Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera first became passionate about politics during the widespread resistance to the Hugo Banzer dictatorship in 1979. Soon after, he left Bolivia to train as a mathematician at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, where he was active in the Central American solidarity Movement. Drawn to sociology, he began reading everything he could in an effort to analyze the situation of Bolivia’s indigenous majority population from a Marxist perspective. In García Linera’s intellectual life, political questions have always been the most important.
Upon his return to Bolivia, he became a founding member of the indigenous Marxist guerrilla organization EGTK (Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army), which disbanded when its leadership was captured in the early 1990s. After five years in prison, García Linera joined the sociology department at La Paz’s public university. He quickly emerged as one of Bolivia’s leading public intellectuals and stayed at the university until 2005, when he became Evo Morales’s running mate in the presidential elections.
Slender, light-skinned and tall, bundled into a Russian great coat that President Morales brought him back from Moscow, and armed with a cup of coca tea in one hand and the ubiquitous cellphone in the other, García Linera wasted little time in formalities when we sat down to talk recently.
Can you describe the differences between what you call Andean-Amazonian capitalism and capitalism in Northern countries? How do you see the link between this kind of capitalism and socialism?
Sometimes I am accused of going back on my Marxist principles when I raise this issue. But really what I am talking about is the reality of Bolivia. Not what we might want it to be, not what our idealism makes us want to believe, but what it really is. This is a country of small producers and family enterprises. However, it is also a country of deeply entrenched communitarian systems and relationships, although these have been weakened in the past sixty years. We believe that by strengthening these, we can gradually transition toward socialism.
It is not realistic to think that in a country where only 10 percent of the working class has a clear consciousness of itself as a class, we can build socialism, because socialism cannot be built without a proletariat. It will take decades of hard work to build the class consciousness necessary for this transition. Therefore we must construct a strong state that assumes a leading role in the economy and mobilizes its resources to strengthen community organizations and communal forms of production.
Since 2005, the Bolivian state has received a huge increase in income from natural gas. Can you describe how this has expanded the options available to your government?
Natural gas now comprises about one-third of government revenues, and we are spending it on new social programs such as a small old-age pension, a benefit to encourage school attendance, and funds for pregnant and lactating mothers. It is peculiar — in Northern countries, these types of benefits are viewed as a normal part of the state’s role, but here we are accused of instituting them to buy votes.