Chavez II?

The new president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, was inaugurated this weekend. His inauguration address in parliament was a long plea for the indigenous people of Bolivia, second-rate citizens for 500 years. Bolivia is the poorest country of South-America, but with its wealth of natural resources it could be richer than Sweden, he argued.

So, am I happy? I am not sure. He certainly highlights important problems and it is wonderful and rather exciting that more and more countries in the region are electing presidents that speak for the impoverished masses instead of the rich elites. That is democracy in action.

But once in office, those presidents have to be able to deliver by making at least some noticeable improvements to the lives of their citizens. Can Morales deliver? After his speech, I am not so sure. It lasted more than half an hour (and, said an admiring BBC, was delivered without notes), but it sounded more like an election speech than the inauguration address of a new president outlining his policies. It was chaotic, contained lots of promises on improving the fate of Bolivia’s poor, but most of the time did not get specific either on the improvements that would be brought or on the way to achieve them.

And where he did become specific, the analysis seemed simplistic, populist, and – worst of all – bound to lead to ineffective solutions. Take this classic example of taking a correlations for a cause-effect relation:

We were told 10, 15, 20 years ago that the private sector was going to solve the country’s corruption problems and unemployment, then years go by and there is more unemployment, more corruption, that economic model is not the solution for our country, maybe it is a solution for an European country or African but in Bolivia the neo-liberal model does not work.

Perhaps it is true that there is more unemployment now than 20 years ago. Perhaps it is true that the model proposed by the Washington consensus (which, by the way, no longer is the ultra-neoliberal beast it used to be) is more suitable for fully developed economies than for Bolivia. But the fact that corruption has risen in that period can hardly be blamed on the economic model, and rather indicates weakness of institutions and of the rule of law. A weakness that does not bode well for Morales’s plans to increase the state’s role in the economy…

Morales = Chavez II? Time will tell. If he is, he can at least count on the sympathy of that French senator who likes our new EU members so much (hat tip Largo Desolato, also read Tipota).

PS: On the claim that Bolivia could be richer than Sweden, read Martin Wolf’s “freakonomicarticle in today’s FT. Bottom line: whether an autocracy becomes a democracy or not is an economic decision: a trade-off between the costs of keeping the masses quiet and the costs of privileges lost if the country becomes a democracy as far as the elite is concerned, and between the costs of organising a revolution and the benefits of getting a larger share of power and resources as far as the masses are concerned. As a result, countries with huge natural resources are likely to stay autocracies, particularly when the resources are in the hands of the state. Another bad omen for Bolivia’s future…

One Response to “Chavez II?”

  1. Social Democracy Now Says:

    ‘the fact that corruption has risen in that period can hardly be blamed on the economic model, and rather indicates weakness of institutions and of the rule of law.’

    You write as if neoliberalism were not a form of institutionalized corruption. Let’s be blunt and call a spade a spade a spade, my friend. The neoliberal model is all about the use of politics as a vehicle for funneling economic opportunity to foreign corporations (and the few local companies big enough to be able to compete with them on a more or less equal footing).

    Corruption simply thrives in neoliberal soil. A classic example place recently in Sydney, Australia, over the building of the Cross City Tunnel by ‘an international syndicate headed by Li Ka-Shing, Asia’s wealthiest individual.’ In this case, the NSW government was the facilitator of ‘the plunder of public funds for the benefit of private road and other infrastructure companies.’

    This sweetheart deal was done in secret, until finally exposed – causing a great scandal – apprently thanks to a leak within the government itself.


    I urge you to read this report to the end: this report shows very clearly how neoliberalism IS corruption.

Leave a Reply