Letter From Bolivia: Morales Moves
Morales has also appointed a number of radical outsiders and indigenous activists to his Cabinet. Most prominent among them is Justice Minister Casimira Rodriguez, who started working at age 13 in Cochabamba as a maid. For the mostly white men of the Bolivian bar, this appointment was an insult beyond comprehension. When I interviewed Rodriguez in her awkwardly large office, she seemed genuinely hurt by the attacks against her but politically unfazed. She recounted how she and other maids--some of whom were held as virtual prisoners--used their only free day each week to organize a union for domestic servants. "I have lived with injustice and inequality," said Rodriguez. "It is hard to fight corruption, but I can show the people that this is their house, too."
Despite these moves, many on the Bolivian left still consider Morales a sellout. They point to the 600,000 or more children who go to bed malnourished every night and demand more. One social movement-connected think tank, CEDLA, issued a hyperbolic report blasting the MAS government's first 100 days as "a ratification of neoliberalism." At the offices of CONAMAQ, one of several large Bolivian indigenous federations made up of autonomous ayllus, or communities, of Quechua-, Aymara- and Guaraní-speaking people, the critique of brother Evo is more abstract: "He doesn't have an indigenous vision," says the group's president, Anselmo Martinez Tot, who approves of the nationalization but worries that the MAS vision of economic development will erode traditional ways and draw off young people to the city.
"We want independence for Tawantinsuyu," says one of the maluk, or local leaders, in the office. He is referring to the huge indigenous nation comprising Bolivia and parts of Chile, Argentina, Peru and Ecuador. The radical fringe of Bolivian indigenismo--a force that is politically quite strong--will not be happy with MAS reformism.
True, the new government's first five months have not seen all-out class war or Indian separatism. Instead, MAS officials say they are pursuing a realistic, though less heroic, strategy of reducing poverty by growing and guiding Bolivia's market economy, rather than overthrowing it.
Nonetheless, the policy changes have been enough to seriously irritate George W. Bush and the US pundit class. The President has grumbled about the "erosion of democracy in Bolivia," while others cast their displeasure as mere technocratic concern. Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue and formerly with the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy said that nationalization "risks alienating natural and otherwise sympathetic partners." Still others suggest that nationalization will end new investment in Bolivian gas exploration.
Bolivian petroleum experts disagree, saying that firms are "standing in line" to get access to the gas fields. But even some in the Morales government express concern about Bolivia's long-term access to Brazil's huge market.