Evo Morales won a decisive victory in the Bolivian presidential elections today. It is a historic event, as Morales will be the first Bolivian of indigenous Indian descent to hold the presidency.
But his election is also significant in that Morales is a former coca farmer, and draws his base of support from the country’s poor and dispossessed, whereas his opponent was an American-educated businessman who stood on a neo-liberal platform of free trade. Morales promised to remove restrictions on coca growers, positioned himself as a champion of the poor, and criticized American influence and domination in the region. His will likely be the latest in a growing number of Latin American governments tilting to the left, including those of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Lula da Silva. And Morales is already one-third of what America’s conservative leaders describe as an unholy political trinity, along with Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. (We’re just waiting for the axis-of-evil (or is it Eje-de-Malo?) speech on this one.)
Latin America may be looking for a new Bolivar, but they may also be looking for a new economic model. After the broken promises of international capitalism — think the destruction of Mexican agrobusiness in the hands of NAFTA or the collapse of Argentina’s economy after Menem privatized everything and took bad advice from the IMF — it looks like Latin America is trying to find a third way. Not quite the old brand of state-sponsored communism, not quite the Western brand of free trade and global capital.
So after our Chavez show we’re coming back to Latin America, and we’re asking: what’s the new moment for Bolivia, and for the continent? Why is socialism back in vogue? And how far will it go?
Author, The End of Poverty
Former economic advisor to the IMF, World Bank, WHO, and OECD
Prescribed economic “shock therapy” to cure inflation in Bolivia in 1985