the Pentagon seen under Jeanine Áñez.
Warning that the country’s traditional elite was still determined to ultimately overturn Luis Arce’s election victory in 2020, he highlighted that recent right-wing mobilisations had drawn “numbers in the hundreds”, in contrast to a demonstration of over a million in defence of democracy and the process being followed by the current government. Young called for continued solidarity with the people of Bolivia – stating that internationalists had a duty to “oppose attempts to impose regime change by force from reactionary forces inside or outside the country”.
Juana Maldonado from Wiphalas Across the World talked about the Bolivian left’s commitment to ensuring that the country’s government and institutions reflected the diversity of its population, citing this as a significant reason why the “process of change” which began with the election of Evo Morales as President in 2006 has always been staunchly opposed by those with historic wealth and power within Bolivia. This again was reflected in the racist repression seen following the 2019 coup, with numerous indigenous activists tortured. Maldonado reflected on how this caused members of the global Bolivian diaspora to organise in solidarity with those resisting this agenda through groups such as Wiphalas Across the World, with this work now continuing as the country once again makes studies towards a future based on “dignity and sovereignty”.
Head of Latin American Studies at Middlesex University, Dr Francisco Dominguez expanded on this theme, arguing that one of the most fundamental changes seen under the MAS is that “for the first time in the state’s history, those traditionally marginalised are playing a leading role” – pointing to the prominence of indigenous communities and women in the current process. This, he stated, is “intolerable for the oligarchy” – and was a key factor in their determination to oust the government.
Warning that the scenes which followed the coup provide an example of what to expect if they ever return to power, Dominguez also denounced the role played by Organisation of American States (OAS) General Secretary Luis Almagro. By arguing that by raising accusations of electoral feud following the re-election of Evo Morales as President in 2019 (claims which were later found to be baseless by Washington-based think tank the Center for Economic and Policy Research and researchers from the University of Pennsylvania), Almagro had not only supported the coup but “helped create the conditions for it to take place”.
In contrast to the agenda of the OAS, Dr Dominguez pointed to Bolivia’s role in pursuing regional integration as a model for the world to follow for how international co-operation can help improve the lives of millions.
Miriam Amancay Colque of The Bartolina Sisa Resistance stated that President Arce had fulfilled his pledges to tackle the pandemic and sort the economy after “the government of coup-plotters had dedicated themselves to stealing from the country.” Arce’s achievements include one of the world’s lowest inflation rates; legislation being passed to help ensure justice for victims of violence against women and girls; wages raised as part of an agreement with the country’s trade union federation; and greater funding for key public services.
Noting that Bolivia has some of the world’s largest lithium reserves, she warned against attempts to undermine Bolivia’s sovereignty from right-wing governments – with the prosecution of former government officials implicated in the brutal repression following the 2019 coup used as a pretext for international intervention. Colque emphasised the importance of regional unity against such threats – highlighting Bolivia’s empathic rejection of US attempts to exclude countries from the upcoming Summit of the Americas. She concluded with a call for international solidarity in defence of the right to self-determination.
Kawsachun News journalist Ollie Vargas argued that Bolivia’s current economic model provides an example to follow for countries around the world at a time of increasingly crisis and instability. Citing examples of state owned institutions such as a fertiliser plant (first opened under Morales, closed under Áñez and rebuilt under Arce), a food company which has played a crucial role in combating increases in food prices, and the country’s central bank, he stated Bolivia was showing that governments can actively set the agenda, rather than picking up the pieces left by rampaging markets at best.
This, Vargas outlined, has both delivered a much needed boost to the living standards of the country’s population and ensured it has been comparatively unharmed by the economic repercussions of the current war in Ukraine. Emphasising the importance of the international left taking note of these developments, he categorised the story of Bolivia under the Presidency of Luis Arce as ultimately being about “the triumph of democracy and an economy that works for all”.
Bolivia’s Ambassador to the United Nations and former Foreign Minister Diego Pary began by thanking Friends of Bolivia and solidarity campaigners across the world for their work in support of those fighting for their democratic rights during the coup period. Pary noted that under the process initiated by the MAS and its allies in trade unions and social movements, Bolivia had gone from one of the poorest countries on Earth to being amongst the world’s most impressive economic performers.
Closing the event, Blower thanked all contributions and attendees, as well as the people of Bolivia for their example to the world.