Bolivia: The Election of Luis Arce and Movimento al Socialismo (MAS), a Win for Democracy

Image from Brasil de Fato (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License)

Image description: Luis Arce (left) stands next to Evo Morales (right) as then-presidential candidate for the Movimento al Socialismo (MAS). The picture was taken at a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina on January 27, 2020. The two figures are standing next to two flags, the Bolivian flag and the MAS party flag. 

October 18 marked the landslide victory of Luis Arce in the Bolivian presidential election of 2020. The election of Arce came after the U.S.-backed military coup by right-wing Jeanine Añez last fall and her regime’s rule over the past year. The re-election of the Movimento al Socialismo (MAS) party proves the power of socialism, its national prevalence, and mass mobilization of the Indigenous and working class populations.

Although Bolivia’s population consists of nearly two-thirds Indigenous folks, the largest in Latin America, the native communities have received little to no representation within the national politics until the 21st century. Arce follows the legacy of socialist leader Evo Morales, the first Indigenous Bolivian president, who aided the expansion of Indigenous rights with his election in 2005. Morales’ legacy contained radical policies in addressing extreme social divisions and inequalities. He was a former labor union leader, who helped develop economic growth and reductions to poverty levels. Supported by the global commodities boom of the 2000s, in which prices for Bolivian exports increased and generated money for infrastructure, Morales’ presidency presented political inclusion among colonized and disempowered Bolivians through aligning himself with other leftist leaders such as Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, proposing anti-poverty programs and nationalizing key industries.

Despite Morales’ achievements in aiding marginalized populations, the white Bolivian middle and upper classes framed Morales’ leadership as authoritarian and divisive. In the 2019 election, the announcement of Morales’ win triggered charges of election fraud with protesters in the streets of La Paz. Following dissatisfaction from the right, business leaders and the urban elite led mass protests. After the police and military joined the opposition, Morales fled the country and lived in exile in Argentina. The right-wing senator Jeanine Añez replaced Morales as an interim president. Mainstream Western media depicted the overthrow of Morales as a national uprising, ignoring the voices of native and working class citizens. Movimento al Socialismo supporters called out the United States’ oppositional history toward left-wing governments in Latin America, citing the U.S. foreign intervention with American multinational corporations and the Organization of American States (OAS) in efforts to push Morales out of office. In 2009, the U.S. also intervened in the Honduran election of Manuel Zelaya, who recognized and opposed the poverty created by globalization and international corporations. As a result, the United States supported right-wing efforts and removed Zelaya from office, in order to justify American capitalism within Latin America.

The Latin America campaign coordinator of CodePink, Leonardo Flores, identifies the American implementation of strategies against the left and progressives in the 2000s. CodePink is calling for the resignation of Secretary-General Luis Almagro, following the distorted analysis of Arce’s election by the OAS. In particular, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), “has been funding Bolivian right-wing groups […] the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia had an eye on Evo Morales way before he became president […] they identified him as a possible person that could coalesce the masses, coalesce the bases, and the different social movements in the country.” Nevertheless, Washington denied involvement in Morales’ resignation, as the Trump administration commended his exit from office. Flores then explains the United States’ plan to undermine Morales. In 2019, when Morales was re-elected, the OAS made accusations of election fraud that became widespread in the Bolivian media. However, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), an MIT analyst and others concluded there was no evidence of such fraud, invalidating the flawed OAS analysis

Under Añez, support for Morales and his party was further ignited within the Bolivian population, recognizing the illegitimacy and corruption of the right. Añez’s right-wing administration reversed Morales’ policies and repressed MAS and dissidents of the government. Leading up to the 2020 election, months of protests and military and police violence against Indigenous communities moved the Bolivian socialist agenda forward. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets spoke out against the rooted neoliberalism enforced by privatization and the United States’ intervention in Latin American politics, along with the fascist policies supported by Añez’s far-right government. The failure of conservative forces to control modern Bolivian politics ultimately led to the eventual collapse of Añez’s campaign in September.

One of the most important conversations following Arce’s election surrounds the military’s massacres of Indigenous folks during Añez’s coup. Activists and MAS supporters have called for justice for the mass murders enacted on Pedregal, La Paz; Sacaba, Cochabamba; Senkata, El Alto; and Yapacaní, Santa Cruz. Bolivians want defense minister Fernando Lopez and interior minister Arturo Murillo, who ordered the massacres, to be held accountable along with Añez. The people demand justice for those who were murdered under Añez’s leadership and during the coup, fighting for democracy in Bolivia.

The 53% of Bolivia that voted for Luis Arce shows that the working class and Indigenous people of the country took back the power in this year’s election. In the first speech after his victory, Arce calls for national unity, “We’re going to work and resume the process of change without hate, in learning and overcoming our errors as MAS.” Arce used the political turmoil in the previous election to distance himself from both Morales and Añez, in order to illustrate his role as the best-fit transitional candidate for Bolivia in 2020. With consideration of the young generations and their role in the socialist movement, Arce declared a single-term presidency, hoping to mend the social divisions created by Añez. Arce’s election is imperative for Bolivia’s future, illustrating conciliatory and unified power in the office. Bolivians hope that Arce’s policies will generate lasting benefits.

While Arce’s election was a successful one, he now must take control of the country during a global pandemic. With the current economic recession and dropping commodity prices, Bolivians desire another era of “Evonomics,” looking to Arce for the arrangement of what he calls the “social communitarian, productive economic model.” Arce led the nationalization of the mining industry as Morales’ economic minister, creating an increase in commodity prices in the 21st century. Arce’s contributions to infrastructure, public services, and social welfare through high prices for commodities, specifically natural gas, generated an unexpected relative economic prosperity in Bolivia. With the onset of COVID-19 under Añez’s leadership, Arce must take a strong federal response to the national and local issues and determine lockdown measures. In addition, he has to solve the consequences of the series of neoliberal policies and privatizations of state projects, which have augmented the federal pressure and shaped national response to coronavirus. The MAS party must prove it can rebuild the Bolivian economy once more, as it did under Morales in 2005. Post-COVID Bolivia must continue community and federal efforts to work against the poverty enabled by capitalism and stimulate the economy, prioritizing the lower and working classes.

The outcomes of Bolivia’s 2020 election raise promises for another “pink tide” in Latin America: the rise of progressive governments in Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina in the early 2000s. In 2020, there were protests in Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia for the preservation of democracy in their relative countries, breaking through to mainstream media and inciting inspiration against the right-wing governments. There will be upcoming elections in other Latin American countries next year, which will define the political landscape amidst the calls for social change and mass movements of 2020. The people of Bolivia proved the popularity of anti-fascist and anti-U.S. intervention sentiments. The progress of the country proves the success of efforts in organizing and community work to achieve liberation and national sovereignty. Arce must continue the work of Indigenous and labor workers in creating Bolivian unity.

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