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The regional factor in the Bolivian political crisis

The confrontation between Arce and Morales may be the beginning of a process of political reconfiguration that will make two factions of MAS appear as different political parties, in addition to another opposition party that will not be competitive.

Today Bolivia is in institutional chaos because it is not clear who is in charge of the country, Luis Arce or Evo Morales. They have skewed the state powers with butcher’s skill and threaten to tear the rule of law to shreds. President Arce, faced with his weakness in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, has decided to entrench himself in the judiciary and, from there, he is engaged in a fierce battle with his former boss and friend. The opposition Morales, faced with his weakness in the judiciary, is entrenched with his own in the Assembly and orders to block any law coming from the Casa Grande del Pueblo, the place where his once star minister and now bitter enemy now dispatches.  

However, the battle is fought in institutional spaces and appeals to numbers, to quantity. The confrontation between Arce and Morales may be the beginning of a process of political reconfiguration that will make two factions of MAS appear as different political parties, plus another opposition party that will not be competitive. Today it is a matter of multitude against multitude. The rebellion of the Arce’s masses against the rebellion of the pro-evolutionary masses. One day, the pro-government side organizes a multitudinous event in El Alto to demonstrate its strength, and a week later Evo organizes another, where he shows that those who support him are not few. Onerous demonstrations of political muscle were aimed at convincing a Plurinational Electoral Body accustomed for more than a decade to obeying only one boss, which does not know how to be happy now that it has two. 

Nevertheless, in this divergence, there is something that Arce and Morales share. Both refuse to see reality. For 14 years Morales lived like a teenage son of a rich father who spends money as if it were inexhaustible. For his part, Arce lives the fantasy of believing that with few resources, mediocre officials and speeches the country can be industrialized. Unfortunately, data condemns Evo and contradicts Arce: instead of exporting value-added products, we continue in the colonial habit of exporting raw materials; instead of an efficient bureaucracy, we have a state overrun by activists from the street fight, and instead of speeches, we have just that, only speeches. 

This fight may be the beginning of a political reconfiguration process that will make two MAS factions appear as different political parties, plus one or two opposition parties that will compete but will not be competitive. This reconfiguration will crystallize in the general elections of 2025, but until then, the government will have to deal with many conflicts, among them the revival of the regional factor. I will explain.

Bolivia is a country of regions, as the prominent Beni historian José Luis Roca (he graduated as a lawyer from the USFX as the best of his students) described it. In this country, people do not identify themselves as Bolivian exclusively but as cruceña, chuquisaqueña, potosina, paceña, cochala, etc., that is to say, they organize their political projects according the territory where they were born. This identity is the basis for the appearance of the civic committees, as channelers of local demands, which may remain in hibernation for many years but are never completely deactivated.

The trigger for this revival will be the results of the census. An instrument created to provide statistical information for public policies will explode the much feared regionalism. Poor departments such as Chuquisaca and Potosí will see that they were only a source of income for the State from gas and mineral exports but never a destination for development projects. On the other hand, Santa Cruz (a prosperous department) will realize, for the umpteenth time, that it is the truck that drives the country’s development, but it is not the one driving it. For some the grievance will consist of being the forgotten ones of the state policies, for others it will be having the economic power but not the political power. 

It is to be hoped that this future center-periphery conflict will lead to a change in the political agenda to debate departmental autonomy, which is as necessary for development as they are useful to halt the process of democratic erosion. It will depend on the lucidity of the regional leadership to achieve this. 

*Translated from Spanish by Micaela Machado Rodrigues


Political scientist. Professor and researcher at San Francisco Xavier University (Sucre, Bolivia). PhD in Social Sciences with mention in Political Studies from FLACSO-Ecuador.


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