When Evo Morales was voted in as president in 2005, his mandate was set by the so-called ‘October Agenda’. This constituted the set of demands laid down by social movements in October 2003, when El Alto and much of the country came to a halt for ten days during the ‘gas war’ that resulted in the ousting of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada as president. There were two main demands: the recuperation of natural resources, particularly oil and gas, and the calling of a constituent assembly to revise the constitution.
During his first period of government (2006-2010) Morales ‘nationalised’ the oil and gas industry, re-establishing the primacy of the state and gaining greater income from production. This provided a basis for the government’s social policies and increased the revenues available for local and departmental government and the university system. Shortly after becoming president, Morales called for elections to the Constituent Assembly which met during 2006-2008. After no little opposition to the text of the new constitution, this was approved by referendum in January 2009.
By Morales’ second period (2010-2014), an important part of the October Agenda had thus been achieved. Since 2010, the government has put the emphasis on ‘industrialisation’ or processing of raw materials (oil and gas, minerals) in the country rather than exporting them untreated. This adds to their value, with the extra earnings available for redistribution amongst the population.
At the same time, however, different sectors of the population have been putting forward their demands. These tend to respond to sectoral interests rather than encompass an overall strategic direction. Though the new constitution and the concept of Vivir Bien provide points of cohesion and strategic overview, the government’s poor handling of two issues (the increase in petrol prices of December 2010 and the TIPNIS conflict) have caused many to feel that the direction of the process of change is no longer clear.
After the TIPNIS march arrived in La Paz in October 2011, Evo announced that he would be calling for a national debate to discuss the way forward in December 2011.
The meeting ‘to deepen the process of change’ was held in Cochabamba from December 12-14. This is the first part of a three-part process. Social movements and others discussed a wide series of topics: economic development, food sovereignty and land, employment, salaries and job stability, social policies and services, people’s security, laws to be sent to parliament, autonomies, communication and cultural revolution, international policy and regional integration, transparency and moves to curb corruption. These issues will now be discussed by different social sectors in each of the nine departments, before a second national meeting is held in early January to reach conclusions.
Some 650 people, with representatives from 49 social organisations, were present. Campesinos, interculturales (migrant peasants), Bartolinas (peasant women), leaders from the cooperative miners, oil workers, for example, but also representatives from the highland indigenous CONAMAQ, the urban teachers’ union, and the national university body (CEUB). Also present were representatives from business (the CEPB), from mining companies, and from chambers of commerce.
Those absent were mainly from three groups: the leadership of the Central Obrera Boliviana (though many of their member organisations were there), the mineworkers’ federation (FSTMB) and the lowland indigenous organisations, under the leadership of the CIDOB. The CIDOB held a parallel gathering in Santa Cruz to express disconformity with government policies.
At the inauguration of the meeting:
- Roberto Coraite of the campesino CSUTCB confederation spoke of the need to develop a new agenda, “let us be the architects of the new plurinational state”.
- Daniel Sánchez for the CEPB said that they wanted to draw up a pact between business and indigenous people and campesinos to generate wealth, attracting investment from outside the country, and income for the country through taxation. They should be seen as strategic allies in achieving growth, he said.
- José Domingo Vásquez of the oil and gas workers talked with pride of the industrialisation taking place in his sector.
- Albino García for the miners’ cooperatives spoke of the need to develop the economy with involvement of the four main economic actors: the state, the private sector, cooperatives and community organizations.
In his speech, Evo Morales spoke of the need to strengthen production, to develop the internal market and relations with the regional market in Latin America, to produce enough food but also to consider exporting it, to raise the added-value of the country’s natural resources, which in turn would provide the resources for redistribution amongst the population. He invited people to give their ideas, discuss and deliberate. For Morales, this was “a real assembly of the Bolivian people”. He suggested that it might be possible to have a council of people from different walks of life that could meet regularly to provide critical support to the cabinet.
The meeting was timely and important: it not only brought together people from the social movements, but also others who do not normally attend such meetings like representatives from private business and the universities. It not only provided a forum for participation in plotting a common roadmap, but also served to help those taking part to gain knowledge and a sense of empowerment. The real challenge will come in January, when the many proposals will be brought together in a common strategic agenda.
* Taken from Bolivia Information Forum
The content of the article does not necessarily reflect the views of the Latin America Bureau