Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Bolivia visit (part I)

by Shannon K. O'Neil
May 16, 2007

I am in Bolivia this week. In my meetings so far in La Paz, one common theme is the general support for Evo Morales. While there is significant frustration with the government, interviews with representatives from indigenous groups, from the middle class, from academic institutions and foundations, and with foreign diplomats (not to mention taxi drivers), show a general support for Morales and for his position as President. Almost all see him as genuine, as representative, and as capable of negotiating with the various interests within Bolivia.

Instead, people place blame elsewhere. Significant blame is placed on Morales cabinet and on his closest advisors. Many see them as being too radical in some cases, or not radical enough in others (especially on issues of particular interest to each group). They are also blamed for centralizing power. Instead of following through on Evo´s promise of broad participation, many view his closest advisors as making top-down and closed door decisions, much like governments in the past. Some even see the undue influence of foreign advisors, particularly Venezuelan, on government policies.

The continued support for Evo, despite the limits on actual policy changes in the first year and half of his government, questions the alarmist views often seen in the press. While frustrations continue, and marches are frequent through the downtown of the capital, there isn´t a sense here (at least in La Paz), of crisis or real unrest. That said, a few people see this as the lull before the storm, which will occur when the real negotiations happen (or more likely don´t happen in their view) within the Constituent Assembly, which is currently scheduled to conclude their process in August.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Hillel

    I wonder why Evo is not being held personally responsible for the problems people see with his government. I wonder if your sense will be different once you get to Santa Cruz? That is, my sense, where the real action is – or will be.

  • Posted by Shannon

    I agree with you on Santa Cruz – and just got here last night so will get to see first hand. What surprised me is that people of all sides in La Paz said this, not just those from the MAS (Evo´s political organization) or those sympathetic to the MAS. Most everyone was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

  • Posted by Tambopaxi

    Dissociation of leaders in LA from the acts of their subordinates and/or supporters is a pretty common occurence in the region. Notwithstanding the sad history of democracy in LA, people still vote in these countries in the belief (well, hope, actually) that they’ll get an honest and effective leader who will hire honest and effect cabinet ministers and other functionaries. To large extent that the Presis are, repeat, are honest, though not necessarily effective. The sad part though, is that most them are products of corrupt political systems and parties, and the Presidents almost always recruit from those same systems.

    While I agree with your analysis in Bolivia (II) about the disintegration of traditional political parties in several countries, don’t get your hopes up too much with respect to broad-based participation in support of Morales or other leaders in the region. You’re still dealing with Bolivians or Ecuadorians or Venezuelans, etc. who are products of fundamentally flawed cultures and societies where corruption is the accepted norm. These means that the chances are quite high (read: outcome not guaranteed, but extremely likely) that Bolivia (and the other countries) will see repetition of the same corruption/political backstabbing phenomena, abeit in a different context; same-old-wine-in-a-new bottle scenario, if you will. It’s happening for sure in Venezuela under Chavez and there’s already been the high profile incident of Correa’s Finance Minister in Ecuador. Every country is different in many ways, but I shouldn’t be surprised if local variations on the corruption theme have already occurred within Morales cabinet and/or his political support group, MAS.

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