Bolivian Marxist on the forthcoming recall referendum

We interviewed comrade Pepe Pereira, a leading member of El Militante-Bolivia, the Bolivian supporters of the International Marxist Tendency. Our first question was about the recall referendum that will be held in Bolivia next week, on August 10th.

We interviewed comrade Pepe Pereira, a leading member of El Militante-Bolivia, the Bolivian supporters of the International Marxist Tendency. Our first question was about the recall referendum that will be held in Bolivia next week, on August 10th.

Pepe, can you please explain to our readers what this referendum is about?

On August 10th, all elected political representatives in Bolivia will have to undergo a popular referendum that can ratify or recall their positions. This will affect the president, the vice-president and all prefects (governors).

The recall referendum is based on a law that was initially proposed by the MAS [the Socialist party in power] last year, as a possible exit strategy from the crisis in the Cochabamba region, where an insurrectionary popular movement had overthrown the right-wing prefect Manfred Reyes Villa Bacigalupo. The insurgents had set up an alternative popular prefecture but the vice-president Álvaro García Linera reinstated Reyes Villa in his position, betraying the people's expectations, precisely on this basic concept of democratic revocability of such positions. The right wing of the MAS supported this law in order to favour a "legal road" as opposed to the insurrectionary one.

This law was blocked in the parliament for one year because although the right wing is in a minority in congress, it controls the majority of the Senate, which is elected with a peculiar system. The strength of the mass movements that erupted in Bolivia on May 4th during the referenda on autonomy pushed the Right into approving the law, even though it includes a few clauses that are not too favourable for them. This confirms what we said at that time, i.e. that the government emerged strengthened out of that mobilisation.

What are the likely results of these referenda?

The Right is risking putting itself in a blind alley. The law states that in order to have new elections held for a certain position, there must be a higher number of votes cast in favour of recall than the ones originally cast to elect that person to a particular position. This means that some right-wing prefects can be ousted with a little more than 30% while 55% is needed to hold new presidential elections! This is because some prefects were elected with a minority vote in the first place.

This also explains why, after having approved this law, the Right is now trying to sabotage it. They are trying to get the law declared unconstitutional by a special body that never raised any protest about the illegal autonomy referenda. They are in a blind alley and are now looking for a way out.

What position has the Marxist tendency in Bolivia taken on this issue? Will you vote for Evo Morales?

We are waging a public campaign explaining that the recall referendum as it stands now could be turned into a way of strengthening the process of change taking place in Bolivia and deepening it.

The experience of the last two years demonstrates that there is not only an organised Right but also a strong right wing within the MAS party apparatus and the government itself. There are several examples of this. As a consequence of the oil sabotage, the government has introduced anti-export measures. In a speech in Cochabamba, Evo Morales declared that he would nationalise the oil industry if the sabotage did not stop; instead, the Minister of the Economy, an ex-member of the ADN party, replied with a declaration that stated that he was about to cancel the export block altogether!

In the same way, Susanna Rivero, current Minister of Agriculture and herself belonging to a family of big landlords, is constantly acting in stark contradiction with the demands of the peasants' movements.

We will support Evo and oppose the oligarchy's prefects in the recall referendum. Our slogans are: Yes to change, yes to the October agenda (the programme of the 2003 uprising), yes to Evo; no to the Right, no to dialogue with the Right, no to the right wing of both the MAS and the government.

We realise that this platform enjoys the support of many MAS activists and in other mass organisations. A MAS leading member, for instance, explained to me that now is the time for uniting against the recall referendum, but afterwards we will "clean up our own house".

The revolutionary process in Bolivia has been developing for several years now, without ever reaching the point of a clear qualitative change. Do you believe it can go on like this forever?

Absolutely not! As a matter of fact, the MAS started with a programme that could be summed up with a typical Morales speech: "Capitalism is the worst enemy of humankind, against which we are carrying out a democratic cultural revolution in Bolivia". Correct concept, wrong conclusions! The vice-president Garcia Linera, says that they want to build "Andean capitalism", with a strong role for the state that should be able to impose strict conditions on the multinationals. Experience demonstrates exactly the opposite. Imperialist multinationals still see Bolivia as a cheap provider of raw materials; the national bourgeoisie is an accomplice of imperialism and in a semi-colonial country like Bolivia it plays no independent role.

The result is that the government has made concessions to the national bourgeoisie and the multinationals, leading to a relationship of forces that is much worse than the one that existed just after Evo's election victory. After the elections, the Right was shocked because it did not expect the MAS to win (they also organised fraud). No one dared declare oneself a rightist at that time. Now the ruling class has organised Fascist gangs everywhere, not only in Santa Cruz but in all Eastern regions and even the Andean region. They have penetrated into Sucre, Cochabamba and are currently trying to enter Potosí too.

Whenever the government has vacillated this has lead to shifts to the right by broad layers of the middle classes who voted for the MAS in the past. They expected the MAS to solve the contradictions of 2003 and 2005, but now, with the uncertainty shown by the government, they are beginning to see the Morales government not as a solution but as the problem itself.

The revolutionary process in Bolivia is at a crossroads at the present moment, and we could be facing a decisive showdown even in the near future.

Could the reactionary threat result in an all-out victory of counter-revolution? And if this were to happen, what would Bolivia become?

As a matter of fact, the conflict that the MAS has tried to avoid over the last two years by making concessions is unavoidable. They did not try to base themselves on the support of workers and peasants. This only had the effect of moving the conflict onto an unfavourable terrain, away from the streets and into bourgeois public opinion and bourgeois parliamentary institutions.

So far, the army has remained on the sidelines, paralysed by its internal divisions. This has also come about because the officers know that they cannot easily use the army ‑ which is mainly composed of peasants ‑ against a government whose social basis is precisely the peasantry. Furthermore, they do not want to help the disintegration of the national state as promoted by the Right.

Nevertheless, facing the immediate perspective of a civil war, our opinion is that on the grounds of the inevitability of a conflict and the current relationship of forces, we cannot rule out the possibility that the army re-establishes its internal unity and moves twoards a military dictatorship in the name of national unity and order.

Let us not forget that this is the classical method used by the ruling class to react against social turmoil in the country. Bolivia has a history of many coups.

This could be understood as a pessimistic approach. Should we just prepare for a Bolivian Pinochet or is there an alternative?

There is an alternative and we are working for it. First of all, we are working for a victory of the Yes vote on August 10th. In order to get rid of the Right and the right wing within the MAS itself, the government must take the road of breaking with capitalism and implementing radical reforms in favour of the workers and peasants - according to the October agenda: Nationalise all natural resources to industrialise the country and carry out a genuine land reform.

The movement of the workers and peasants in Bolivia has not been defeated, and the mass mobilisations against the autonomy referenda on May 4th and later on against the US embassy and its role in supporting the campaign of the reactionary oligarchy, show that there is still a large reservoir of support for revolutionary change in Bolivia.

This largely depends on the government and its policy but also on the COB [the main trade union federation] which should play an active role in the process, not just the role of raising economic demands. We support most of the demands raised by the COB (like those on pensions) but they should be used in the context of a united front appeal to the government: Stand with us, break with the Right and join us to realise the aspirations of the Bolivian masses!

On the one hand we have to criticise the vacillations of the MAS leadership, but on the other hand we must also criticise the COB leaders. They swing from a kind of peculiar opportunist approach (a sort of "defensive united front" that does not promote an active role for the workers) to ultraleft sectarianism. The sectarianism of the COB is pernicious because it isolates it from the peasants and large sections of the workers that do not understand why the COB leaders are taking a neutral position between the Right wing and Evo Morales, when their attention is concentrated on defeating the threat of the ruling class.

How can In Defence of Marxism and revolutionary workers and youth in other countries help the revolution in Bolivia and fight against the risk of a bloody defeat of the Bolivian masses?

Our tendency plays a decisive role in a series of areas that are important for the revolutionary process in Latin America, especially in Venezuela. If Venezuela is in this moment the spearhead of the process in Latin America, Bolivia is the weak link in the chain. Imperialism has a strong interest in achieving a first defeat in Bolivia! It is not by chance if all right-wing leaders in Bolivia have close relations to the Venezuela Right and strong connections with US and European imperialism, whence they receive instructions and directions. There will be a cascade effect if counter-revolution prevails in Bolivia.

Basically, we can provide information, develop active solidarity campaigns on an international scale, and attract more attention from the international labour movement on the events there. With the achievements of the Latin American revolutionary process we can set the tune for a new cycle of struggles in the advanced countries.

One little example: the comrades of the International Marxist Tendency in Italy moved a resolution, during the Seventh Congress of the Communist Refoundation Party, committing the whole party to a mobilisation in defence of the nationalisation of Entel (formerly a property of Telecom Italia). The resolution was approved by the congress in the presence of the Bolivian ambassador to Italy. This is a concrete example of active solidarity.

Thank you very much.