When Evo Morales rose to power in 2006, it was a historic day for Bolivia. For the first time of this young democracy, Bolivians had elected an indigenous President, and for the first time a candidate received an absolute majority.
In the early 2000s, the political and social instability in the Latin American country was continuously rising. After the failed attempt of a shock therapy by the government, the social unrest resulted in massive protests, eventually leaving 140 dead and Bolivia a divided country. Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, the President at that time, had to resign and flee to the United States.
Evo Morales, a ferrous opponent of the politics of Sánchez de Lozada – which included the privatization of a vast number of state-owned companies and the eradication of coca plantations, among others – ran a campaign against ‘neoliberalism’, ‘the Right,’ American imperialism and privatization. The charismatic leader used the same populist line of thought as his friend and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Rapidly, Morales became a new face of the ‘socialism of the 21st century.’ Winning with almost double the votes than the runner-up, it was clear who was going to shape the new politics of Bolivia for the years to come.
Morales and his party, the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism, MAS), were finally in power to represent the poor, the indigenous and the marginalized which were so neglected during past ‘neoliberal’ governments. Or were they?
After 13 years in power with an absolute majority in both chambers, we could expect that the government of Morales delivered some results toward their goal of a socialist Bolivia. Today, we are confronted, however, with a very different reality: there’s no sign of an anti-capitalist system where the means of production are publicly owned. While the government indeed nationalized more than twenty companies and set up plenty new state-owned enterprises, the politics of Morales has only strengthened and deepened a system that actually hurts the economy (in contrast to free trade policies) and affects all the Bolivian people, from the poor to the rich: crony capitalism.
Morales did at least fulfill his ‘anti-imperialistic’ promises and expelled the U.S. ambassador and U.S. law enforcement and development cooperation agencies from the country, but only to cede the position to another expansive and imperialist global power in the form of China. Bolivia has been liberated from the ‘Yankees,’ only to now be chained to a debt of around seven billion dollars to the Chinese government.
With a score of only 3.5 out of 10 for its rule of law and 3.6 for its legal system and property rights in the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index – numbers that have been decreasing since 2008, the Bolivian system suffers from weak institutions, which provide free tickets to corrupted politicians while leaving everyone else behind in legal insecurity. The MAS seized this opportunity with its majority and merely used it for its own benefit.
With China for instance pumping money directly into government agencies and enterprises – without any kind of transparency, the government allocates the resources to all kinds of new projects. Call of bids were granted only to a handful of companies with close ties to the government, frequently getting paid more than the reference costs. One of the biggest cases included a company managed by an ex-girlfriend of Evo Morales in which the company concluded various deals with the Bolivian state to the tune of 564 million dollars – probably just an accident.
The government of Evo Morales painted a false façade. They dethroned a small political elite which governed Bolivia for decades only to establish their own. In both instances, Bolivians ended up as the biggest losers. In the meantime, while other socialist governments have been defeated in elections all across Latin America, Evo Morales and his party vehemently intend to stay in power at all costs, even if this means to ignore the constitution.
Thus, Bolivia is a prime example of what happens when socialists come to power. It is also a prime example of why the path to prosperity and progress will never be one of a bigger, more powerful government.
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