On January 22, the MAS government of Evo Morales celebrated its first anniversary in power in the midst of a long political confrontation with the bourgeois opposition. The government now seeks to put an end to the crisis situation and to make every effort to reach an agreement with the right-wing.
In keeping with this objective, the lengthy presidential report before Congress, while in nationalist and “indigenist” tone was in fact, very moderate in content and failed to present any real measure which would back up the demand for a “democratic cultural revolution”.
The announced nationalization of the gas ended in a pact with the transnational corporations with oil contracts that guarantee heavy profits and “legal security” in exchange for increased taxes. The promises of land reform have been reduced to a single amendment which preserves “productive” private property without having expropriated one single acre of land in the whole country. The Constituent Assembly, kept stagnant for half a year now by the Right is becoming increasingly diluted and conciliatory by the guarantees which the MAS grants to the opposition. Vice-president Álvaro García Linera reiterated his offer that everything would be voted upon by a two-thirds majority until July 2 (only afterwards would it be voted upon by absolute majority) and the issue of autonomy will be permanently decided by two-thirds majority.
The changes in the Cabinet seem to confirm this conciliatory shift. Ministers deemed bothersome by the right-wing, like Alicia Muñoz (Minister of Government) or the “indigenist” intellectual Félix Patzi (Minister of Education) were sacked and replaced. Despite the resignation of Santa Cruz businessman Salvador Ric (Public Works), the MAS has continued to seek out figures who can “build bridges with the East” (that is to say, with the regional bourgeois elite) for various primary and secondary positions. Thereby the new Cabinet appears less indigenist and more traditionalist.
In this manner, the MAS, while permanently clashing with the opposition, has at the same time, sought to create better conditions for an agreement to exit the crisis.
The pro-imperialist reaction has continued to exert strong pressure, emboldened by the conciliatory politics of the government, which has allowed it to gain ground and strengthen itself at the regional level under the banner of “autonomy” (marking out their territory against the reformist goals of the MAS) even if its political representation (PODEMOS, MNR, UN) continues to be weak and fragmented.
This has brought about an extreme social and political polarization, in which various sectors of the Press, the Church and the Establishment have demanded sensibility and moderation from the government and the opposition (“democracy is in peril and if it is weakened, we lose everything.”) The events in Cochabamba have proved them “right”, so the struggle between the MAS and the right-wing Prefect[[The head of the departmental government in Bolivia]](Governor) has opened a space for the intervention of the masses in the political crisis that has shaken the country.
The Uprising in Cochabamba
The attempt of Reyes Villa, the ex-associate of the mass murderer Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada to sign on Cochabamba to the proposal of the oligarchs of the East (pushing for a departmental referendum on autonomy) caused the uprising of workers, peasants and the poor with road blocks, demonstrations and the occupation of the Prefectural office on January 12. The police, after initially repressing the demonstrators, were left paralyzed by the differences between the national government and the Prefect. The aggression of ultra-right vigilante groups nearly lead to local civil war with two deaths and numerous injuries.
The MAS initially encouraged the demonstration in order to neutralize Reyes Villa’s attempt of but later directly opposed it the moment it came under the direction of the masses as this would adversely affect its search for an agreement with the Right and the political regime as a whole.
Thus, the Government betrayed the popular struggle in Cochabamba, maintaining Reyes Villa (who had fled) in his post with the argument of “respecting democracy” and undermining the popular council by calling for the demonstrators to end the mobilization and to wait on a future “referendum repeal law” regarding national, provincial, and municipal decisions to be negotiated in Parliament with the very same right-wing parties.
Nevertheless, the MAS was unable to prevent sectors of the vanguard from defying orders and attempting to keep the struggle going, pressing the Departmental Council to declare a “Revolutionary Prefectural Government”, a brief attempt which gives us a good idea of the profoundness of the crisis, the absence of local power and the radicalization of the advanced sectors.
El Alto: Ready to fight
The events in Cochabamba had considerable national repercussions, (anti-spam-(anti-spam-(anti-spam-winning))) sympathy in other departments as well, as shown by the large solidarity march held by the COD (Departmental Worker’s Central) of Oruro with the participation of thousands of miners. And most importantly, it inspired the struggle in La Paz against the neoliberal Prefect José Luis Paredes of PODEMOS[[The right-wing opposition party “Poder Democrático y Social” (Social and Democratic Power). The name “PODEMOS” also means “We can do it”.]], lead by the workers of El Alto.
The pressure from the rank-and-file leaders of the El Alto neighborhood committees defied the senior leadership of FEJUVE (The Federation of Neighborhood Committees) by summoning a militant assembly. Evo Morales sent a message calling for calm and appealing against any demonstrations so as “not to play into the hands of the Right” while the leadership tried in vain to prevent voting on any radical measures. They were answered that “the Government should respect the social movements and remember that it exists thanks to October”[[The reference here is to October 2005 in which more than 60 Bolivian workers and campesinos died in the massive popular struggle for the nationalization of the gas resources.]]and voted to call a civic strike[[A civic strike is a city-wide call to citizen organizations and businesses to shut down operations and activity.]]and demonstration from January 22, until Paredes leaves.
Meanwhile, Edgar Patana of the COR (Regional Worker’s Central) and Nazario Ramírez of FEJUVE, both allies of the MAS dedicated themselves to deterring the process by creating an improvised bureaucratic union congress to retake control of the situation and downgrade the proposal to a partial strike, which was guaranteed only by sectors of the vanguard who carried out road blocks and other actions. Nevertheless, the event is symptomatic as this happened the very same day in which Evo Morales celebrated the first anniversary of his government and asked for calm in order to commemorate the day in the spirit of “democracy”.
The conflicts in Cochabamba and El Alto demonstrate the tendency of the masses, even while maintaining illusions in the Government, to intervene in the political crisis, to mobilize to defeat the Right and in so doing, to clash with the conciliatory politics of the MAS. Despite its influence, the latter finds it difficult to control mobilized sectors and drawing on these contradictions, a vanguard can accelerate their political experience. Nevertheless, the failure to throw out Reyes Villa and the temporary defeat in El Alto show that militancy and spontaneity are not enough. Decisions continue to be made by bureaucrats and mouthpieces of the MAS, reaffirming the need for the independence of worker’s organizations from the government. The construction of a bloc which would maintain political independence from the MAS would be a great step forward and would allow it call upon the organizations of the masses which support it not to subordinate themselves to the placating and conciliatory politics of the government and trust only in the mobilization of workers, campesinos, and indigenous peoples to defeat the pro-imperialist reaction. This would help accelerate the experience of the masses and overcome the maneuvering of the reformist bureaucracy. The vanguard must reach all of these conclusions from this important experience.
Political independence for mobilization and organization
We intervene in the process of mobilization in La Paz proposing the following:
-The building of the general mobilization throughout the whole Department, and its extension to the national level.
-A true political general strike, with a mobilized civic strike and road blocks until the expulsion of Paredes is achieved and the demands of the poor and working people are met.
-The joining of forces of workers, peasants, indigenous people and the poor in a true department-wide Popular Assembly, composed of delegates from the rank-and-file of the factories, neighborhood committees and indigenous communities with the mandate of their sector assemblies (as was done by the neighborhood committees , who attended the union congress with their meeting minutes and proposals in hand) which could meet in the stadium of El Alto, permanently working to continue the struggle until its victory and preventing the leaders from deciding behind the backs of the rank-and-file.
-The events in Cochabamba demonstrate that the fascist vigilantes as well as the repressive police and military must be directly confronted. In order to protect the popular mobilizations from attack, self-defense committees must be organized as the basis for future worker and campesino militias.
-Who should replace Paredes and Reyes Villa, the sworn enemies of the working people? The Bolivian people do not need another functionary but rather a Workers’ and Campesinos’ Departmental Government, elected by and responsible to the departmental Popular Assembly .
To fight for this program, the only program that can assure the triumph of the struggle, it is necessary to bring together the vanguard in a bloc for the departmental Popular Assembly, rooted in the organizations of the masses, such as the COR, FEJUVE, the COB (Bolivian Worker’s Central) and others. We call upon the most militant unions, the rank-and-file leaders of the neighborhood committees, the most conscious and resolved comrades from the Aymara and poor communities, and the working-class and socialist left to carry it forward without delay.
Translation by Robert Kaplan