In the past week, the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia scored a major political victory. It assured its comeback to the political administration after a coup d’état ejected it from the country’s leadership following allegations of electoral fraud in the fourth elections. This led to the considerable votes for the 4th re-election of the formidable Bolivian leader Evo Morales.
Yet despite unattested allegations of the fraudulent elections, the right-wing forces within the country, primarily comprised of Santa Cruz’s political elite, military and police state institutions, and with the support of the United States (US) government, maneuvered against Morales and MAS, which primarily represents the indigenous people of Bolivia, to deny him his 4th term to the Bolivian governance.
Coup d’états aren’t an anomaly in the region; they are very feature of the region’s politics in the modern history of regional international relations. South America has been an important region for the great powers to exercise their political influence and resource-extraction policies to augment their power projections across the globe. First, US Monroe doctrine and then in Cold War struggle between US and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the region has been politically charged with strong grassroots political networks existing alongside repressive nature of the state, which came into existence as US-led coups against socialist politics across the region.
Even in Bolivia, US-supported dictatorships wrecked the country’s politics by consistently and inorganically shifting the nature of politics toward the right-wing forces. The interests of the US align with those of the right-wing forces within the country owing to their alignment of interests in economics and geopolitics. Due to their shared interests, the domestic right-wing actors and foreign actors chronically thwarted Bolivians democratic right to choose their leadership.
In the latest episode of a long-held geopolitical tradition in the region, Bolivia’s domestic right-wing aligning with the US attempted to deny the legitimately achieved political administration by Morales and MAS. This denial forced the former leader to exile in the neighboring nations, fearing that he might be assassinated following the coup. Multiple factors were also involved this time in the calculations of coup forces to force MAS and their socialist political and economic program out of the state’s administration.
Domestically, before the election of socialists in 2005, the country was reeling with the aftereffects of the neoliberal economic program imposed upon the Bolivian people at the diktats of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by the military dictatorship of Hugo Banzer and consequent right-wing governments. Those policies led to the 2003 conflict over the resource extraction of gas by the Bolivian right-wing political elites to transfer to the US.
The country erupted in anger and protest. Following the Gas Conflict, as it is known in popular memory, the Bolivians went to polls in 2005 and elected with overwhelming confidence Morales and MAS to lead the country out of the neoliberal economic mess. Emerging as a formidable political force, Morales-led MAS attempted a radical restructuring of the Bolivian state by shifting its economic, constitutional, and political frameworks from class-based neoliberal political vision to an egalitarian, accommodative and pluralistic political vision.
In the pursuit of a fundamental redistribution of wealth, Bolivia experienced the changing of the constitution, leading to the emergence of a Plurinational Bolivian state. These transformative efforts lead to significant financial prosperity, elimination of racism toward the indigenous people, egalitarian distribution of wealth, and economic growth, which according to an estimate in 2009, was averaging 4.9 annually since 2006 and was highest in the past 30 years of the Bolivian economy.
These transformative political, social, cultural, constitutional, and economic changes to the structures of power, wealth, and identity in the Bolivian state by Morales-led MAS has been significant in giving the socialists continual electoral victories even in the highly contested 2019 elections. It is also noteworthy that MAS gained more votes in 2020 elections, which were delayed twice by the right-wing coup administration, comparative to the votes they gained in 2019 and giving the party majorities in both houses of the Bolivian Congress, though Morales ceded the leadership to Luis Acre, the former finance minister under Morales. This fact of electoral votes is a testament to the popularity in the public consciousness of MAS socialism in Bolivia and the real tangible effects it has on the lives and livelihoods of the people.
However, the path of MAS’s new leader Luis Acre remains a perilous one as he needs to tread very carefully in the minefield of Bolivian politics. While at the one hand, there are issues of concern with how to deal with coup plotters and how coup plotters would react in the succeeding weeks. On the other hand, these are issues with the Bolivian economy and society. MAS leadership recently shared a vision of hope and reconciliation and continue to make transformative changes for the people.
Notwithstanding these delicate matters, the re-election of MAS with a thumping majority in both houses of the Congress provides a political framework for a fraught region with punctuated right-wing coups. Despite consistent violence by coup administration and a massive show of force before elections, the re-election of MAS is testifying to the power of realizing socialists promises of the provision of redistribution of wealth, decent housing, jobs, and economic growth, all features of socialism. The generational changes in the social demographics of the South American countries may usher in a wave of a New Left Socialism in those nations whose economic and social fabric has been disastrously damaged by intervening extra-regional powers and domestic right-wing forces.