Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I don't follow South American politics as much as I should. I've already written about how little I knew about Chavez before America tried to depose him. There are a number of other South American countries that have leaders are called left-wing. Some of them aren't so much. The recently elected leader of Chile started by comitting herself to structural readjustment, which is about as left-wing as the fourth labour government.

But I'm prepared to acknowledge that the nationalisation of extractive industries is actually left-wing. Evo Maroles has instructed the army to occupy oil and gas reserves so that the companies will re-negotiate. I know a little about negotiations, that sounds like a good way of negotiating.

"It's been up and down," says José López, a Santa Cruz native. "For the first 100 days of his rule, Evo didn't do the things he said he would. But this was much better. Now everyone is behind him again."

Such was the swing of popular support behind Mr Morales this week that a general strike planned for Thursday in the Santa Cruz region was called off.
It sounds like he was driven to it. So I pay tribute to all those who organised to make this a reality.

1 comment:

  1. Nationalisation isn't necessarily progressive - the (re)nationalisation of Air New Zealand wasn't, because it was dictated by business, cost hundreds of millions, and led to mass layoffs of workers.

    It might moreover be a bit of a stretch to describe what Morales has done as nationalisation. He hasn't used the army to seize assets as Cuba did in 1961; he hasn't even gone as far as Allende did when he nationalised key industries in the early 70s using less dramatic measures.

    Morales' move seems more indebted to the tactics Hugo Chavez has used with some of the multinational companies operating in Venezuela.

    Morales has essentially declared formal sovereignty over the gas, announced an increase in royalties from 50% to 82%, and invited companies to renegotiate terms with the government to ensure that their operations fit with the economic strategy the Bolivian government plans to pursue.

    The exact terms of the new arrangement remain to be worked out - probably they will be determined by a mixture of the pressure from below on Morales and the pressure from imperialism on him.

    There seem to be three basic interpretations of this move on the left. One view sees it as the product of the pressure from below, from the organised working class and peasantry, on Morales. He is being pushed into confronting imperialism.

    Another view sees Morales being influenced by Chavez and Castro to pursue a strategy of national development which involves more state intervention in the economy. It's notable that Morales signed an economic co-operation agreement with Venezuela and Cuba only a few days before announcing his plans for the gas industry.

    Co-operation with these countries is vital if Bolivia is ging to gain greater control over its gas, because at present very few Bolivians have the skills to operate the industry. The MNCs could paralyse the whole industry by organising a 'national lockout' of the sort seen in Venezuela in 2002-2003.

    A third view holds that Morales is not confronting imperialism to the extent that has been widely claimed, let alone pushing at the lmits of capitalism in Bolivia. According to this view Morales is an 'Andean capitalist' who wants to build a 'patriotic' rather than comprador (ie parasitic and imperialist-dominated) bourgeoisie and drive forward Bolivia's development as a capitalist nation. High energy prices give him room to move over gas, without upsetting imperialist MNCs too much - after all, they're still doing pretty well, with gas fetching such good prices.

    I don't think these views are necessarily mutually exclusive. I think everyone on the left can agree that the royalty hike to 82% is a good move, but I'm inclined to agree the Bolivian Trade union federation the COB when they criticise Morales for not simply grabbing the gas and announcing that MNCs will not be compensated or negotiated with.