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On Sunday, Oct. 18, Bolivia held a fair and free presidential election, bringing Movement for Socialism (MAS) Party candidate, Luis Arce, into power by winning a 55% majority. The win surprised international observers after the party’s vanguard, Evo Morales, was ousted by military forces in 2019. Morales, an indigenous Bolivian, was an extremely popular figure in Bolivian politics, first coming into power in 2006. His popularity not only stemmed from his opposition to poorly executed U.S. foreign policy, but was also credited for his widely successful socialist reforms that brought portions of the economy out of extreme poverty.
In the U.S., effective propaganda campaigns placed throughout our education and culture indoctrinated us into a frame of understanding that perceives socialism as a pathway to economic devastation and authoritarianism. However, this perception is debunked when analyzing the sustainable benefits societies like Bolivia have enjoyed because of an equitable distribution of resources.
There are two factors which play into the manipulation of Bolivia’s elections and why the results approached their conclusions: indigenous peoples and lithium. Approximately three dozen indigenous tribes constitute more than half of Bolivia’s populace, which means there is a massive portion of the electorate culturally aware of the significance of western imperialism and democratic elections. Morales presents the first opportunity to adequately represent them.
In 2006, just 25 years after the fall of the military junta government, Morales was elected. Morales’ policies led to an extreme slash in the poverty rate from 52% in 2005 to 23% in 2018. Immediately upon election, he nationalized several major corporations such as Entel, placing 33 Bolivian companies under direct control of the state. Billions began funneling into social literacy programs, public transportation and indigenous access to resources, and capital grew. In the eyes of Morales and millions of indigenous Bolivians, the people were taking back their land.
This also meant a drastic shift in Bolivia’s exports and the leniency with which powerful capitalist countries could cheaply extract lithium from its market. Lithium is one of the most valuable objects of geopolitical competition in the modern world. It is a key element in developing hardware, primarily military aircraft and renewable energy storage. Bolivia produces more than 60% of the world’s lithium. Morales and the Socialists’ success creates a unique international conundrum for those seeking to cheaply acquire it.
According to an interview with Reuters, Juan Carlos Zuleta, a lithium expert working in Chile and Bolivia, said “it is important for the international community to know that Bolivian law says lithium should be extracted and processed by Bolivians.”
This indicates the state’s commitment to localized access to lithium production versus international corporations’ requests for short term, expedient extraction. The abundant nature of Bolivian lithium deposits influenced international observers and proponents of transnational mining firms to condemn and subtly work against Morales’ popular success.
After his 2006 election, Morales won again in 2009 with sweeping support, but the induction of the Bolivian Constitution in 2009 meant he would be limited to two terms. Because the constitution was ratified after Morales’ first term, he argued for his right to a third election, which he won in 2014. In 2019, Morales claimed he wouldn’t run for a fourth time, but the MAS party made him their nominee and searched for loopholes to advance his campaign.
A coordinated right wing backlash erupted in response to this decision, and the military, supported by suspect claims of election fraud by the Organization of American States (OAS), forced Morales into exile as he did not want to risk violence on citizens.
U.S. President Donald Trump was in favor of the coup, calling Morales’ “resignation” a preservation of democracy. In reality, Morales’ removal caused an outcry from the public and a celebration from wealthy businessmen who saw the removal of Bolivian socialism as an economic opportunity to increase Bolivia’s lithium exports.
Despite this manipulation, the Bolivian people rejected international interference and market incentives. Through a righteous act of democracy, they elected Morales’ substitute, Luis Arce. The MAS Party remains in power in Bolivia, and democracy triumphs over forces that pretend to care about it.
Written By: Zeshan Monks-Husain