Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bolivia's new socialist President

Also reported by Clint Heine, It looks like Evo Morales, leader of the Movement Towards Socialism party and member of the indigenous Aymara people will win the Bolivian Presidential election. Now Bolivia is ranked as a partly free country by Freedon House, but this victory is being acclaimed by many worldwide as a victory for indigenous people and the left.

Can the people of Bolivia look forward to a brighter future? Well that is less clear. Many on the right will fear him, because of his declared anti-Americanism and support for Castro, but it is a little more complicated than that.

He wants to legalise growth of the coca leaf, if not cocaine – which will challenge the US War on Drugs. This is good. The coca leaf is used extensively in Bolivia for its narcotic and pain relieving qualities, and banning it clearly has failed. As a locally used crop (as well as the basis for cocaine), Morales campaigned in favour of it, but will face pressure if the US threatens to cut aid because of his policies. This is sad - the war on drugs is one of the greatest travesties of US government policy and should be ended because it has failed miserably, and it is immoral to persecute adult users of drugs. It is also immoral to persecute the people who grow the crop.

More ominously Morales has talked about nationalising private company investment in oil and gas, although he is more likely to renegotiate contracts with foreign energy companies. That will cost Bolivia dearly. Curiously he said his party will respect private property rights, although “vacant unproductive land” would be turned over to farmers with little or no land (what sort of farmer has no land?). Though none of the reports I have found has said much more about his policies.

Morales is an ally of Castro and Venezuelan bullyboy Hugo Chavez, neither are friends of individual freedom or tolerate political dissent – it would be a disaster if Bolivia slipped towards a one-party state like Venezuela is doing. However, it will also be sad for Bolivia if by renegotiating the contracts with foreign energy companies, he strips so much value from them that they leave – or stop investing. Hopefully he will renegotiate genuinely – not with the threat of force – and all parties can come away satisfied. Hopefully he will not succumb to the corruption often rampant in Latin America, and confiscates wealth for the aggrandisement of himself and his cronies.
Brazil's left wing President Lula de Silva campaigned on socialism, but has largely maintained the liberalising reforms of his predecessors, when his own economic illiteracy hit reality (although he has been tainted by corruption) - hopefully Morales will face the same. Time will tell if he avoids being the state bullies that Castro and Chavez are, or the corrupt leaders that his predecessors were.

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