Anti-democratic violence won’t stop Bolivia’s path of social progress – Interview with Camila Escalante


“The projects and progress initiated under Evo Morales’ government beginning in 2006 continue today, despite all efforts to sabotage the sovereign model.”

Camila Escalante, Kawsachun News

Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America activist Logan Williams speaks to Bolivia-based journalist Camila Escalante on the recent destabilisation attempts and violent anti-democratic actions from the far-right.

LW: Hi Camila, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions on the current situation in Bolivia.

Much of the global left, including here in the UK, is increasingly concerned about the efforts to destabilise the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) government led by President Arce perpetrated by right-wing activists in the Santa Cruz region. Could you explain a little more about these events and their impact on Bolivia so far?

CE: Since President Arce was elected at the end of 2020, right-wing groups in Santa Cruz have called ‘civic strikes’ which are in fact bosses lockouts led by the Civic Committee; a committee of the largest industrialists and landowners of the region of Santa Cruz, who at various points through President Arce’s presidency and during the coup in 2019, decide to shut down production and workplaces in order in order to protest against the government and also to with the aim of destabilising the economy.

The most recent one was the end of 2022 and use various issues as mere pretext. The most recent so-called civic strike was around the date of the national census, which they wanted to be brought forward. However, the census was only a pretext for a new attempt to overthrow the government and to carry out a coup, as they did in 2019.

However, the right’s mobilising power is decreasing, as we saw with the most recent arrest of the leader of that region and leader of the 2019 coup, Fernanda Camacho. When he was arrested, the Civic Committee, was not able to cause a civic strike or a shutdown of the city, and instead were reduced to small violent protests in the centre of Santa Cruz. The rest of the city was unaffected.

There is also a growing sense of a desire for separatism in that region among the supporters of these right-wing groups. Separatism that has its bases in racism against the indigenous Andean regions of the country and a refusal to be governed by an Indigenous-led government. Though this sentiment has existed since the election of Evo Morales in 2005, there is an attempt to strengthen this sentiment at the moment.

There are also waves of racial violence. Indigenous people and those with surnames from Andean regions of the country are labelled ‘masistas’ or supports of the MAS government and subject to violent street attacks as a result, whether it be they trying to get to work or trying to get home.This is one of the uglier consequences of these destabilisation attempts.

The Right may have overplayed their hand on too many occasions and the result is a growing sentiment against the disruptions to life and work, even among people sympathetic to this right-wing opposition.

LW: Has the social progress made throughout the Morales led governments continued despite the efforts of the right in Santa Cruz and elsewhere, under the Presidency of Arce?

CE: The projects and progress initiated under Evo Morales’ government beginning in 2006 continue today, despite all efforts to sabotage the sovereign model. It was after all built by Evo and Lucho (Popular name for President Arce). President Arce has kept his focus on keeping the lowest level of inflation throughout the 12 months of conflict overseas while fortifying the country’s productive capacity so that Bolivia is less reliant on food imports.

When the coup took place in 2019 and the neoliberal regime came in, funding was cut for most of the infrastructure projects that were ongoing under Evo’s government. State companies which had been created under Evo were shut down and many nationalised industries were paralyzed.

Funding for these infrastructure projects has been reactivated and some projects have been completed in these last two years. Personnel have been rehired and production is back on track at state companies, whilst investment in big, nationalised industries such as gas and lithium has returned. The Bolivian government returned the full sum of an IMF loan which had been given to the Añez regime was also returned to the IMF very early into Arce’s administration, continuing Bolivia’s tradition of not holding debt with the IMF or other US-led institutions.

We’re also seeing the restoration of social spending in as well as in infrastructure, in school, in education and health. In the area of health, important new cancer treatment centers have opened so that Bolivians no longer have to travel abroad in order to receive modern medical treatment to treat cancer and other illnesses. Traveling abroad was a non-option for most poor Bolivians and these centers, which also provide an incentive for young Bolivians to train in specialised medicine abroad, are already saving lives.

Bolivia is showing that it can rise to the challenge while growing its economy. It’s evidence of the strength of Bolivia’s model of low inflation, of monetary sovereignty, and of import substitution industrialisation.

LW: How has the recent election of Lula and the Left in Brazil effected the MAS government in Bolivia?

CE: We’re just 46 days into President Lula’s government but we can already see that he’s taking a leadership role in South America and in the world, amid an absence of leadership. Given his packed agenda, we’ll have to wait and see what he envisions for relations with other countries and how far he prioritises smaller countries like Bolivia. We do know that Lula intends to convene all Amazon countries to jointly address the environmental crisis.

He’s also rejected attempts by media and opposition to try to bait him into passing judgement or making statements on the internal affairs of Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba and has called for the end of blockade and sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela. This is very much in line with the MAS government and just yesterday (February 14th), Brazil’s government resumed the Minha Casa, Minha Vida housing program with the delivery of 2,700 homes.

 To Lula and the PT’s credit, many important social programs were rolled out starting in his first mandate that other left-wing governments have modeled after. I see Lucho and Lula as natural allies. There’s a lot of potential for collaboration in the coming period and it already started on inauguration day when Lucho asked for Brazil’s help to investigate the Brazil’s role in the 2019 coup, including the harboring of fugitives who committed crimes under Jeanine Añez’s regime.

LW: We have seen the Arce government’s foreign relations seek to re-establish a progressive foreign policy based on greater cooperation with other progressive countries in Latin America. Could you explain a bit more about the foundations of these policies and the ideas behind them?

CE: The foundation of these policies are human rights including economic rights and the right to development and prosperity. In Latin America and the Caribbean, peoples have been deliberately denied the right to develop alongside the global north and people still today live with limited access to new technology, limited connectivity in terms of internet access, and it’s taken many years to develop the necessary infrastructure for electricity and transportation. Medicine is far behind where it needs to be to serve our populations.

These are all areas in which our countries must work together to overcome the underdevelopment and inequalities left by colonialism, as understood by Commanders Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in their construction of ALBA-TCP and vision for CELAC. President Luis Arce agrees with this vision of a more integrated Andean region, a more integrated South America, and throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The nuclear medicine and cancer treatment center in El Alto came to fruition in cooperation with the government of Argentina and it was in Argentina where Bolivian medical specialists have been trained. Bolivia sustains important trade relationships with countries like Chile, Peru and Argentina and is making efforts to deepen mutually beneficially economic cooperation but also to jointly address the issue of climate change and protection of the Amazon.

LW: What can the British Left and Labour movement do to support the people of Bolivia especially in the face of the actions of the far-right in Santa Cruz and elsewhere?

CE: Coups and major destabilisation can only be successful if everyone tunes out. We see the ongoing destabilisation attempts in Santa Cruz and by the far-right, with support by foreign actors, as closely linked to the violence unleashed against the popular indigenous, campesino and working class uprising in neighboring Peru.

The right, which is backed by the US and US-controlled OAS and EU, wants to convert Latin America and the Caribbean into a colony of the north once again. I’m not exaggerating when say that the elites who own large parcels of land want to own more and reestablish colonial master-slave relationships in Bolivia, in Peru, and Brazil. The neoliberal and liberal right-wing politicians seek political power in order to be able to auction off natural resources to foreign corporations in ways that don’t benefit the people of our countries.

Under a sovereignty model, countries centralise control of resources through nationalisation and invest the profits of exploiting its resources towards social programs. Maintaining or gaining sovereign control over our resources is the fight we’re in currently throughout Latin America and a more extremist side of the right is rearing its head and strengthening. This is not happening in isolation.

The British left and Labour movement needs to make the connections of how foreign capital and corporations, based in countries like the UK, have interests in our natural resources. We need to be able to expose the stealthy plundering schemes and map out this vast regime change industry that is actually based in North America, the UK, and Europe.

When we do that mapping, we see that imperialist interests are behind the contention and conflicts that arise here. It’s not enough to voice solidarity: We need to be able to understand the direct role of imperialist governments in the bloodshed and demand that UK government respect the sovereignty of peoples and their chosen governments based on non-interference. It’s also the responsibility of the British population to demand accountability from resource plundering companies based in the UK, but whose crimes are committed abroad.

Kawsachun News: journalist and editor Camila Escalante attends a rally in support of Lula in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Photo credit: Camila Escalante

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