Narco News '02
Bolivia: The Power
of the People
Part I of a Series:
Democracy's Abundant Harvest
By Luis Gómez
Narco News Andean Bureau Chief
"This has been a fight of money against conscience and we have won but we still have much to do Our fight did not end on June 30th."
- Evo Morales
On the morning of June 30th (here, below the equator, where it is winter), the Andean range awoke covered with snow. This phenomenon, normal in other parts of the world, determines the volume of the harvest for the Aymaras and Quechuas. And the snow, that had lasted eight days, was immense. Beginning at eight a.m., nearly three million Bolivians went to the polls some thought about maintaining their status in life, others in the victory of their party and many others deposited hope with each vote.
For almost four months, from Autumn to Winter in this part of the world, the political panorama has changed radically. Remember our report of March 5th about Evo Morales' declaration that he would be a candidate for the presidency? Well, in those days the polls (those tricky numbers) gave barely four percent to the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party and after counting the last vote, the MAS obtained 20.94 percent of the total It grew more than 500 percent. And not only thanks to the people and the hard work of the organizers, but also in part due to the Viceroy Manuel Rocha (the almost ex-ambassador of the United States). "He was the first campaign manager I ever had! And not just because of his pressures to expel me from Congress. Every statement he made against us helped us to grow and awaken the conscience of the people," said Evo, smiling, sipping a cup of coffee in his campaign headquarters in La Paz.
Listen up, pseudo-democrats of the mass media and of the dark offices: Evo Morales has returned to break the record. Beyond being the presidential candidate, Evo also newly postulated to be the congressman from his district (the Constitution permits a citizen to be candidate for both posts at once): The official results give him 86.37 percent of the vote in his district. Once more, he is the representative of the people with the largest vote in the history of this democracy.
And the Pachakuti Indigenous Movement (the MIP party) that has worked in the Andean region of Bolivia, has gained what belongs to it, too. Felipe Quispe, "El Mallku," has arrived in Congress with five of his companions. The Aymaras united with El Mallku are also, now, represented. From now on, everything indicates, these two parliamentary blocs will have to join forces to fight against the neoliberal and right-wing parties for the right to live, for land, for their sacred coca leaf and for a future that includes rights for them. Today, 30 percent of Congress (130 House members, 27 Senators) is in indigenous hands, in the hands of social and union leaders, of honest people who work and continue working alongside the people. It's been a hard punch to the political class, that for decades "has been at the service of the people to make the people serve," Evo comments, still thinking that come August 6th, when the new government enters, he could be made president by this Congress.
Read it well, kind readers: The top coca growers' leader of Bolivia could occupy the presidential seat in less than a month. The Constitution here establishes that if no candidate obtains at least 50 percent of the vote - which is what happened on June 30th - the Congress will designate the final victor. In that process, the leader of MAS will have less than fifty percent of these votes, and his election as president could still happen. "Although this doesn't mean, as we have said again and again, that we are going to negotiate the people's vote. If some traditional parties want to vote for us, then, welcome, we accept them. But we are not going to trade away any posts or power quotas inside of our government It would be absurd to enter into alliances with parties that defend the neoliberal economic model. We are ready to govern. We want to rebuild this country," said the MAS' vice presidential candidate, the veteran journalist and former guerrilla Antonio Peredo Leigue.
On one side are the old parties: The Nationalist Revolutionary Movement (MNR) with a former president named Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (known as "Goni") at the helm; also the New Republican Force (NFR), with an ex military coup member and friend of Bush administration fixer Otto Reich named Manfred Reyes Villa and the Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR), with another ex-president and a gang of traitors of popular movements and narco-traffickers on top. And other parties, like that of current president Jorge Quiroga, that barely obtained more than three percent (is that what Marcela Sanchez of the Washington Post meant last November when she tagged Quiroga as a "rising star"?). In front, already ready to fight for the right that belongs to them, the ones elected by the people. While everything shakes out, and I assure you that this will take very little time, we are going to retrace the route of democracy's most abundant harvest.
Last March 20th, while the parties of the system began to spend various millions of dollars in their campaigns, the MAS party took the $96,000 dollars in public campaign financing from the National Electoral Court that it was apportioned as a small political party. It decided to work with what little it had, near to the people and to limit its campaign to three basic messages: For the recuperation of natural resources (today in the hands of multi-national corporations), for the defense of the coca leaf (threatened by the eradication demanded from Washington), and declaring a frontal assault against the neoliberal economic model.
"We have no money: Please, don't ask us for money because we don't have it. We have work, there are many things to do in our struggle and we invite all of you to join in the work. Don't forget that the MAS party is the political instrument of the poor, of the marginalized people of this country. Make it yours, work for it, not for Evo Morales Remember that this is not a question of personalities. It is about fighting to solve our problems, our misery and our hunger," said Evo during a speech in El Alto, a city of poor people next-door to La Paz.
And while the leader of the NFR party went to Miami to the anti-Castro Cuban exile community to beg money, and to Otto Reich to beg support, Evo was making his only "out-of-campaign" move. Two days later, on March 22nd, the peasant farmers' leader of Bolivia traveled to France. The way the media works down here, he had to go to France to get the local press to cover his message. There, he spoke to a demonstration of 4,000 people in which the only speakers were him and the most important farmer in Europe, Jose Bové. On this day, beyond reiterating his commitment to the anti-globalization fight, Evo Morales got to work with a new and revitalizing message: "We are not alone. In the rest of the world, too, there are people who fight against the neoliberal model, against hunger. They are our Zapatista brothers and sisters in Mexico, our brothers and sisters in Peru, in Ecuador and Colombia, our landless brothers and sisters in Brazil even in Europe, with our brother Bové and other popular leaders resistence grows in all parts."
Little by little, traveling often for days to visit all the communities that awaited him anxiously, the candidates of the MAS, all of them, spread the message: "We are the people. We are MAS Now is the time." And many centuries of contained rage lent him its ears, lifted its eyes and extended its hand: the hour to fight had come. "If we work well during these months," Evo said to his campaign committee one afternoon in early April, "I believe that we will be able to double our representation in Congress we can grow from four congressmen to eight." And he had not yet been to all the corners of the country where, he had no idea, his fight and that of the coca growers would soon take root in the heart of the people.
Month One: 11 percent
In late April, without much worry, the traditional Bolivian media published a poll in which the MAS party of Evo Morales already had more than 11 percent of the vote in Cochabamba, the state where the Amazonic Chapare region of Evo is located, and, nationwide, had 6.4 percent. This already almost met the goal of eight members of the house of congress, and that one senator, an elderly mineworker and fighter and political mentor to many social fighters, Filemón Escobar, could be elected from Cochabamba. A Senator! Wow! It was like a new toy passing through many hands. "It's going well, everywhere I go I see a lot of enthusiasm. I think we can continue growing. The people are waking up And I don't believe in the polls. They always tell us one thing and later on it results that we have more votes than expected," Evo said then, prophetically, to a pair of television journalists at the airport.
As if they came from nowhere, the campaign rallies were growing in attendance. It was no longer a matter of counting hundreds, but now of thousands. The basic demands were growing, articulated together: health, education, no more discrimination, land and autonomy for the original peoples, investment in the countryside and in small producers. From Potosí, a very poor region today, came a popular chant: "Evo, you have to be President of Bolivia." In the forums and debates the applause multiplied: that MAS candidates met with housewives, retirees, workers, youths, with all who have been forgotten by history.
Elder militants of the old Left began to appear, excited, with the honest and committed intellectuals, and the companions from other struggles. The Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of Peoples (the original name of the MAS party) was transformed from what the government politicians call "the coca-growers' party" into an immense wave of hope moving from mouth to mouth. And from this alchemy surged what was called "the governing program." In this document the recognized demands and aspirations from all corners were synthesized: "Because life calls on us to take care, for its protection That's why we are present in these elections, to go into battle against the system and take power."
The war now declared, the Viceroy Manuel Rocha appeared again... dancing to the same old tango, spitting more than speaking, demanding rather than analyzing the country. In an atmosphere of threats, the gringo Ambassador began to "alert" against the risks of voting for "terrorism." And it was like throwing gasoline on the fire. But we will speak of this in Part II, when we get to know "The Ambassador's Tango and Other Stories."
See you then, kind readers. This story, your correspondent vows, will continue to be a passionate one.