Published on 22 December 2015 by www.revolutionarycommunist.org
Ten years of the Movement Toward Socialism in government
Led by the government of Evo Morales and the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Bolivia has undergone a profound transformation in the past ten years. The change is not just in the economic sphere, but in the shift of political power away from the traditional elite, the mostly white owners of industry and agriculture, and towards the majority, the mostly indigenous workers and campesinos.
Evo Morales emerged as a leader of coca growers in Chaparé province, who were fighting against US-funded eradication of their crops. He first ran as presidential candidate for MAS in 2002, and narrowly lost. At the next election, on 18 December 2005, Morales and MAS won with 53.7% of the vote, a previously unheard of majority in Bolivia. The previous five years had seen six presidents come and go as a result of constant political crises. It was during this period that mass struggles against neoliberal austerity - the Water War and the Gas War - paved the way for the MAS victory.
Water War 1999 - 2000
The Water War was sparked by a 1999 agreement by the government of Hugo Banzer to privatise the water supply in Cochabamba province. This was made in order to meet privatisation targets set by the World Bank in return for $600m debt relief. The new owner, a consortium run by US multinational Bechtel, was guaranteed an annual profit rate of 16% over 40-years.
Workers and campesino organisations came together to form a Coalition for Defence of Water and Life. Over a period of six months they organised strikes and blockades, regularly bringing Cochabamba to a standstill. Key decisions affecting the movement were approved at open-air meetings attended by up to 50,000 people.
The cancellation of the water contract as a direct result of the protests marked a turning point for Bolivia’s anti-austerity movement, showing that popular forces could defeat neoliberalism.