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Pepe Escobar: Morales constitutional reforms meet opposition from rich Bolivian lowland states (2 of 2)

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Pepe, with these constitutional reforms proposed by Morales, he’s really taken on the elites in a head-on way. He’s threatening their control over the gas revenues. He’s threatening their control over the land. It’s a really fundamental class struggle being waged in Bolivia. Does he have the strength to do this? The states controlled by the elites are demanding autonomy. There’s even talk of a kind of autonomy that winds up being a sort of succession. Can Morales win this struggle?

PEPE ESCOBAR, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: This is a very complex question. In fact we’re going to see it in 2008. In 2008, there are going to be at least eleven different referendums in Bolivia, including a referendum where Morales himself puts his job on the line: people are going to vote if they want him to continue or if they want new presidential elections. Another important referendum is about private property, because once again all over South America it’s the same thing: you have a bunch of very wealthy landowners, usually the same families that control land since the 16th or the 17th centuries, and you have masses of people who are totally excluded. In Bolivia, you have an alliance of landless peasants, the cocaleros, who are actually producing individuals. They are involved in a very traditional culture. You have the miners. And you have indigenous populations who survive one way or another. Sometimes subsist. So it depends on the results of these referendums in 2008. What Evo could do is to present a more coherent national development strategy, which his movement, the MAS, Movimiento al Socialismo, Movement for Socialism, still does not have. And why they don’t have it? Because the MAS is a sort of coalition of the willing the South American way. You have extreme leftists, you have communists, you have unrepentant Marxists, you have social democrats, and you have representatives of the indigenous peoples, and some of them have a very, I wouldn’t say fundamentalist but very localized strategy that applies only to their particular indigenous nation. For instance, one group of Aymaras doesn’t want exactly the same thing that another group of Aymaras. So Evo is the only person inside the MAS, the party, that is able to regiment all these different strengths and currents.

JAY: Pepe, if Morales wins the referendums—and he likely has the votes—will the elites accept the results of the referendum? And if they don’t, does Morales have an army that can impose a law over these states?

ESCOBAR: Well, what Evo has been saying lately, and the vice president, Alvaro Linera, which is—in fact Linera is the brains behind Evo. People never talk about him outside of South America or even in European press. But the guy who formulates everything behind Evo is Alvaro Garcia Linera, the vice president. He’s a former guerrillero. He spent seven years in jail. He’s what’s called a [“blanco los”], a white man with blue eyes. Very well-educated. He has a doctorate in maths in the United States. He is a Marxist. But he has outlined the whole program. And what Evo has is star power, obviously, even though he speaks in a very low voice, he’s very polite, you know, he’s almost cozy. It’s the complete antithesis of Hugo Chavez’s rhetoric and blitzkrieg approach. And Evo is very persuasive. You know, when you talk to him, he’s always thinking, he’s always elaborating his thoughts. When you see him live it’s quite impressive, because he is so unimpressive that he ends up being extremely impressive. So if he managed to convince some sectors of I would say the extreme right that this is an egalitarian process, that they are not going to be stripped of at least most of their privileges, I think he has a shot. But it depends on these eleven referendums in 2008.

JAY: If these states don’t want to go along with the results of a referendum, does he have the armed force to impose a national law?

ESCOBAR: What he has been saying these past few, I would say, this past month or so, since some very, very heavy disturbances in Sucre, the former colonial capital, is that the armed forces are with him. And this is true. And another important factor is that the recent Mercosur, the South American common market summit, all the governments, they pledged their allegiance to legality and to Evo Morales’ government, and this means, of course, the support of the armed forces. And this includes even associate members of the Mercosur like Chile, which had enormous border problems with Bolivia recently as well.

JAY: So if there’s a legal referendum that’s won by a popular and fair vote, and if these states don’t want to respect the results of this, and if there actually is a need for some kind of armed force, you’re saying it’s possible that other Latin American states might support Bolivia’s army in this?

ESCOBAR: Yes, absolutely. I would say straightaway that Hugo Chavez would support Bolivia and the government and Evo. And Lula, of course, in Brazil would support Evo as well. And the Argentinian government, Cristina Kirchner, would support Evo as well. This is a common Mercosur position. There was not even any debate to reach this position. Everybody supports legality, and everybody knows that what Evo—these are centre or centre-left governments I’m talking about. They know that what Evo is doing is absolutely legal, and it’s very democratic because it’s not imposing anything. There’s a constituents’ assembly, and referendums will be offered all over the place so people can really express themselves, just like what happened in Venezuela with the Venezuelan referendum. It was not imposed by anything. Hugo Chavez submitted his sixty-nine proposals to the Venezuelan population as a whole. The problem was that people, most of them, were absent. In Bolivia I doubt it, because it’s extremely polarized, and probably there will be an abstention rate of no more than 10 percent. So we’ll really know what the majority of the population want. And the majority of the population has already said is indigenous peoples and mestizos, 62 percent. So I would say that most of what Evo and his party’s proposing will be approved.

JAY: So this could pit US policy against most of the Latin American governments.

ESCOBAR: The official US policy, I would say, White House, State Department, is that there are good and bad leftists in South America. In the good camp, as we all know, we have Lula, we have Bachelet in Chile, maybe Cristina Kirchner, because she’s still under observation because she’s new to power. And in the bad camp we have, obviously, Chavez, we have Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. So I’m not sure the official US policy is going to change. They want to drive a wedge between governments in South America. They don’t want South American integration. They want free markets for US multinational corporations. That everyone in South America knows.

JAY: But what I’m getting at is specific. I’m saying if Morales wins the referendum, and the conflict gets even more heated inside Bolivia, and the Latin American governments support Morales, and the US has sided with the elites, it would put the Americans in a very difficult situation, opposed to all the major, elected, legal governments of Latin America.

ESCOBAR: Well, that it will be clear to everyone, not only in Latin America, but to the rest of the world, where the true agenda of the US lies.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.