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Bolivia: Warning signs as social tensions erupt

Indigenous Quechua protesters blockaded the main road between La Paz and Potosi on August 8.

By Federico Fuentes

August 15, 2010 -- Green Left Weekly -- Recent scenes of roadblocks, strikes and even the dynamiting of a vice-minister’s home in the Bolivian department (administrative district) of Potosi, reminiscent of the days of previous neoliberal governments, have left many asking themselves what is really going on in the “new” Bolivia of Indigenous President Evo Morales.

Since July 29, the city of Potosi, which has 160,000 inhabitants, has ground to a halt. Locals are up in arms over what they perceive to be a lack of support for regional development on the part of the national government. Potosi is Bolivia’s poorest department but the most important for the mining sector, which is on the verge of surpassing gas as the country’s principal export because of rising mineral prices.

Julio Quinonez, a miners’ cooperative leader told El Diario on August 4: “We don’t want to continue to be the dairy cow that the other regions live off as they always have. Potosi can move forward whether through independence, federalisation or autonomy as established in the constitution.”

Local media reported that 100,000 people attended a rally in the city of Potosi on August 3. A hunger strike was initiated that swelled to include more than 600 political and social leaders, including the governor, some local deputies aligned with Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) and 20 sex workers.

The trigger for the protests was an age-old dispute over departmental boundary demarcations with neighbouring Oruro following the discovery that a hill in the area contains minerals used to make cement.

Locals are demanding the government invest more in the region, frustrated that the government has not resolved the daily problems of a poverty-stricken region with an infant mortality rate of 101 in every 1000 babies born — despite sitting on 50% of the world’s lithium.

They are proposing the construction of a cement factory, the completion of a road between Potosi and the department of Tarija, the reopening of the Karachipampa metallurgical plant and an international airport for what is one of Bolivia’s premier tourist destinations.

Another demand is the preservation of the Cerro Rico. These legendary mountains overlooking the city of Potosi used to hold the world’s largest silver mine. Now it is in danger of collapsing as a result of centuries of rapacious looting dating back to colonial days, when Potosi was the same size as London and financed much of Europe’s development.

Locals have occupied an electricity plant and threatened to cut off supplies to the nearby Japanese-owned San Cristobal mine — the largest in Bolivia.

Supplies of food and other essentials are beginning to run extremely low.

Many roadblocks have been lifted, but negotiations between the government and local authorities stalled as they demanded that Morales himself, and not his “right-wing” ministers, come to the table.

Meanwhile, locals in Uyuni in the south of the department, home to the famous salt lakes and Bolivia’s lithium reserves, voted on August 12 to blockade roads against the protests being organised by the Potosi civic committee. They claim the civic committee wants a lithium processing plant to be built closer to the city so that it solely benefits the city of Potosi.

They are also demanding that the government install an interconnected electrical system in Uyuni and build a Uyuni-Huancarani highway.

These protests have been preceded by similar, though smaller protests, by workers over wages, clashes in Caravani between rival local peasant organisations over the site of a new citrus processing plant and a march by Amazonian Indigenous peoples demanding consultation before any state activity to exploit natural resources.

Warning signs

These are warning signs of some of the challenges that the process for change underway in Bolivia faces.

To understand the protests it is necessary to look at the relationship that exists between social movements, the government and Morales.

The MAS, or Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (IPSP), as it was originally known, emerged both as a result of the process of decentralisation of Bolivia’s political system through the creation of municipal councils and local National Assembly deputies in the early 1990s, as well as the crisis that the political system underwent around the same time.

With the old ruling political parties in a state of terminal decay and the old left-wing groups having either disintegrated or incorporated itself into the traditional party system, it was Bolivia’s rising indigenous and peasant organisations that gave birth to their “political instrument” with the aim of entering the electoral arena and moving from resistance to power.

The core of this new political instrument was the peasant confederation, CSUTCB; the “Bartolinas”, a peasant women’s confederation confederation; the colonisers confederation, CSCB (now known as intercultural communities, CSCIB) and the coca growers of the Chapare, from whose ranks Morales emerged.

Through winning control of a number of local councils and seats in congress, the cocaleros became the core around which the various regional and sectoral organisations would coalesce in the late 1990s to make up the IPSP (more commonly known as MAS, its electorally registered name).

Revolutionary struggle

In 2000, an important cycle of revolutionary struggle exploded, beginning with the opposition to water privatisation in Cochabamba and uprisings in support of Indigenous self-determination in the Aymara highlands.

The first wave of this cycle peaked with the overthrow of then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in October 2003, when a diverse range of workers', peasants' and Indigenous peoples' organisations first united against the government’s attempts to cheaply export the country’s gas via Chile. The movement demanded the president’s resignation following the massacre of more than 60 people.

A second wave of resistance brought down his successor in June 2005, again with diverse organisations uniting around the issue of gas. This paved the way for Morales’ victory in December 2005 presidential election, with a historic 54.7% of the vote.

Fierce resistance from the traditional elites, who felt they were being pushed out of power, triggered the third, most powerful revolutionary wave in this cycle of struggle.

Bunkered down in the wealthier eastern states, the right-wing opposition set off a chain of events aimed at overthrowing Morales. However, the combined action of Morales’ government, the social movements and the armed forces crushed the coup attempt in September 2008, a blow the opposition has yet to fully recover from.

Ironically, while its electoral base grew to 64% in December 2009, the MAS itself was greatly weakened.

The MAS was born in the countryside, where the structures of the “political instrument” and the powerful peasant and indigenous organisations were one and the same. But it began to expand into the cities following its 2005 victory, where social organisations are much weaker and individual affiliation prevailed.

In many cases, due to the lack of trained professionals in the peasant and Indigenous organisations, Morales was forced to rely on “invitees” from the already existing state bureaucracy to run the government.

Most of Morales’ first cabinet came from these sectors, causing concern among the founding organisations of the MAS, who felt they were not being treated as they should be, with quotas in the government.

While the relatively autonomous social organisations united to defend “their” government during times of intense confrontation, they have also tended to retreat to more local and sectoral demands.

MAS weaknesses

Now in government, many of these groups began to view the MAS as a vehicle to access employment in the public service, just as the middle classes did with their parties when they were in power.

The absence of internal structures in the MAS that could allow a debate over its future led to it becoming increasingly irrelevant as anything more than a place to look for work.

Above all this stood Morales: at the same time as leading the process of change, he is head of state, head of the MAS and even continues to head the cocalero union in the Chapare.

With a debilitated MAS, Morales increasingly plays the role of mediator between ministers, social organisations, party leaders, militants and “invitees”.

This created the rise in demands on the government by various sectors, who having supported “their” government through the intense battles of the last few years, now want it to resolve all the problems inherited from centuries of colonialism.

Here the government is encountering a number of challenges. There is a state bureaucracy which works more to undermine than advance the government’s projects and social organisations with political baggage inherited from the previous society. The government points out it is impossible to resolve century-old problems overnight.

According to an August 9 article by Pablo Stefanoni, Morales outlined the fight against narco-trafficking and contraband, low levels of public investment, personal ambitions and the industrialisation of natural resources as key problems. “It is in the construction of the state that the success or failure of the reforms underway will play out”, Stefanoni said.

But to do this, it is vital to reconstruct a political instrument that can truly become a space for the exchange of debates and ideas about the future of the process, capable of generating proposals and uniting the necessary forces to implement a coherent project of change.

Otherwise, indecision, improvisation, inaction and incoherence will continue to plague Bolivia’s process of change.

[This article first appeared in Australia's leading socialist newspaper, Green Left Weekly. Federico Fuentes is editor of Bolivia Rising and a member of the Socialist Alliance in Australia. With Marta Harnecker, he is also author of MAS-IPSP de Bolivia: Instrumento político que surge de los movimientos sociales.]

Comments

Is Morales the next Kerensky?

There appears to be an incipient debate developing amongst left wing activists as to the nature of the Morales government, and even more specifically, as to how the geo-political anti- US imperialist initatives of the Lula's and Correa's jibe with a neo-liberal, extractive continuity internally.

For an other take on the events in Potosi and their ramifications, see Jeff Webber's article in Upside Down World. Jeff is presently in LaPaz and has several books to his credit on the rise of the mass struggle in Bolivia, and the political orientation of the Morales government.

It is clear from his analsysis that the masses in struggle are beginning to break politically from the Morales government, that the MAS doesn't exist as an instrument for co-ordinating the struggles of the popular organisations, and that the theory of Andean-Amazonian capitalism has reached the end of the road and has not been able to deliver the goods to the popular sectors, only the World Bank and IMF.

At a deeper level, what is required is a through and respectful debate as to how and if the geopolitical initatives of forging anti-imperialist alliances opens or closes the doors of opportunities for deepening revolutionary processes at the level of the mass movement, and how revolutionary socialists should orient to this complex political landscape. Here Lenin and Trotsky's writings on Kerensky are, from an historical perspective, apropos, or so I believe.

Are the masses breaking with MAS neoiberalism?

I agree that there is "an incipient debate developing amongst left wing activists as to the nature of the Morales government" as well as other radical left governments (see recent articles by Mike Gonzalez, Raul Zibechi, Wallerstein, etc). Moreover i agree that "what is required is a through and respectful debate."

Hence im interested to know what exactly it is that you find in Webber's article that proves "that the masses in struggle are beginning to break POLITICALLY from the Morales government"? What do you interpret Andean-Amazonian capitalism to be and why "has reached the end of the road and has not been able to deliver the goods to the popular sectors, only the World Bank and IMF."

Webber has a long term stance of opposition to Morales and the MAS. His thesis is that its election in 2005 represented the end of the revolutionary cycle in Bolivia. So i understand why he feels compelled to say that nothing has changed under Morales and that as he predicted the masses are moving beyond MAS. But i fail to see the actually evidence, even in his own article. That is why i would appreciate you pointing out which bits of his article convince you of his take so i can try and write a more thorough response.

In solidarity
Fred

Compa Fuentes: I am a bit

Compa Fuentes:

I am a bit puzzeled by your questions as the thrust of Jeffrey Webber's article "The Rebellion in Potosi: Uneven Development, Neoliberal Continuities and a Revolut Against Poverty in Bolivia" which appeard in Upside Down World the day after your article, is precisely axed around these two questions: are the masses begining to break with the neoliberalism of the MAS, and has the economic orientation of the MAS, which the Vice President Garcia has himself defined as Andean-Amazonian capitalism, resulted in a notable improvement in the standards of living of the Bolivian people.

In answer to your question of what evidence exists as to the masses beginning to break with the MAS, Companero Webber gives the examples of the LaPaz factory workers, the teachers and health care workers, the FEJUVE-ElAlto, the federation of factory wokers of Cochabamba, the indigenous organization CIDOB, the cocaleros of Yungas, etc.in the section titled "The Rupture in Potosi and the Rising Discontent of the Popular Classes".

As to the question of the continuities of the neoliberal economic policy and its effect on the living standards of the Bolivian people, the section of the article titled "Reconstituted Neoliberalism" is replete with statistical information which bolsters that argumentation. I would point you especially to the footnotes which accompany that article.

As to the larger theoretical question regarding the nature of the left wing governments in Latin America, to define the class character of a government is dependent upon its political program, and the activities it undertakes to articulate that program. There will be larger frameworks of definition,but ultimately it all reduces itself to the questions of power: who wields it and for what purposes.

I think it would be a mistake to try and characterise the government of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador as one and the same thing. I believe there a determining set of characteristics of the Bolivarian revolution which seperates it from that of Correa or Morales, for example.

The one thing they have in common is that each started out as a multi-class front whose aim was to complete the democratic revolution's tasks left uncompleted by a national bourgeois and oligarchy whose links with imperialism were so intertwined that there was no possibility of those tasks carried through to there conclusion; in particular the tasks of national independence and political sovereignty.

I look forward to reading your response to Companero Webber's article.

Sol y lucha

Elena

Im sorry Elena, but i still

Im sorry Elena, but i still dont see any evidence in Webber's article to justify his claim such as "the mining regime that prevails in Potosí, as elsewhere in the country, is fundamentally neoliberal, and that this is a MAS strategy". Just do a search for terms such as Mutun (the massive iron ore mine in Santa Cruz) or Coro Coro (in La Paz) the two most important contracts signed under the Morales government, or Huanuni or Vinto (both of which were nationalised under the Morales government), the most important elements of the governments mining policy are not only not criticised they are simply ignored! If you want a more balanced look at the Morales government mining policy see my article http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/44103
And in regards to "what evidence exists as to the masses beginning to break with the MAS" first i will say that the key here is to back up claims that there is a POLITICAL break from the MAS and not simply local protests for just demands. Secondly to not realise that the complex nature of the MAS means that various social sectors are constantly "breaking" with the MAS means not understanding what the MAS is, its limitations and how it could overcome it. See http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=110733&titular=la-"crisis-del-mas"-y-los-analistas-
COncretely, Webber mentions the LaPaz factory workers (never an organic part of the MAS), the teachers and health care workers (this is a bold statement, the rural teachers have far from broken with the MAS, a section of the urban teachers has been controlled by the ultraleft anti-Morales trotskyists for the last 2 decades, etc), the FEJUVE-ElAlto (a simply motion does not represent a break, i recall speaking to several FEJUVE leaders prior to MOrales elections saying they would never support the betrayor Morales only to be ministers weeks later), the federation of factory wokers of Cochabamba (never were part of MAS, led by Oscar Olivera, poster boy of the international anti-Morales left but who within Bolivia today is irrelevant), the indigenous organization CIDOB (this is about the six time they have "broken" with MAS, just like CONAMAQ), and the cocaleros of Yungas (here is a complex issue involving a former MAS senator and claims he was using his position to give jobs to the boys).
So forgive me if my questions puzzled you, but they remain unanswered, and i dont expect one from Webber. Hence why i will not be replying directly to Webber and will instead focus and giving a factual and detailed analysis of the situation.
In solidarity
Fred

Compa Fuentes: Like most

Compa Fuentes:

Like most readers of LINKS I suspect who are not "experts" on the dynamics of the political situation in Bolivia, we rely upon people like yourself and Jeff Webber to present a portrait of the actual situation. If there is a difference of opinion as to what is actually taking place, it is the result of either a disagreement as to the facts of the situation (as opposed to an interpretation of those facts), or it is the use of the facts in a selective and abstracted manner so as to marshall an internal logic of argumentation for purposes of providing a PARTICULAR political spin.

In the case of the two articles cited previously, yours and Compa Webber's which appeared in Upside Down World one day apart, there does not appear to be any discrepancy between the facts as presented by either you or Jeff, just the interpretation of the meaning of these facts, as an attempt to bolster a particular political orientation.

I am not intending to give an interpretation of either Jeff Webber's or your political position vis a vis the Morales government, I would rather that this be presented in an open way by both of you, which is why I am prodding you and Jeff to discuss the nature of the situation from a perspective of the class character of the MAS, and the nature of the dynamics unfolding within this framework. In other words, to try and discuss what appear to be differences at the level of the interpretation of selected events, leads us nowhere other than a circular argument as to interpretation.

I believe it is more fruitful and positive to start at the point of clearly defining what is the nature of the Morales government, and then discussing the strategic and tactical implications of that analysis, recognizing that a difference in analysis as to the character of the MAS and Morales will lead to different strategic and tactical conclusions. Sorry if this appears obvious, but clarity is what is needed here.

Let me give the following personal opinion as an illustration of what I mean. I believe that the MAS is multi-class revolutionary front with a petite bourgeois leadership (in the sense that the peasantry is petite bourgeois) which limits its ability to carry through the national democratic tasks of radical redistribution of the land, and the break from imperialism in a structural way which would allow for the development of a national bourgoise. Indeed, the indigenous bourgeois and oligarchy is so tied up with imperialism it has to be labeled comprador.

The orientation of the Morales government reflects this character, that is it is subject to intense internal class pressures which both you and Jeff Webber identify in your articles; the weakness organizationally and politically of the MAS itself, and the inability to define a revolutionary socialist project as a response to the problems facing Bolivia's masses is a result of both the class character of the MAS and the petite bourgeois ideology of its leadership.

But precisely because this petite bourgeois leadership is subject from class pressures, sometimes complimentary and sometimes contradictory, it exhibits this contradictory character. On the one hand, it has firmly identified with the ALBA process and the need to build an anti-imperialist bloc of South American nations, on the other hand it has continued to maintain an open door policy towards foreign capital in the extractive sector at a rate of rent which is intolerably low.

Thus the inability of the Morales government to satisfy the rising expectations of the masses for bread, land and popular control is appearing in mass actions like those in Potosi, the teachers' strike by the URBAN teachers, the election results in El Alto and other hotbeds of revolutionary self-organization at the last national election, etc.

Or, am I wrong in this way of looking at things? If so, I need to know where. That is way your last sentence disturbs me, I was looking forward to a reply to Jeff Webber at the level of a discussion in the difference in analysis of the nature of the Morale's government, so as to uncover the bias behind the discrepancies in the two articles. Please reconsider this, as it will be a most instructive experience for LINKS readers. More importantly, it will be another step along the road towards Revolutionary Unity if that discussion can be carried out by companeros in an attitude of respect and of learning from one another.

In sol and la lucha,

Elena

The source of confusion

Sorry Elena, but i still remained puzzled by the purpose of this debate. Here is why
In your initial comment you wrote:
"It is clear from [Webber's] analsysis that the masses in struggle are beginning to break politically from the Morales government, that the MAS doesn't exist as an instrument for co-ordinating the struggles of the popular organisations, and that the theory of Andean-Amazonian capitalism has reached the end of the road and has not been able to deliver the goods to the popular sectors, only the World Bank and IMF.
You prefaced it with the comment that "There appears to be an incipient debate developing amongst left wing activists as to the nature of the Morales government"
But the reality is that there has been a debate since Morales first took power on this issue (see for instance my articles http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/34282 and http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/40777) Webber and co believe the Bolivian revolution ended when Morales was elected to power and that the MAS represents a simple continuation of the past. I don't and have written extensively on this and my views on the nature of the Morales government.
What i took umbrage to is the idea that somehow Webber's analysis in anyway proves "the masses in struggle are beginning to break politically from the Morales government, that the MAS doesn't exist as an instrument for co-ordinating the struggles of the popular organisations, and that the theory of Andean-Amazonian capitalism has reached the end of the road."
Sure, people will intepret facts to justify preconcieved ideas. That is why it is impossible for Webber to see that Morales government is not implementing neoliberalism, because Webber said 5 years ago that Morales would. That's his choice. But he has to prove facts. That is why i question such comments becuase any serious look at the mining policy of the Morales government can only lead to facts that contradict the idea of Morales pursuing a policy of continuing neoliberalism (leaving open the interpretation of what it represents).
Im happy to continue either discussion (the concretes of Morales government policy or the general nature of it). But for now i have to finish an article on the outcomes of the Potosi rebellion for the next issue of GLW
Abrazos
Fred

Copa Fuentes: Thank you for

Copa Fuentes:

Thank you for your response. I believe the source of confusion is in the concept of "breaking politically". The revolt in Potosi is a good example. The masses are voting with their feet against what they believe to be the lack of activities on their behalf by the Morales government. I think you may be interpreting the notion of "breaking politically" as an electoral rejection of the MAS (which given the outcome of the last national election cycle one could reasonably argue that that portions of the vanguard did break with the MAS on the electoral level).

What I would argue at this level, given the nature of the information available, is that a dynamic of struggle based on rising expectations is underway, and the government is seen by a minority of social activists as not representing their interests.

In my previous email I put forward a characterization of the Morales government. I would be curious to read a brief summary of your characterization. Is it a workers and farmers government, in the classical use of the term? Does it have as its program the socialist transformation of Bolivia? What is its strategy of development, if as you say it is not following a neoliberal economic policy of extraction?

Asking these questions does not imply a lack of support for the anti-imperialist process underway in Bolivia. What these questions raise is the discussion needed to develop a unified political approach in both building solidarity with the mass struggles, and in deepening our understanding of the complex nature of this process.

In particular I am confused by the nature of this discussion, particularly in the last portion of your article. One the one hand you seem to support Morales call for a strengthened bourgeois state, after the quote by Stefanoni: " It is in the construction of the state that the success or failure of the reforms underway will play out"...

On the other hand you seem to be calling for a new political formation which can replace a "debilitated MAS", in order to carry out the construction of the state.

You can appreciate my confusion on this point when a socialist calls for the strengthening of the capitalist state, unless of course you believe that the bourgeois state has been replaced by a workers' state, which I don't believe you do.

Since you asked the question, it is for these reasons that the need for an informed discussion is necessary. For example,your own description of Morales rising above the party and the state to act as arbitrator and mediator is a perfect description of the appearance of Bonapartism. Is this what you mean by your description? It is not clear from the context and content of your article.

As to Jeff Webber's analysis that the revolution somehow ended after the 20056 period, I am not sure that is his present position, particularly after the mobilization of the mass movement to defeat the oligarchy and the developing neo-facsist terrorism of the far right of the Media Luna. If indeed he believes that the revolutionary process has somehow ended in Bolivia, then I think his analysis is wrong. The Revolt in Potosi should have washed away all doubts. Perhaps what it does signal is a new cycle of revolutionary mobilizations outside the structures of the MAS, which will begin to pose the question of the actual wielding of power by the masses, through their mass assemblies and revolutionary councils.

And that is why I titled the response to your original article "Is Morales the Next Kerensky?" Given the information and analysis in both your and Jeff Webber's articles,I believe it is a legitimate question to ask. Or am I wrong?

Look forward to reading your new article on Potosi in GLW.

En sol y lucha

Elena

Why we should not romanticize Potosí

An odd thing has happened in the last couple weeks. Observers of Bolivian politics from the Andean Information Network, to Federico Fuentes, to Jeffery Webber and Ben Dangl have come to the conclusion that recent protests in Potosí represent the "rupture" between the MAS led government and popular revolutionary classes in Bolivia. This is a delusional position for a number of reasons.

There is no doubt the protests represent a rupture between MAS and a population which has been previously very supportive of its politics. However, MAS has conflicted with its supportive base before and will continue to in the future. Accessing the relative importance and character of this lastest break requires careful and specific analysis.

1. All of these analyses ignore the question of contraband law, which orginially sparked the protests and roadblocks, and of which I previously wrote. At best, Jeffery Webber dimisses the question as unimportant.
.
2. There is no denying that broad demands relating to regional poverty and unfullfilled expectations in Potosí played an important part in fueling the protests. However, ignoring the question of contraband and the reactionary character of the elite civicos leading the protests has lead our authors astray, writing about the protests as if they were some kind of proletarian or multidudian popular rebellion. The simple fact that protests never spread beyond Potosí and were assuaged quickely in Oruro attests to the limited regionalist nature of the protests.

3. Romanticizing the leftist nature of the protests has led to sloppying analysis, casting the Potosí protest together with distintically different challenges to MAS from other sectors over the past six months. Fuentes, Webber, and Dangl breathlessly tie the Potosí protest to the indigenous CIDOB march and few even pachamamismo. The Potosí civicos were not demanding MAS deepen the revolutionary process, radically apply the new constitution, or impliment the October Agenda. Where were the demands for nationalization? Instead the civicos simply demanded more money, infrastructure, and mineral explotive projects be brought to the region. In practical terms these demands put Potosí in conflict with pachamamismo and the environmental grievences of Mesa 18.

4. There is no doubt that now that the rightwing is defeated in national politics MAS is facing challenges from different sectors of its base. But do these desperate protests yet represent a united radical leftist synthesis challenging the current leftist government? Only in the imaginations of some authors.

http://casa-del-duderino.blogspot.com/2010/08/why-we-should-not-romantic...

Misrepresentation

Dear Duderino,

As a long time reader of your blog I was disappointed to see that you misrepresented the contents of my article. I did not even suggest that the protests in Potosi represent a major rupture between the MAS and the “revolutionary classes in Bolivia.” Nor do I write that the protests signify a “united radical leftist synthesis challenging” the MAS government. My article made no explicit connections between Potosi and the demands of the CIDOB march beyond suggesting that these protests and actions were among many across Latin America (I also mention the strategies of the MST in Brazil, the debate around the ecological impact of extractive industries, and the analysis of others the social forum in Paraguay) that are part of a very diverse, regional dance between citizens and governments over the directions of their nations following the rise of leftist governments.

Saludos,
Ben Dangl

AIN also chimes in on misrepresentation

AIN would like to chime in on your misrepresentation of our posts. We, too, are disappointed that, uncharacteristically, your reading of our analysis seems rushed and strident. For example, in an earlier post on Potosi you critique what you misread as AIN's allusion to the Sucre Capitalia protests in 2007. In fact, we made reference to conflicts there in 2008. Nowhere in either of our recent Potosi memos did we profess the “delusional position” that the protests represented a “rupture” between MAS and popular movements.

In general, we tried to describe the pressure on MAS to respond to demands from its traditional support base, and explain the challenges that remain for both the national and Potosi regional governments. Our memos do not support one side or the other, but instead seek to tease out the complexities of these protests under the Morales administration, where all side have some noble goals and less noble complex political interests. The protests in Potosí were not a “new kind” of demonstration, but the expectations of protestors were higher.. Nowhere in our analysis did we suggest that a “united radical leftist synthesis” is challenging the MAS administration, since the demands from various social sectors are concrete and specific.

As to whether the contrabandistas started protests, your analysis could certainly explain the timing of protests. However, the demonstrations became a chance for civic groups to get what they wanted and for Mayor Rene Joaquino to buy some time before he was suspended. Furthermore, most demands for greater infrastructure would bring greater state presence and control, not at all favorable to moving contraband.

We were surprised about your strongly worded critiques of our and other accounts of the Potosí protests. You generally offer careful, well-balanced arguments. We can agree to disagree without characterizing divergent views as figments of “imagination” or “delusional.”

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