Bolivia’s recall referendum, massive support for change – time to move forward!

In the August 10 recall referendum, President Evo Morales and vice-president García Linera were ratified with an increased number of votes and the two MAS prefects (governors) of Oruro and Potosí were also ratified. But at the same time, four of the six opposition prefects were also ratified with sizable majorities. So, who won? Who lost?

If you were to believe the capitalist mass media, the recall referendum held in Bolivia on August 10 produced an apparently contradictory result. President Evo Morales and vice-president García Linera were ratified with an increased number of votes (the latest official results give them 67.5%, up from the 57.3% they originally received in 2005), and the two MAS prefects (governors) of Oruro and Potosí were also ratified. But at the same time, four of the six opposition prefects were also ratified with sizable majorities. So, who won? Who lost?

First, let's look at the actual results, as opposed to the exit polls which are being reported by most of the capitalist media, and which underestimate the size and scope of Morales' victory.

The national results of the recall referendum on the president and vice president was the following: more than 2 million votes were cast in favor of keeping them (nearly half a million more than in 2005), which represents a majority of more than 2/3. The vote for Evo Morales increased in all of the country's departments, in some by large amounts. His share of the vote went up in relation to the 2005 elections in La Paz, which concentrates about a third of the population (from 66.6% to 82.8%); in Oruro (62.5% to 82.9%); in Potosí (from 57.8% to 83.9%); in Cochabamba (from 64.8% to 70.9%); and in Chuquisaca (from 54.1% to 56.8%).

Thus, Morales won a clear victory in 5 out of the country's 9 departments; all of them amongst the most populated ones. Then come the 4 departments of the Eastern Crescent, where the counter-revolutionary oligarchy has concentrated its forces, and where they have managed to win a base of support on the basis of their demagogic use of the issue of regional autonomy. Despite this, Morales significantly increased his share of the vote in all of these areas. In Pando, he won a clear victory with 52.5% of the votes, up from 20% of the votes for the MAS in 2005. In Tarija, there was a technical draw, with 66,645 votes for Morales and 67,102 against, thus Morales lost by only 457 votes. In Beni, Morales lost by 57.6% against 42.3, but this was still a massive increase in support compared to the 16.9% it received in 2005, and the opposition lost 50% of the votes it received at that time.

Finally we come to Santa Cruz. This is the main stronghold of the oligarchy, where the mayor and the prefect have formed a close-knit alliance with the main land owners (organized in the Comité Civico), bankers, and industrialists, who, with the helping hand of Washington, organized the armed fascist gangs of the Union Juvenil Cruceñista (UJC), which bombed the offices of the MAS, intimidated MAS and other social movement activists, physically prevented president Morales from landing in the airport and publicly appealed for the army to depose the president. Even with this climate of intimidation, with armed UJC thugs guarding the polling stations with the help and complicity of local and regional police forces, Evo Morales received 39.4% of the votes. These are still provisional figures, since 15% of the polling booths have not yet been counted, mainly in MAS supporting areas, such as the MAS stronghold of Ñuflo de Chávez, where only 20% of the votes have been counted. To achieve more than 40% of the votes here would be a major victory, up from the 33% the MAS received in 2005, all in the midst of a climate of fear and intimidation.

The results in these areas of the Bolivian lowlands are even more significant if we take into account that these are the official results given by the Departmental Electoral Courts, which are wholly controlled by the opposition oligarchy in these regions, and are in open rebellion against the national government.

The results also refute the lie of the oligarchy about the "overwhelming" support for the "autonomy referendums" they called on May 4th in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija. They play a statistical trick by giving only the alleged percentage of those who voted for autonomy (85.6%, 79%, 81% and 78,7% respectively), without explaining that there was massive abstention in all of these illegal and unconstitutional referenda. To this we must add that there was clear fraud and vote rigging taking place.

Regarding the results of the August 10 recall referenda for departmental prefects, this affected 8 of the 9 existing prefects. Here the right wing suffered another set back, by losing La Paz and Cochabamba, whose prefects were overwhelmingly rejected by 64.4% and 64.8%. The MAS prefect of Oruro was narrowly confirmed in what is seen as a protest vote against the government repression of the miners' strike which left two miners dead. The MAS prefect of Potosí was also ratified with 78%. The counter-revolutionary prefects of Santa Cruz (67%, partial result), Pando (56%), Beni (64%) and Tarija (58%), were also ratified.

Far from a situation of a "divided country" which can only be put together through negotiation and conciliation - the image that the capitalist media try to portray in Bolivia and abroad - what we see in reality is massive support for revolutionary change in the highlands and the center of the country, and a divided Eastern Crescent, where the oligarchy has been able to solidify the support of the urban middle classes.

These results show the enormous and growing support for Evo Morales, who placed at the center of an extremely polarized campaign, support or rejection of the process of change the country is undergoing. A few days before the vote, Morales, for the first time, started talking about socialism. He said that he had read an opinion poll that showed the majority of Bolivians support socialism and that "if the Bolivian people are asking for socialism, we are going to advance towards socialism".

Despite all the vacillations of the government over the last two years, the revolutionary class instinct of the masses of Bolivian workers and peasants is still alive. As we explained earlier, the massive response on May 4th, when the oligarchy attempted to carry out the "autonomy referendum" in Santa Cruz, changed the balance of forces in the country once again, and this was reflected in the referendum results.

The instinct of the masses in fighting these referenda was clear: "first we win this battle, then we clean our own house and advance forward". The first post-referendum statement by the powerful United Confederation of Peasant Workers' Union of Bolivia, CSUTCB, which had made an unambiguous appeal to ratify Evo Morales, demanded the replacement of Agriculture Minister Susana Rivero with someone firmly committed to the implementation of the Agrarian Reform. The massive crowd in La Paz who listened to Evo Morales' victory speech shouted: "Mano dura! Mano dura!" ("A firm hand!")

Offensive against the oligarchy ... or conciliation?

However, once again, instead of using this massive show of strength to launch an offensive against the oligarchy, Evo Morales delivered a victory speech stressing national unity and the need to discuss to the opposition prefects in order to reach an accommodation on the basis of uniting the new proposed constitution with the so-called autonomy statutes "passed" in illegal referenda in the Eastern Crescent.

Such a policy is suicidal, and in fact strengthens the hand of the right wing in these regions. No matter how weakened they are by the referendum results, the oligarchy is not prepared to negotiate or conciliate. What they want is clear: the overthrow of Evo Morales and the government of the MAS, which they see as a representative of the mass movement of workers and peasants which carried out the revolutionary uprisings of 2003 and 2005. As soon as the first results were announced, Ruben Costas, prefect of Santa Cruz, declared that the vote had "reaffirmed the implementation of the autonomy decided on May 4th" and went on the offensive by announcing the creation of "our own security force in order to enforce the implementation of departmental laws" and to establish its own "autonomous tax raising office". He also refused point blank to attend any meetings with national government representatives. The other opposition prefects took a more conciliatory stance, accepting talks, but then refusing the date proposed by the government.

The truth is, the conflict that has been unleashed in Bolivia cannot be solved by parliamentary means alone. The conflict is between the interests of the landlords and the interests of the peasant masses, between the interests of the workers and those of the capitalists, between the interests of the Bolivian people in controlling their natural resources and those of the multinationals. This is a fundamental conflict of opposed class interests, and all history shows that the ruling class will not allow its economic and political power and influence to be wrested away from them without a struggle, and that they will use any means necessary to defend their privileges. This historic law is confirmed by the events of the last months and years in Bolivia (and by the recent experience in Venezuela).

The ruling class has not hesitated in arming fascist gangs (which are now spreading from Santa Cruz to other regions); in breaking their own bourgeois legality by calling unconstitutional autonomy referendums; in using brute force to prevent the democratically elected president from landing in four of the country's Departments; in using terrorist methods to attack MAS offices and ministers; in using economic sabotage to destabilize the government; and even publicly and openly appealing for a military coup.

The problem is that despite all the courage and willingness to struggle of the Bolivian masses, their leadership has not been up to the task. On the one hand, a section of the MAS leadership, particularly around vice-president Garcia Linera, are firmly committed to the idea of developing "Andean capitalism", and they combine this Utopian idea with an almost religious belief in parliamentary legality, as if the oligarchy can be defeated at the polls alone. This has led them to rely on legalistic technicalities and not on the strength of the mass movement that brought them to power in the first place, thus allowing the right wing to regroup and gather their forces on several occasions.

On the other hand, the leadership of the COB in the last two years has oscillated between ultra-left posturing - with some leaders like Jaime Solares calling for a boycott of the 2005 elections and approaching the recall referendum with a position of "neither with Evo, nor with the opposition" - and opportunistic adaptation to the right wing of the MAS.

On the day of the referendum itself, the government reached an agreement with the COB trade union, which put an end to general strike it had called. The government agreed to take over the running of the Pension Funds (now control by the Spanish BBVA and the Swiss Zurich Financial Services) and to derogate the 1996 pensions law which effectively privatized pensions. But this victory for the workers' movement came at a heavy price: two miners were killed in clashes with the police sent by the Morales government.

Instead of calling a general strike against the Morales government, at a time when the capitalists and imperialists are launching a major offensive against it, the COB leaders should have mobilized the working masses against the oligarchy while at the same time demanding from the Morales government a decisive shift to the left, the cleansing of capitalist and right wing elements from within it and the implementation of the "October Agenda", the demands that mobilized hundreds of thousands in the uprisings of 2003 and 2005.

This should be accompanied by a serious campaign of organizing peoples' assemblies and action committees in every factory, landed estate, neighbourhood and village to fight the oligarchy's offensive, and carry out a programme of expropriation of the land and nationalization of natural resources and industries under workers' control.

The class conflict which divides Bolivia - not a regional one, not an ethnic one, but one based on class interests - will ultimately be resolved in the streets, as part of the struggle of living forces. It all depends on how well organized the workers and peasants are, and the quality of their leadership when it comes to a decisive clash.

The water war in Cochabamba, the February and October uprisings in 2003, the uprising in May-June 2005, the election of Morales in December 2005, the struggle against Cochabamba's prefect in January 2007, the massive movement against the autonomy referendum in Santa Cruz in May 2008, and now the mobilization in the recall referendum, show clearly that the masses are ready and willing to struggle. Only the lack of a clear leadership, prepared to take the revolution to the end has prevented the workers and peasants of Bolivia from taking power. The building of such a leadership is now the most urgent task, there is no time to lose.


See also: