Leader Spotlight: Evo Morales

Name: Evo Morales

Country: Bolivia Title: President

Party: Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism)

How he came to power: Growing up in a family of subsistence farmers, Morales quickly rose through the ranks of the campesino union with support of the active indigenous peoples movements, who comprise close to two-thirds of the population. Although the Bolivian Congress expelled him in 2002 for allegedly promoting violent protests, the Bolivian people overwhelmingly elected their first indigenous president in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote in a competitive election.

Ideology: Anti-neoliberalism, indigenous populism, Bolivarism

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Three Recent Policy Issues:

  • 21F: A 2016 Bolivian referendum rejected with 51.3% of the vote a constitutional amendment that would allow Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019. Despite the referendum, Bolivia’s top judicial body nullified the results of the referendum because of alleged “American imperialism and intervention” in the referendum process. This decision runs counter to the large grassroots organizing that campaigned for the “No” vote. Furthermore, the MAS-filled high court capitulated to Morales’ demands, practically articulating his ideas in their decision. Despite the clear vote, Morales continues to flout democratic principles and is striving for reelection in 2019, which would allow him to rule until 2025; in 2025, Morales would have been in power for 19 years.

  • Salida al Mar: Morales claims that Bolivia must regain the northernmost (and highly industrialized) part of Chile that Bolivia lost in the 19th-Century War of the Pacific, which would connect landlocked Bolivia to the Pacific Ocean. In early 2018, Morales took Chile to The Hague to resolve the issue; the ICC ruled in October 2018 that Chile was under no obligation to negotiate for Bolivia’s sovereign access to the sea, as many expected. Morales’ baseless claim for the northernmost part of Chile largely stems from the rising political illegitimacy he faces as he flouts the results of the 21F Referendum. After the Court’s decision, Morales decried that those who label the case a defeat “are pro-Chilean.” By pivoting to a non-issue that attempts to resurrect anger over a defeat two centuries, Morales is trying to distract Bolivians for the fact that his MAS-stuffed high court overruled the clear wishes of the Bolivian people.

  • Support for Nicolás Maduro: The corrupt and autocratic dictator of Venezuela receives tremendous support from Bolivia. Bolivia has been resolute in blocking resolutions in the Organization of American States (OAS) and other international bodies that would help to solve some of the consequences of the humanitarian, economic, and political crisis in Venezuela. While Bolivia is a comparatively resourceless country, Morales’ explicit support for Maduro in international fora exacerbates the crisis and prevents further multilateral mitigation measures.

Most Notable Accomplishment: Morales’ government heavily invested in raising social welfare of the majority indigenous population through profits off of hydrocarbons, which dramatically decreased poverty and illiteracy rates. Bolivia was one of the only Latin American countries that weathered the 2008 financial crisis, enjoying a high level of growth in their Década de Oro that allowed them to double gross domestic product in only seven years (2010-2017). Some doubt whether the astounding economic growth is a function of real development or simply high commodity prices and increasing globalized markets. Regardless, Bolivian gross domestic product adjusted for purchasing power parity has nearly doubled during Morales’ reign and the Gini Coefficient - an metric for inequality - has dropped by nearly 13 percentage points. These statistics suggest that Morales has had at least some positive effects on the economy during a period of unexpected economic growth.

Least Notable Accomplishment: In an effort to drum up support for the Salida al Mar, Morales deployed close to 20,000 soldiers and police to stretch a Bolivian flag 200 km in an unsuccessful attempt to break the Guinness World Record for world’s biggest flag. This unnecessary use of state resources is one example of many that corroborates the opposition’s narrative of rampant corruption and mismanagement by the Morales government.

Interesting Facts:

  • Morales was a coca farmer and is fierce proponent of indigenous-grown coca production (coca is the plant from which one derives cocaine).

  • Morales went on a five-day hunger strike as President in 2009 in protest of the opposition-controlled Senate’s refusal to pass a law that would almost certainly guarantee his party victory in the upcoming election.

  • In 2014, Morales signed a professional football contract while president at the age of 54 with a Bolivian first-division team, making him one of the oldest professional footballers in the world.

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