March in support of Bolivian President Evo Morales and the process of change

12 October 2011

Dario Kenner, La Paz

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Tens of thousands marched in La Paz today to support the government of President Evo Morales. The march finally made it to Plaza Villarroel after several hours of making its way through central La Paz. Cooperative miners, campesino (agrarian unions) and indigenous social movements, and urban organisations were amongst some of those present.  There were also pro-government events in Trinidad, Sucre, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.

On the 519thanniversary of the European invasion of Latin America President Morales talked about the importance of the resistance against colonisation. “Only a few arrived to divide us. They tried to intimidate and silence us. (Today) some leaders of some social movements are being used as instruments of capitalism and neo-liberalism” he commented in reference to the indigenous TIPNIS marchers who will probably arrive in La Paz next week (detailed background on TIPNIS issue). President Morales went on to remind those gathered about the failed attempts by the right wing opposition to remove him from office in 2008 through a recall referendum and a civic coup. “Now once again they try to provoke and divide us and harm the process of change. But the Bolivian people will always defend this democratic and cultural revolution. This process is not of Evo or the government, it is of the people”, he commented.

Morales said indigenous peoples in Bolivia had moved from resistance to taking power. “This process of change is irreversible. So many died in the struggle. I ask for a minute´s silence to remember all those who have fallen including in October 2003 fighting against neo-liberalism (the so called “Gas War”). The European invasion brought genocide and looting of our natural resources. They tried to wipe out indigenous peoples.  It´s key to evaluate (current) politics in the context of this permanent struggle”.

Speech at pro-President Evo Morales rally (credit: Dario Kenner)

Speech at pro-President Evo Morales rally (credit: Dario Kenner)

“We have fulfilled the October Agenda but are still in the process the industrialisation”. The agenda included nationalisation and industrialisation of hydrocarbons resources plus writing a new Constitution. “I need a new mandate from you. We have decided that with all the social sectors…we will debate a new agenda for a national development plan in December”. Needs have to be prioritised to decide how to use the country’s economic resources, he added. Morales said the October Agenda had been fulfilled because of the new Constitution (approved in 2009) and the nationalisation (May 2006) of hydrocarbons which allowed for a huge increased in Bolivia´s international reserves and levels of investment. Resources are being distributed to regional and local government. “The struggle of the people was not in vain”, he said.

In what was probably a reference to the on-going criticism of the police operation against the indigenous TIPNIS march on 25 September Morales said: “We have recognised our mistakes. This is why we need to strengthen this process. Who does not make mistakes? The important thing is to correct them to benefit all Bolivians. Sometimes I have to apolgise because of the fault of some people who want to damage this process and do not accept change”. However, these comments do not answer the crucial question of who gave the order to the police.

Notable by its absence Morales did not touch on the proposal for a law to suspend the building of the road through the TIPNIS national park and indigenous territory (discussed in detail in yesterday´s blog). See the video below in Spanish for images of today´s march and where René Martínez (MAS), President of the Senate, explains the law is waiting to be approved by the senate. The debate in the Senate continues tonight.

This evening I asked political analyst and critic of the government Raúl Prada what he thought of the speech. He said the Morales government has not completed the October Agenda: “The nationalisation process was started but not finished. YPFB (state hydrocarbons company) has nominal control but the transnationals have the effective control (economic and technical areas). The only thing the “nationalisation” did was change the contracts with the transnationals so the state had 51% control.  This has increased state funds that have been distributed to regional and local government”. On the Constitution he told me: “The aim of the new Constitution is to build a Plurinational State. The new Constitution is an opportunity to build a new alternative model to capitalism called Vivir Bien. The October Agenda has not been completed because the Morales government has used the new Constitution to restore the nation state. It has not used the Constitution to implement transformations in the structure, management and practices of the state that would make it Plurinational”.

On the proposal to discuss a new national development plan in December Prada said, “December is too late. If the government had the will, and understood how serious this crisis is they would hold the debate now. The arrival of the march is a moment to re-direct the process of change with a key role for the social movements. All debate and discussion is welcome as long as it is participatory, transparent and not just a show. We need to decide if we will continue with the extractive model that the government favours or if we will try to implement Vivir Bien”.

Finally, on the future of the process of change Prada had this to say “The Morales government sees itself as the process of change. It says it is the social movements. This is completely wrong. If we evaluate the laws approved there are huge contradictions. The government is against the process. Defence of the government is not defence of the process. The defence of the TIPNIS, the Constitution and a Plurinational vision is the real defence of the process of change”.
Read full interview with Raúl Prada here.

Indigenous social movements march in support of President Evo Morales (credit: Dario Kenner)

Indigenous social movements march in support of President Evo Morales (credit: Dario Kenner)

Chants I heard today:

“Evo we are with you”

“Long live the process of change!”

“Death to the opposition”

“Where are the deaths reported by the media? They don´t exist!”

“The process of change and judicial elections must go forward!”

“What do we want? Justice!”

In the other speeches the head of the cocaleros (coca growers) Juanita Ancieta, President of the Six Federations of the Tropics emphasised the importance of defending and respecting the Bolivian Constitution. Ancieta also said the indigenous peoples of TIPNIS do want a road. This claim was backed up by the presence of a leader of the CONISUR who said “the road is part of the process of change, my children will benefit from the road”. CONISUR represents 12 indigenous communities in the south of the national park. The community leaders who are marching against the road project represent the Sécure subcentral (14 communities) and the TIPNIS Subcentral (37 communities). The leaders of the indigenous march have made clear they do not oppose the building of a road as long as it does not go through the TIPNIS. As was pointed out yesterday by one of the indigenous leaders at the march: “The indigenous peoples of the TIPNIS through their self determination and self government have already decided no to the road in 2010”.

Victor Morales, head of the National Federation of Cooperative Miners of Bolivia (Fencomin) said, “the ultra right wing have infiltrated the indigenous march. The TIPNIS march demands binding consultation but this would affect 60,000 miners (actually their demand is for the right to prior consultation – see part two of this article – although this would still affect future extractive industries). We are marching today to defend our right to work. We say to the indigenous marchers that instead of damaging the government of Evo Morales they should instead join this process”.

Felipa Huanca, Executive Secretary of the Departmental Federation of Native Indigenous Campesino Women of La Paz “Bartolina Sisa”, declared, “We fought for the process of change led by President Evo. We will not let multinationals rule us again. The indigenous TIPNIS march has the right to march. But opposition political parties led by Samuel Doria Medina (Unidad Nacional) and Juan Del Granado (Moviemiento Sin Miedo) have no right to trample on our process of change. President Evo is not alone, he is with the people. On 16 October we need to say yes to voting (in the judicial elections)”.

View of the huge crowds in Plaza Villarroel (credit: Dario Kenner)

View of the huge crowds in Plaza Villarroel (credit: Dario Kenner)

As we walked towards the Plaza Villarroel I talked to Roberta Vargas, National Executive Secretary of PLANE – Plan Nacional de Empleo (a National Employment Plan started in 2002), “We have been marching for seven days from near to Oruro to get to La Paz. We are here as women to defend the process of change. There are people today mobilising in the 9 regions (departments) of the country. This issue with the indigenous peoples is getting confused, they see Evo as responsible. The media lied and said there were deaths (after the police violence of 25 September). But there were no deaths. The media made it up”. I asked her how the TIPNIS conflict could be solved: “I want to say we are not against the indigenous peoples march, they are our comrades. The real demand of the indigenous march is for a road. We also want a road. The indigenous peoples in TIPNIS need to solve the problem with the government. No one else like the right wing can get involved”.

And on the judicial elections this coming Sunday 16 October Vargas said: “The press and the right wing do not want them to be suspended. But we want the elections so the process of change will advance. There is not justice in Bolivia, especially for women. There are divorced women with five children who have to go to work and have to leave their children during the day. The children get abused and there is no justice. There is justice for the people who have money”.

This huge march along with events in other cities show there is support for President Evo Morales and his government. What stands out is the clear support for the process of change to continue. But the TIPNIS conflict has thrown open the debate as to what this process means and for who. Just a few examples: for some it means fulfiling the October Agenda and/or for others a new development model called Vivir Bien (“Living Well”) based on the cosmovision of indigenous peoples. In this context the proposal by Morales to hold a debate in December about a new national development plan is interesting. The question is based on the current political climate should the debate be brought forward?

5 Responses to “March in support of Bolivian President Evo Morales and the process of change”
  1. Nicky Scordellis says:

    “Tens of thousands marched in La Paz today to support the government of President Evo Morales. ” It’s very important to take into account that a large part of the people in the march were not there by choice. Everyone who works in the government or for state-owned entities (for example Entel) was ordered to march and told they would be fined (up to 1000Bs in some cases) or even were threatened with losing their jobs if they did not take part. Some were also told to bring two friends with them. Similarly the miners in the march have just been exempted from an important tax by Evo, with the agreement that they would support him on this issue and participate in the march… it would be interesting to know how many of those tens of thousands were genuinely there as a result of their own convictions… any guesses?

  2. Fred Fuentes says:

    Dario, you ask “The question is based on the current political climate should the debate be brought forward?”

    To me this seems to be turning things on its head. December must be seen as the culmination of a debate, one which no one has to wait to start. in fact, the Morales government in May called on the COB to present its proposals for the national development plan, in many ways already kicking off the debate. But i imagine that very little real debate will emanate from any quarters (a deeply serious problem the process of change has to resolve)

    However, there is a problem when we see the comments by Prada:

    “December is too late. If the government had the will, and understood how serious this crisis is they would hold the debate now. The arrival of the march is a moment to re-direct the process of change with a key role for the social movements. All debate and discussion is welcome as long as it is participatory, transparent and not just a show. We need to decide if we will continue with the extractive model that the government favours or if we will try to implement Vivir Bien”.

    He does not seem interested in a real debate, but rather to leverage the corporate media attention on the TIPNIS march to “re-direct” a process he has already declared dead. In fact only a few weeks ago he was warning of the instauration of a fully blown anti-indigenous dictatorship in Bolivia. If that is your viewpoint, then surely any discussion will just be false.

    i look forward to a real debate, but one based on a real concrete assessment as to where Bolivia has come from and where it needs to go in order to manage the twin challenges of (human) development and respect for the environment. Not a slanging match from those that write great diatribes but fail to put forward a single concrete measure of real substance. Or vague calls to boot out all the transnational with no idea of what to do next. Because in the end this only strengthen the hand of the technocrats who focus solely on the short term, an propose policies that offer important social gains that are vital for any process of change. The problem is however that full stomachs are not enough to make a revolution

    Nicky: the state bureacracy in Bolivia must have grown a hell of a lot over the last 6 years for there to have been tens of thousands of them on the streets. But in the end such baseless accusations (which is all they are, just like the ones that children were killed in the repression), as petty as for example asking how many of those on the march ACTUALLY live in TIPNIS, are only aim at avoiding the real issues and debates. Accept the fact that an important, dare i say it majority, of Bolivia’s poor continue to support their government, which they see as part of the process of change.

    • boliviadiary says:

      Hello Fred: I agree there needs to be a full debate with an emphasis on proposals and not just criticism. My question about whether December is too late is that Bolivia is currently in a profound political crisis. Firstly, there is a crisis of legitimacy because of the Bolivian government´s badly managed reaction to the fall-out from the police repression of the indigenous pro-TIPNIS march on 25 September including not revealing who gave the order from within the government ( Secondly, the huge protests over the last few weeks (covered in articles on this blog) across the country have shown (both pro the TIPNIS march and pro the Evo Morales government) the level of polarisation. This situation will only deepen more when the indigeous movements´ march in defense of TIPNIS arrives, probably this Tuesday in La Paz. This is why I suggest December may be too late to finish the debate. The time for discussing and deciding on a new national development plan is surely now?
      With regard to Prada´s comments I have included them to give people an idea of different views. This is why I have also published interviews with MAS Senator Adolfo Mendoza and indigenous deputy Bienvenido Zacu. My aim is to present the debates happening at the moment for those who are not in Bolivia. Those who read the blog can make up their own minds as to what they think of each perspective. Cheers, Dario Kenner

      • Unfortunately it appears as though Prada (and maybe others) have taken the option of debating among themselves rather than really attempting to come up with a collectively discussed national plan….Disidentes del oficialismo plantean cumbre paralela

        El exconstituyente y disidente del MAS Raúl Prada planteó la necesidad de concertar una agenda económica paralela a la que anunció el presidente Evo Morales. Convocó a sectores sociales contestatarios al oficialismo encabezar la cumbre.

        “Vamos a ir por el modelo del vivir bien como una alternativa al capitalismo, la modernidad y el desarrollo, y por el proyecto civilizatorio. Ese es el enfrentamiento en el TIPNIS y es ese enfrentamiento el que ha puesto a nuevos actores en la defensa de este proceso”, afirmó Prada, según ANF.

        El sociólogo convocó a la Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), a la Confederación de Pueblos Indígenas de Bolivia (CIDOB) y a juntas de vecinos a encabezar esta iniciativa que pretende articular una propuesta alternativa.

        El exviceministro del gobierno de Morales, Alejandro Almaraz, apoyó la propuesta y consideró que la agenda que busca perfilar el Mandatario sólo reunirá propuestas de sectores afines al MAS. “Los movimientos críticos a esta forma de gobernar no tendrán un espacio político, serán descartados y obviados”, manifestó. …..

  3. Nicky Scordellis says:

    Fred, of course there are many other issues and debates to discuss, I was simply adding a point to the article that I felt was fundamental in order to understand the situation. I specifically didn’t put numbers in my post because I don’t have them, but a brief google search tells me there are a total of 440 thousand public servants in Bolivia – obviously not all of them are in La Paz / in the central government etc but you only needed a tenth of them to make up the whole march. What I can tell you is that it’s not a baseless accusation because several people I know who work in the public sector told me first-hand they were forced to march under the threat of fines. I also accept that a large part of Bolivia’s poor continues to support Evo, but that doesn’t change the fact that a large part of the march was forced to be there.

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