Massive protests last month forced Bolivia’s postcoup government to pledge that elections will take place on October 18. But Luis Arce, presidential candidate for Evo Morales’s MAS party, told Jacobin that democracy is still in danger, with powerful private interests standing to gain from the continuation of the current regime.
It’s been delayed three times already, but it seems like Bolivia’s repeat presidential election may finally go ahead next month. After the latest postponement sparked mass protests by trade unions and social movements, Jeanine Añez’s post-coup government was forced to sign a law guaranteeing that the contest will go ahead on October 18. But the mass rallies and blockades that paralyzed nearly all of Bolivia’s nine regions in August were also a symptom of a much larger problem — the collapse of what was until recently Latin America’s fastest-growing economy.
Under Añez’s “interim government,” Bolivia has effectively retreated into the neoliberal wilderness that preceded Evo Morales’s presidency. Unemployment skyrocketed to 11.8 percent in July (from 3.9 percent in 2019), poverty is expected to increase by at least 7 percent this year, while extreme poverty is projected to rise by 4.5 percent, as economic growth plummets by 5.9 percent. While this partly owes to the effects of COVID-19, the government’s response to the crisis in fact epitomizes its agenda. It has failed to initiate social programs to financially assist the population, even as it presses on with privatizing key sectors taken back into public hands by Morales’s government, including the communications company ENTEL and the hydrocarbon producer YPFB.
Most shocking has been the “Ventilators Case” (Caso Respiradores), concerning the Añez government’s purchase of hundreds of ventilators from Spain, China, and other countries at prices far above their manufacturing cost. This did, however, bring in millions of dollars of kickbacks for the members of the government itself. The case is but one example of a mass web of corruption and nepotism that has sprawled since the November 2019 coup against Morales.
In this context of gross economic mismanagement, the figure of Luis “Lucho” Arce Catacora stands in stark contrast to the coup government and its allies. The soft-spoken economist is best known in Bolivia and beyond as the architect of the “Bolivian miracle” — the fourteen years of steady economic growth, massive reduction in poverty and inequality levels, combined with programs industrializing the country’s natural gas, oil, and lithium industries. Today, he is the presidential candidate for Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS-IPSP) party.
Finance minister in Morales’s government from 2006 until the November 2019 coup, he oversaw the nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry, the establishment of a number of social programs, the recognition of the “social-popular” sector of the economy, and a significant rise in the minimum wage. Lucho’s running mate, David Choquehuanca, arguably represents the other side of MAS. He is close to the country’s formidable social movements, as well as the political tradition of Suma Qamaña — the Aymara variant of the “Good Living” indigenous political philosophy that also forms the foundation of Rafael Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution movement in Ecuador.
Lucho sat down with Denis Rogatyuk and Bruno Sommer Catalan to discuss the challenges MAS faces ahead of October’s planned election — and the prospect of a victorious return to power.