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A growing indigenous and people's movement in Bolivia.
In Person: Evo Morales


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August 16, 2002
Taking It from the Streets
In Person: Evo Morales.

David Mercado / Reuters
Evo Morales in downtown La Paz in July.
President of the coca farmers’ union in Chapare and the political party Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Evo Morales has become a symbol of Bolivia’s struggle against the forces of globalization and neoliberal economic policies. In These Times spoke with Morales in July.

For the first time, social and indigenous movements are moving into parliament as a decisive force. How did this success come about?

We have created our own political force because wealth and land are being concentrated in the hands of a few, and the majority of the people live in poverty. In the elections, corrupt politicians used to use us, buying our votes with money, gifts and promises. This has changed: The political parties of millionaires can’t buy people’s consciousness any longer. Of course, this has encouraged us a lot, but it’s also made us nervous. We didn’t expect to come in second.

A few days before the elections, U.S. Ambassador Manuel Rocha intervened. He threatened the end of U.S. support if you won. How did this warning influence the elections?

It’s possible that in some places our support was reduced; in others, however, it grew. What’s clear is that there was a lot of reaction to the U.S. intervention. Some upper-middle-class voters might have been frightened, but at the same time lots of young people said: Evo is young and anti-imperialist. With Evo we’ll fight for our independence and for our freedom.

In January, you took part in confrontations between farmers protesting the government plan to eliminate coca and security forces. You were expelled from parliament and arrested, and many hundreds were injured or arrested. Finally, after massive protests, you won your seat back in June. Did these events influence the elections?

It is in this context that I have become enemy No. 1 of the neoliberal system and the U.S. embassy. The latter has a blacklist of leaders of social movements which it sees as dangerous for their politics, and on this list I’m on the very top. In January, the five big political parties decided under pressure from the U.S. embassy to take Evo Morales out of parliament. … They wanted to finish off the coca farmers’ union and put me in prison. It’s not least because of this that we triumphed in the elections.

The coca farmers’ movement has become one of the strongest social movements in Bolivia. Why move into parliament now?

We know that we can struggle outside parliament. But political parties have been using us in the elections, and after winning thanks to our votes, they’ve punished us. That’s why the question came up: Why can’t we vote for ourselves? Why don’t we decide ourselves instead of giving others the power to decide our destiny for us?

Of course, there’s a big risk, too: There is persecution, like at the beginning of the year. Imagine: We’re attacking the transnational corporations, neoliberal politics. There are some big interests there. That’s why we’re preparing ourselves.

Does your party, MAS, have a political program?

Our program is based on the movement’s proposals. It’s … an anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist position. We want to finish with the rule of the political mafia. We want self-managed companies instead of state companies and multinationals. Of course, the state will have to promote the collective, self-managed companies and support the struggle for self-determination. This is basically the center of our program.

What concrete steps will you take?

On an economic level, it’s about stopping and reversing privatization. We want to get our companies and natural resources back, because we can’t allow them to be concentrated in the hands of a few transnational corporations. … It’s important to replace the system of injustice with one of justice. Today they call justice what can be bought; right depends on money. This has to end. … In concrete terms, we’ll promote national production and block free trade in that way. We’ll reverse the economic reforms that have brought more inequality and poverty over us.

Will you work with other parties in parliament?

Working with neoliberal parties is totally out of the question. We’ll carry on the blockades against neoliberal politics within parliament. Some people don’t like us blocking the roads with our mobilizations or marching. Now we’ll go on with the blockades in parliament, in a peaceful way. If that way of protest doesn’t show any effects, however, we’ll combine it with a mobilization of social movements.

Any final thoughts?

People are fighting for dignity. They don’t like being dominated, and more and more people are starting to resist. That’s why our movement is growing, that’s why our political party received so many votes, that’s why more and more social organizations are joining us.

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