by Yoav Elinevsky
In a stunning political victory, socialist candidate Luis Arce won Bolivia’s presidential election Oct. 18 when he captured an outright majority (55%) of the vote and beat the second-place finisher by more than 25 points. Those numbers negated the need for a runoff. Arce, a former finance minister, was the candidate of former president Evo Morales’s party, Movement toward Socialism or MAS. Carlos Mesa, a neoliberal former president, and Jeanine Áñez, the head of the right-wing coup government, quickly conceded defeat in the twice-postponed election. MAS also won majorities in both houses of Congress.
This was a remarkable turn of events. In November 2019, Morales was overthrown in a police-military coup that installed a far-right government. Morales was forced to flee the country and was granted asylum in Mexico, then Argentina. The coup leaders launched a campaign of assassinations, arrests, torture and intimidation against the MAS supporters.
They accused Morales and his party of widespread election fraud, using a suspect analysis issued by the Organization of American States (OAS) to back up their claims. The OAS report was then parroted without criticism by the US mainstream media and politicians, but its conclusions have since been refuted by independent scholars, forcing outlets such as the New York Times to backtrack on their biased reporting.
While celebrations took place across the country, Arce was inaugurated in a triumphal ceremony on Nov. 8, ushering the MAS back into power. Morales returned to the country the next day.
What explains such an outcome? What is the universal and regional significance of the MAS victory? Before Morales’s election, Bolivia’s economic growth had been the slowest in Latin America, but it shot up to first-place during six of the fourteen years Morales was president. It averaged more than 5% growth during the years of the worldwide recession when the economies of most countries in hemisphere were tanking. The government took control of the country’s own natural resources, including the natural gas industry, from which they have received significant annual royalties.
What distinguishes the MAS is its commitment to use the country’s national resources for the benefit of the poor and working people of Bolivia and making basic social services a human right for all Bolivians. During this period, poverty was reduced from 65% to 35%, while the levels of equality and social justice dramatically increased. In voting for the MAS, the people of Bolivia have shown that they understand and support a peaceful revolution. Their message is clear: they will not go back to the corrupt neoliberal policies of the past and are determined to continue the experiment of building socialism in their country.
The MAS victory in Bolivia sends a message of hope across the globe that there is a more human, rational, alternative to the “Washington Consensus” in Latin America and the neoliberal world order imposed by the US. This alternative view is needed now more than ever before. It is also a significant lift to the spirits of the people of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua who are struggling to persist in building their own versions of socialism in spite of the brutal sanctions campaigns and regime-change coup attempts waged against them. The wisdom of the MAS and the people of Bolivia might give us a clue as to why the people of Venezuela and Cuba, in spite of tremendous sacrifices necessitated by US actions, are defending their revolutions and supporting their leaders. They understand that a return to an unrestrained market economy and dependence on foreign dictates means widespread misery for the majority of their people, while the current path has the potential for a brighter future.
—Yoav Elinevsky is a board member of Mass. Peace Action, a member of the Latin America Solidarity Coalition of Western Massachusetts, a long-time Palestinian rights activist, and a mathematics professor emeritus from Mount Wachusett Community College.