Interview with Evo Morales
Cocaleros in parliament
Evo Morales Ayma, 43 years old, is president of the coca farmers' federation in Chapare and he's a symbol of the struggle against neoliberal politics in Bolivia and the host of the International People's Global Action conference in Cochabamba last year. In the past four years he was president of the political party MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) in parliament, and in the most recent elections on the 30th June, according to the last counting he received more than 21percent of the votes. As the second political force he might become the new president in Bolivia, seen as the final election is between the two strongest candidates, in this case Evo Morales and Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada of MNR (Nationalist Revolutionary Movement) who is slightly ahead of him. These elections will mark a profound change in Bolivia. For the first time ever indigenous peoples and anti-neoliberal movements will be represented in parliament as a significant force. Until now, in that country was split between the modern and rich Bolivia of whites and the poor Bolivia of indigenous people, the latter have basically been excluded from politics. According to Morales, they are now not only going to stop but reverse the neoliberal policies that have ruled the country for the past 17 years.
YZ: For the first time ever social and indigenous movements are getting into parliament as a decisive force. Evo Morales, how did this success come about?
Evo Morales: The indigenous peoples we have created our own political instrument facing the fact that riches 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, bought our votes with money, gifts and promises. This has changed now: 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. If we become the second political force, we might get into government. This is frightening us a little bit, too, to be honest. We're nervous because we didn't expect to become second. We expected about fifteen deputies, but now we have twenty-five, and there might be two more after the counting is finished. On top of this we've got eight senators. In these elections some anti-system thinking has shown itself. The Bolivians are the victims of the neoliberal model, and they have consciously supported our political project which is totally against this model.
Q. A few days before the elections US embassador Manuel Rocha intervened. He threatened the end of US support in case you become president, and with this he basically said: Don't vote for Evo. How did this warning influence the elections?
One or nearly two months ago the US embassy made an inquiry, and according to this our political party was the second force. Of course this caused the embassador a headache, even more so as our support was still growing. Because of that Rocha intervened, he wanted to reduce our votes. It's possible that in some places our support got reduced, in others, however, it grew. What's clear is that there was a lot of reaction to the US intervention. Some upper middle class voters might have been frightened, 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.
Q. At the beginning of the year there were confrontations between coca farmers and security forces. The farmers protested with road blockades against the government's plan to destroy all coca plants. The government ordered the militarisation of the Chapare area, there was a wave of repression against the farmers and against yourself. Did these events influence the results of the elections?
Social struggle has been criminalised by governments all along. It's in this context that I became enemy number one of the neoliberal system and the US 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 of this year the five big political parties decided under pressure of the US embassy to take me out of parliament. One Saturday all except one of the leaders of the coca farmers' union were arrested. With that they wanted to finish off the coca farmers' union and put me in prison. After many mobilisations we came out of this conflict with new strength. Thanks to the strength of the Quechuas, Aymaras and the coca leaf. It's not least because of this that we triumphed in the elections.
Q. The coca farmers' movement became one of the strongest social movements in Bolivia in the past years. What's the reason to 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 have our own actors and vote for ourselves? Why don't we decide ourselves instead of giving others the power to decide for us on our destiny? We decided to get back the power and the land, for the Quechuas, Aymaras and Guaranís, together with workers. And now the enemy is shivering. At the same time there's the
certainty that our movement can't be stopped. With or without Evo Morales, it's going to go on and it'll grow.
Of course, there's a big risk, too: There's the persecution like at the beginning of the year. Imagine: We're attacking the transnational corporations, neoliberal politics, and there's some big interests there. That's why we're preparing ourselves, we've build up committees to defend our sovereinty, to defend our people's struggle.
We're now nearly the second biggest force in parliament. Eight senators, twenty-five deputies. There's only 1948 votes missing to be second, and with that there will be the chance to get into government instead of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada.
Q. If you become president: do you have a programme to rule the country or did you limit yourselves to the elaboration of an opposition programme?
Of course we do have a programme, and it's based on the movement's proposals. It's in the context of a anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist position. It's about the refundation of the country. We want to finish with the rule of thepolitical mafia. They don't even rule, they negotiate the country. On top of this, the rich have been benefitting for years from the country's money, and now it's the poor that'll have to benefit. The neoliberal system was a failure, and now it's the poor people's turn. State capitalism's finished, and now it's the peoples' turn. 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 strengthen the struggle for self-determination. This is basically the centre of our programme.
Q. What will be your concrete steps?
On a political level it's about the refundation of the country. On an economic level it's about stopping and reversing privatisation. 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. On a social level we'll have to end corruption and repression, for example the fact that the state is financing mercenaries. That money will have to be used for social
costs, such as education and health. We need to replace the system of injustice with the one of justice. Today they call justice what can be bought, right depends on money. This has to end. Corruption won't just be facing me or the MAS, but the social movements, the people.
Q. What's your position towards neoliberal plans such as the FTAA?
Imagine what NAFTA did in Mexico in eight years: poverty and unemployment has risen a lot, farmers have lost their income, just to mention two things. The FTAA is much bigger and will have disastrous effects. A handful of multinationals will benefit. FTAA is a plan of hunger and misery. We'll have to oppose it with all our strength.
In concrete terms we'll promote national production, which means we'll block free trade in that way. We'll reverse the economic reforms that brought more inequality and poverty upon us.
Q. Do you have an alternative programme to the government's plan to destroy all coca?
Of course, we defend our coca leaf, we want to commercialise, export and industrialise it. This is a plan towards constructive use of the coca leaf, not towards narcotraffic. The drug isn't for us, it's nothing to do with our culture.
Q.Your enemies might try to split the movement, to buy deputies...
We're a bit worried about that. We're talking about TNC's interest and they might easily try to buy parliamentarians with some 10 or 20 000 dollars. Some people are weak when they've been offered money. At the same time, however, there will be some social control. It's not me who's gonna control deputies, it's the social movements. The victory of social movements is a political earthquake. At the same time it's obvious that some sectors won't like it, such as the US embassy or multinationals.
The 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's growing, that's why our political party got so many votes, that's why more and more social organisations are joining us. It's important to link social movements, to join our struggles. We're hoping that other social movements will support us. If we're the new government, an economic blockade against us is very likely to happen. This won't stop us, but we'll need the support of other movements.