Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What's Ahead in Bolivia: Getting to Know Evo Morales

(Note: for background, see "The Bolivian Troubles, “Race War”, and the ICC".)

Out of area - but maybe not so much. Evo Morales - loser at the ballot box in 2002, but now thanks to last week's bloodless coup with good prospects of becoming President of Bolivia in the near future - adapts many of the same phantasms that nourish (and indeed are nourished by) contemporary European anti-Liberalism to Latin American circumstances. An interview that Morales gave in June 2002, during the electoral campaign, to the Spanish-language version of the Réseau Voltaire website (Red Voltaire) should give cause to pause about what to expect from an eventual Morales presidency. Indeed, the mere fact that Morales gave an interview to the Réseau Voltaire should give cause to pause. The Réseau Voltaire is the brainchild of Thierry Meyssan, the French anti-American conspiracy theorist who rocketed to fame in 2002 with the publication, two months before the Morales interview, of his L’Effroyable imposture (translated into English as “9/11 The Big Lie”). In his book, Meyssan famously claimed that no plane struck the Pentagon on 9/11 and that the planes that struck the WTC were not piloted by Islamist terrorists, but remote controlled from the ground – all, needless to say, as part of some fiendishly clever US government plot to steal Middle Eastern energy resources and dominate the world…and so forth and so on.

As I noted in “The Bolivian Troubles, ‘Race War’, and the ICC”, Evo Morales’s comrade in struggle, the “indigenous leader” Felipe Quispe – in the Réseau Voltaire interview, Morales calls him “my brother” – speaks of a “race war” and wants to drive out the "white invaders" from Bolivia. Evo Morales, however, has a more inclusive political vision. While railing against “multinationals”, “international financial organisms” and “the American Embassy” (from which, he has claimed, Bolivia is governed), he suggests that his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) is representative of all Bolivians – or almost all, at any rate. Maybe just not any Jews. Thus, in conversation with the Réseau Voltaire, Morales noted that students from the Catholic University of La Paz had helped produce his apparently highly popular campaign ads. This remark seemed to take his interlocutor by surprise. “Students from the Catholic University?” he asked. “Of course,” Morales responded:
The MAS is not just a peasant movement. It has succeeded in inspiring youth from the middle and even the upper classes. Why? The answer is simple: because we represent dignity,…because we have a place for everyone. Think about it. Goni [then presidential candidate Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada who would go on to win the 2002 elections] paid a bunch of gringos and Jews three million dollars to come and make “The Dirty War” and other traditional spots that have almost no credibility. In contrast, our kids with the cameras of amateurs – the same cameras with which they filmed their birthdays – but with a profound knowledge of our mentality, have made really nice things.

A remark made by Morales last December and cited from the Bolivian daily El Deber on the Barrio Flores blog gives some idea of his understanding of democracy. Significantly, the context for it was deliberations conducted by the Bolivian congress on whether to ratify a so-called “Article 98” agreement with the United States that would protect American military personnel from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court [ICC] while on Bolivian territory (viz. even though Bolivia is a party to the ICC statute.) “To approve [this treaty] would be like saying that we are like little animals…,” Morales raged, “If it is necessary we should set fire to the Congress, even if they say we are attacking democracy.”

The ICC is apparently one international institution that Morales likes. This even though, as I have shown here, its statute is so designed as practically to guarantee that it will be beholden to the political calculations of coalitions of its richest members (which, for the moment, means in practice the EU) - thus serving to strip poorer member states like Bolivia of important elements of their sovereignty more surely and more durably than any international financial institution could. Nonetheless, Morales's enthusiasm is hardly surprising. He has also repeatedly called for Sánchez de Lozada, who was driven from power in October 2003 following violent clashes between protestors and security forces, to be charged before the ICC. By challenging the state's monopoly on the legitimate use of violence and threatening to prosecute state officials who would make use of the latter to preserve public order, the ICC strengthens the so-called "power of the street" in the same proportion as it diminishes the power of democratic institutions. And Evo Morales clearly counts on the power of "the street".