September 20, 2012

The Morales Government is Falling Victim of its Own Doctrine

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The latest conflict between independent miners (known as Cooperativistas in Bolivia), mine workers and the government is a good example of how the Morales' government doctrine, governing obeying the people (gobernar obedeciendo al pueblo), is not working.

All throughout his government, Morales has been repeating himself expressing his, first desire, and later his actions, as governing obeying the people. With that he has meant meant that his government's policies are being constantly consulted with different interest groups such as, for example, the coca growers union, the campesino federation (CSUTCB), mining workers of the state company COMIBOL or the indigenous women federation Bartolina Sisa. Moreover, his government has periodically (usually once a year) been submitted to evaluation and criticism by the same organizations, which make up the MAS, his government party.

While this approach to government has paid large dividends for Morales and his government in the first years of his government, lately it has become a real obstacle to governance. For example, at the time of passing the first laws with which Morales sought to carry out the "change" (towards his new Bolivia), consensus was pre-programmed. The laws concerning the electoral system, the judicial system and the Constitutional Court as well as the law on Autonomy and Decentralization passed without much controversy. This was because these laws had to do with the awaited state reform and as such did not directly touch the lives of MAS supporters. Moreover, the decisions that nationalized the energy industries were another example of this joint effort.

In this second term, the Morales government has repeatedly found itself in a difficult situation. The latest conflict within the mining sector has the quality of highlighting these difficulties. At the core of the problem is a mine in the town of Colquiri. In his attempt to obey the people, Morales responded to the demands of the Cooperativistas to gain control of the mine by giving them the control of it and thus permission to exploit it. However, the mine workers of COMIBOL have been demanding the mine be nationalized in accordance to the government's economic policies. This has resulted in a full blown conflict, in which both camps have began a campaign to force the government to take their sides. The conflict has escalated so much that in a latest confrontation between the two groups, one miner was killed and others wounded.

What does this show? It shows that, while it might be most desirable for a government to govern obeying the people, this strategy might not be the best one. The Bolivian government is experiencing this first hand. On the one hand, at the discourse level, the idea to consult the people and obey their demands has won for the government significant support. However, this support has been on large and, many times, beyond pure politics issues such as identity, ethnic conscience, power balance and inclusion. These, are issues that not very many people would disagree with, especially in a country such as Bolivia. For example, not only the indigenous Aymaras have gained ethnic conscience. The crucenos, tarijenos and sucrenses have also become more aware of their identity and ethnicity. At the same time, these groups have also sought to establish a better balance between regional and local governments vis-a-vis the central government.

On the other hand, it is at the time of considering issues that directly affect the lives of people that the "nice" idea of governing obeying the people confronts its problematic sides. If a government is going to do what the people wants, then the problem rises when the people want something different and that these something is contradictory to each other. As in the example cited above, if the Morales government has listened to the Cooperativistas and obeyed them by giving them the control of the mine, it is clear (from the example) that the decision has directly affected the mine workers. It might be that the latter also want to exploit the mine because it has significant resources and thus this will secure their livelihoods. It is at the time these conflicts appear that the government gets confronted with the realities of governing, i.e. that every decision the government makes is bound to affect, positively as well as negatively, at least one group of people.

For this reason, it is very unlikely that the Morales government will continue having success with his governing obeying the people strategy.

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