One of the priorities of the Morales government has been to nationalise all the country’s oil and gas reserves, imposing state control on the entire production system. While he granted foreign companies guarantees for the land with their installations and infrastructure needed to extract and refine hydrocarbons, he withdrew their privileges on deposits. From 2006 until now, nationalisation has progressed. The purchase of shares in the energy sector is complete. Other key sectors are being nationalised: telecommunications, the production and distribution of electricity, and airport services. However, it is still uncertain if nationalisation will benefit Bolivia.
This is because the country does not yet have sufficient qualified personnel to modernise and maintain internal structures, and because excessive state presence in strategic sectors could, in the long run, cause inefficiency and malfunctions.
The most relevant economic document in this phase of renewal is the National Development Plan for Good Living in a Bolivia that is Worthy, Sovereign, Productive and Democratic. It helped set up a structure that goes beyond sterile economic riches. It produces, essentially, cultural freedom and respect for social differences. Worthy of note, in this regard, are those parts of the document that indicate that the objective is to “abandon the myth of linear progress that seeks to divide the culture into modern or backward, primitive or advanced” as this is just a “pitfall for development” that “involves the annihilation of other times and memories”. In substance, the Plan is a project for economic transformation connected to redefining values – first and foremost respect for “mother earth.” This must be the spirit of development and of the political relations that generate it. Both aspects form the essential part of authentic progress. It is summarised by the expression “to live well.”
Nevertheless, some indigenous groups accuse Morales of rhetoric and contradictions. His political agenda includes building a motorway that cuts through the park and indigenous area of the Tipnis to connect Villa Tunari (a municipality in Chapare – Cochabamba department) to San Ignacio de Moxos (a municipality in Moxos – Beni department). This does not respect nature, the land, and the people living there. It also breaches Law 222 on Previous Consultation which obliges the government to consult the indigenous peoples on projects that seriously affect their lives or territory. The work in question, financed by a Brazilian state bank and entrusted to a Brazilian construction company, is part of a more ambitious strategic nation-wide plan of development to connect the Pacific to the Atlantic (the “Two-ocean Corridor” joining the Brazilian port of Santos to the Chilean port of Iquique).
In October 2012, Morales signed the contract for the first section of the road, on the basis that 45 of the 69 local communities consulted had agreed to the project. The indigenous organisations disputed this, maintaining that half the communities – 32 out of 63 – were against the project. The reasons for the protest are clear. The Tipinis is an enormous reserve of water. The Mosetenes Range, running from north-west to south-east, is the source of numerous rivers. Among these is the Secure which flows north-east towards Rio Mamoré. The Tipinis also has petroleum deposits. According to some analysts, international businesses profit from the project (Brazil has interests in product transportation) and are therefore indifferent to the interests of the territory or the people. As to water, analysts say that since it is being privatised in many parts of the world, it is likely that the project has a hidden plan to dam one of the rivers and, later, sell the “XX century gold” at a high price. As to the abundant oil reserves, at least 128,000 hectares have already been granted to a consortium led by the Brazilian company Petrobras and to the French company Total. Another zone has been allotted to a consortium led by the Bolivian company YPFB and the Venezuelan company PDVSA.
A further question raised by analysts is coca. They say the producers of the Andean zone of the country (supporters of MAS) are putting pressure on the Bolivian President to concede virgin areas for new plantations. Bolivian coca production suffices for internal consumer demand (the widespread ancestral custom is to chew it for cultural and dietary reasons). There is therefore some doubt as to the final destination of the excess production. Illegal use is suspected. This is consistent with the production and trading of cocaine, which is further facilitated by the new road. This view would explain why coca producers are among the strongest supporters of the Tipnis road project and why the indigenous people of the plain are absolutely against it. A compromise could be reached by moving the road to make it go round the park instead of through it. According to the Brazilian company, this would extend the road some 150 Km and make it uneconomical.
On 25 January 2009, the new Constitution, 411 articles and 10 temporary dispositions, was approved in a referendum with 60% in favour. The new text changes the name of the country from The Republic of Bolivia to The Plurinational State of Bolivia (according to the great charter, Bolivia is a unitary but plurinational state, founded on political, economic, juridical, and linguistic pluralism). It also attributes great importance to the recognition of the fundamental right to primary services and the value of the secular nature of the State. Article 4 in fact states, “the State respects and guarantees freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs according to one’s cosmic views. The State is independent of religion.” Article 8 says, at the same time, “the State assumes and promotes as the ethical-moral principles of the plural society the traditional principles of Inca, Aymara, and Guarani ethics.”
The new Constitution also establishes the ownership of natural deposits and the right to expropriate land properties of more than 5,000 hectares for redistribution. The Constitution promotes cooperative property, anchoring it to indigenous communities, it provides subsidies for small farmers, it protects the cultivation of coca as a cultural patrimony, and it includes indigenous medicine in the national system.
The way the Constitution was drawn up has, however, created considerable discontent. The crux lies in the autonomous system of the four eastern departments with a majority of Spanish speakers – Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, and Tarija. Referendums gave them broad autonomous Catalan-style statutes with a near “federal” state, tending towards separatism. The reasons for such opposed positions can be traced, on the one hand, to the intolerance of the old capitalist middle-class to the expropriation of properties larger than 5,000 hectares and, on the other, to the demand for a more local control of resources.
According to Morales, supported by the indigenous people of the mountains (the five western departments, with two thirds of the population and about half the land), there is a strong conviction that the more wealthy eastern regions must do more to help the impoverished western parts.
On their part, local eastern opposition (also because they represent two thirds of the country’s wealth) maintained that referendum results should not only take into account the sum total of votes but also those registered in the single departments. Had that been the case, the text would have been rejected. (F.R.)