Bolivia's vice-president defends MAS government’s record

Interview with with Álvaro García Linera, vice-president of Bolivia, by Maristella Svampa, Pablo Stefanoni and Ricardo Bajo, from August 2009 Bolivian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique. English translation and notes by Richard Fidler for the Bolivia Rising blog. Available in Spanish at

September 11, 2009 --  What is the explanation for the weakening of the opposition after more than two years of confrontations?

For President Evo Morale’s government the Constituent Assembly offered the possibility of arming a broad collective ensemble of all the country’s social forces. We placed ourselves at the head of this effort to build a new constitutional consensus. Internally, within the people, we had to pull together the popular bloc — not an easy task, because there was a lot of corporate diversity — and then we had to follow this up with the opening to the other social sectors, who are an important opposition albeit a minority.

And in doing so we indicated our willingness to be flexible in our political positions, to yield in our demands, and to include everyone. But the opposition social bloc had defined a strategy of blocking or suspending the constituent process, that is, of blocking a resolution of the power structure, and opted to reject the Assembly agreements in one way or another. Its objective was to prolong the crisis of the state that had first developed in 2000, to weaken the government in the hope that at some point the correlation of forces would allow the resolution of the crisis in its favour.

And even so, we for our part were insistent. The debate on the so-called “two thirds” at the end of 2006(1) was an initial symptom of what was at stake, and of the decision of a sector that was ill-disposed to accept its position as a democratic political minority. And in the two thirds and in the issue of the Constituent Assembly’s paramountcy, we yielded, we retreated, but at the same time, in return, we pushed for the consolidation of a social and political majority that also developed into a decision-making majority in the Assembly.

The second major moment of confrontation was on the issue of making Sucre the capital. It revived a century-old issue that had led to a civil war in 1899, spearheading efforts to bring about a suspension of the Constituent Assembly. Here the right-wing opposition bloc of civic leaders and prefects [department governors] revealed just how far it was willing to go — to jeopardize the lives of Assembly members and frustrate the possibility of reaching a national agreement. Confronted with this scenario, we again offered enormous concessions.

Viewed from a distance, the civic leadership in Sucre, backed by the elites in Santa Cruz, was gaining a large number of victories: almost one third of the sessions of the Congress to be held in Sucre; the offices of the Ombudsman, the Attorney General, perhaps the National Electoral Court, a set of institutions that endowed Sucre with administrative and economic relevancy, as well as more rapid access to construction of a set of infrastructure projects. But we weren’t going to accept that. And, realizing that nothing was to be gained by agreeing, or by battling indefinitely over this, we threw ourselves into the process of approving the New Constitution, in plenary in La Calancha, and then in Oruro(2). That is, we resolved to define the structure of state power, using our majority in the Constituent Assembly.

And at that time you talked about a “point of bifurcation”.

Yes, I am getting to that. Despite all this, we made a new attempt and we went looking for Rubén Costas, for Leopoldo Fernández at his estate, we went looking for Branko Marinkovic and, lastly, we proposed a process of détente to the people around Jorge Quiroga. At that point it was crystal clear that there was a minority sector that was going to impede by every means possible a solution via the national-popular project to the governmental crisis initiated in 2000.

And frankly, we needed the Constituent Assembly to build the new state, to anchor in enduring state institutions and relations of command the new correlation of forces reached by the Indigenous popular movement in the 2000-2005 cycle of mobilizations. Basically, what a Constitution does is to solidify a series of irreversible points of support, conquests and controls historically achieved through a society’s power struggles. And the ultimate proof of this commitment to confrontation of the minority right-wing opposition came when they initiated the call for departmental referendums on the autonomy statutes to be carried out in May 2008. What they were trying to do was to find a way to dispute, de facto, the regional political power, in the hope of achieving a regionalized dual power or hostile vertical split in the structure of the state. It had come to that, there was no point of return. The right wing was not prepared to be included in the national-popular project as a minority and subordinate force, and opted for territorial conflagration.

The struggle for power was being brought closer to the moment of its belligerent or ultimate resolution, in the sense that, in the last analysis, the state power is coercion. To what we have termed the “point of bifurcation”, or the moment when the crisis of the state, which began eight years earlier, would now be resolved either through a restoration of the old state power or through the consolidation of the new bloc of popular power. This is the moment when the new state order begins replicating itself.

And all this through the deployment, measurement or confrontation of naked force of the two polarized blocs. The point of bifurcation is the exceptional moment, of short duration, basic but decisive, when the “prince” abandons the language of seduction and asserts his authority through his belligerent coercive tactics. So the arrival of this day of force was a now a question of time and between May and September of 2008 we prepared for that moment.

It was a belligerent, or potentially belligerent, moment. The golpista [coup-mongering] right wing carried out its referendums and gradually began to form small regional powers that refused to recognize the government’s authority. We understood this signal and we resorted to an encircling strategy, as the military calls it, using both the coercive mechanisms of the state and social mobilization.

By May of 2008 we were engaged in an analytical evaluation, together with the social organizations and our Armed Forces, of the major risks that existed in the country and preparing contingency plans to confront a possible radicalization of the right-wing golpista strategy.

We drew up an initial contingency plan involving a huge national mobilization in defence of democracy that was not executed but was now elaborated on both the social and military planes. In August, they were betting on an electoral defeat of the government that would deprive us of democratic legitimacy, but we won the recall referendum. The government’s democratic support, far from receding, increased, from 54% [in the December 2005 presidential election] to 67%, consolidating a social majority throughout the national territory including in regions previously dominated by the opposition.

This unhinged the right. After two years of a strategy of constituent blockade, they had been hoping for a rapid return to power, starting from their base in some departments. But the recall vote expanded the national legitimacy of President Evo’s government and spread the political force of the Indigenous-popular bloc to all of the departments.

Instead of understanding the moment, the right decided to attack. The rules of war — and politics is the extension of war by other means — teach us that when an opponent is strong he should not be attacked directly, and when an army is weak it should never promote or agree to embark on a battle against a stronger army. Everything the right did was exactly the contrary of this ABC of the struggle for power. It blindly threw itself into a confrontation at the very moment when the government was strongest politically and electorally and the right was least likely to extend its base of support; and that was when its defeat began.

After the results of the August recall referendum, the civic-gubernatorial bloc began to escalate its golpista strategy: they seized institutions, we waited; they attacked the police, we waited; they destroyed and dismantled public institutions in four departments, we waited; they disarmed soldiers, we waited; they seized airports, we waited; they destroyed pipelines, we waited. They were running riot in a blind alley. They used violence against the state, providing the moral justification for a crushing response to them from the state, which it then began to deploy on a huge scale. And when they set fire to public institutions and destroyed them they lost their legitimacy in the eyes of their own social base, exposed in a matter of hours as a handful of violent punks. And then came the incidents in Pando....(3) The governor triggered the massacre in Pando in an attempt to provide a warning signal to the leaders of the mass movement — and in doing so exceeded the level of tolerance of Bolivian society as a whole.

The massacre of campesinos placed the governors on an equal footing with their mentors [former presidents] Sánchez de Losada or García Meza, and placed in the hands of the state the legal obligation to intervene quickly and overwhelmingly in defence of democracy and society.

And without a moment’s hesitation, it was to do so in the weakest link of the golpista chain, Pando. This was the first state of siege declared in defence and protection of the society, with the full support of the people horrified by the action of the golpistas.

Together with the international rejection of the golpistas, this stopped the civic-gubernatorial initiative in its tracks, resulting in its disorganized retreat. This was the moment of a popular counter-offensive, with the social and popular organizations in the front lines even in the department of Santa Cruz. It was not only the campesinos and colonizers [settlers] who mobilized but the inhabitants of the plebeian neighborhoods of Santa Cruz, and especially urban youth who, in memorable days of resistance to the fascist gangs, defended their districts and broke the clientelist domination of the Santa Cruz lodges.

The government’s firm and overwhelming political and military response to the coup, together with the strategy of social mobilization in and around Santa Cruz created a virtuous articulation of social and state forces seldom seen in Bolivia’s political history.

That was the dimension and general extension of the “army” and the “mobilized divisions” in opposition to the coup. That was the shock force that the Indigenous-popular project deployed for the defining moment of force.

The right wing saw that its shock forces were isolated and disorganized, realized that the Indigenous-popular command was politically prepared to go all the way, and chose instead to renounce its intentions and surrender. This brought to a close the cycle of state crisis and political polarization, and imposed, in a violent confrontation between the respective social forces, the lasting structure of the new state. Something similar happened in 1985, when the miners, who were the nucleus of the nationalist state, surrendered to the army divisions defending the neoliberal project.(4)

This time it was the turn of the business and landlord bloc to be defeated and give way to a new correlation of political forces in the society. In its own way, September-October of 2008 had the same state effect as the defeat of the “march for life” of the miners in 1986. Except that now it is the plebeian bloc that is celebrating the victory and the wealthy elites have to accept their historic defeat. And this was followed by the political validation by the parliament of this popular triumph. On top of the series of electoral and military victories, the Indigenous-popular government has institutionally entrenched the correlation of forces achieved in the moment of the “point of bifurcation”. And it did so through the congressional approval of the New Political Constitution of the State.

The Congress was transformed for several days into a kind of constituent Congress that combined the work completed by the Constituent Assembly nine months earlier, the government’s agreements with the minority bloc of conservative governors reached in the previous weeks, and the popular deliberation of the march from Caracollo to La Paz undertaken by the worker, Indigenous, compesino and popular organizations with president Evo at their head.(5) In the new circumstance it was clear that the Indigenous-popular axis of the government was imposing itself by its own weight on the constitutional order of the state. But at the same time, the remaining social sectors (middle classes, small and medium-sized business interests, etc.) were interacting on the basis of their own debate in the Constituent Assembly. Even the conservative bloc living off rents from the land, expressed politically by the governors and civic organizations, was taken into account, but of course as a social subject led by the new Indigenous-popular governmental nucleus, and to a lesser degree than it would have been had it accepted the call for a formal agreement issued by the government in 2006-2007. It cannot be overlooked that this political work also would serve to snatch from the right the banner of autonomy behind which it had concealed its defence of large estates and business profiteering.

That is how the national-popular bloc not only consolidated itself materially in the state structure, but took control of the three discursive axes of the new state order that will guide all the political debates of the following decades: plurinationality, autonomy, the leading role of the state in the economy. Seen from a distance, notwithstanding all the conflicts of the last three years, in terms of the enduring results, things could not have worked out better for the national-popular bloc now in power. In the end, the conditions conceded to the adversaries might have been much greater in an agreement reached in the Constituent Assembly than those recognitions and inclusions conceded to a defeated and retreating adversary, which proves that history is not always on the wrong side, as Hegel thought.

So the electoral victory was consolidated in August, the military victory in September, and the political victory in October, with the congressional approval of the constitutional referendum. And with that, the constituent cycle was definitively closed and from then on the structure of unipolar order of the new state order began to operate.

To what degree might this obvious debilitation of the opposition redirect tensions toward the interior of the pro-government bloc, given that an ambushed opposition is always very effective at uniting its own bases?

I do not think the opposition has been definitively routed, however. The opposition now has no agenda for power, it lacks a mobilizing discourse at the state level, but it still has great economic power, great power in the media and a huge veto power over many things.

It continues to be a dangerous adversary. In the economic sphere the state has certainly dealt it some powerful blows, dismantling some of the economic power of the conservative strata: the rentier and intermediary bourgeoisie no longer has the oil and gas enterprises as its generous financiers. The agrarian clientelist network that the rentier class have created in the agro-industrial sphere has been enormously weakened with the presence of EMAPA, the state company supporting food production(6), and the public presence in the soybean, wheat and rice chain, which accounts for some 20 to 30 percent of production. But the hard-line opposition bloc still retains other important spaces of agrarian, commercial and financial power, and that gives it an extensive capacity for combining forces, lobbying and confrontation. But today, and this can last for several years, what it lacks is an agenda for government; for how long this will be the case, no one knows, but it is committed to stopping the further progress of the popular agenda.

While the popular classes were defeated in 1985 and materially destructured, followed by a slow cycle of reorganization, the right is in a different situation. The right has suffered a political blow, it has lost its control of the state, it has lost the capacity to seduce the society through state power, but it still has great economic power. The form of consolidation of the point of bifurcation differs when it is the popular sector that is defeated politically and materially, because when it is the business sector that undergoes defeat it can lose politically but retain economic power that enables it to hold a permanent veto power. So this is a broken and disoriented adversary but one with a capacity to block things. Now, in this scenario, in which the fundamental contradiction has been smoothed over, weakened, there arise greater possibilities for temptations within the central nucleus, that is true.

But why should those splittist tendencies in the history of many parties not be expected to thrive within the leading nucleus?

For various reasons. In the first place, no doubt, because of the overwhelming leadership of President Evo in the political and social structure of the state and in society itself. The character, charisma and support brought by President Evo is now so great that it is an objective limit on the existence of any other leadership that might contest the social base of the government and society.

But there is another relevant factor that explains the material limits on factionalism within the government: the absence of factions with economic power. The control over government departments that might have influence, networks, that allow the formation of economic factions.

It should be borne in mind that ours is a state with a budget that has increased from 600 million to 2300 or 2400 million dollars, and it is normal that, in some place or other, factions of economic power, nuclei that control investments, decisions, factories, revenues, manpower, will arise. This has happened in Brazil, in Argentina, in Venezuela. But here there has been created, up to now, and in a systematic and supervised way, a governmental working structure that impedes, that has impeded, the strengthening of consolidated nuclei of influence and economic power, not to mention property, with an operational capacity and autonomous political presence within the government. A number of factors have been at work: a high degree of rotation of public employees, presidential control over the day-to-day functioning of the government departments, but also an internal morale, a kind of governmental Spartanism demanding an ethic of public service that has up to now limited the crystallization of the factions of economic power that would potentially introduce political factionalism.

Because of that, there is a very hard and unified nucleus around the President that helps to ensure that centrifugal tendencies do not emerge internally. This is the intention, to build a morale of public service in the decision-making core of the government. But what is happening at the base? Víctor Paz Estenssoro ascribed the end of the National Revolution to the existence of too many members of the MNR to fill the jobs available.

Couldn’t the same thing happen with the MAS government?(7)

Paz Estenssoro accepted this pressure of the self-seeking militant as a political habit, a perk in continuity with a political logic that he never tried to overcome. In Bolivia, ever since the 19th century, political activity has been seen as a means of social ascendancy more than a means to provide service to the res publica. In fact, the material structure of the social classes in Bolivia operates so that the processes of transition to and from a class depend not on whether or not one has the cultural capital for social advancement but on one’s political capital, that is, the political networks and influence that guarantee access to private property. That was an exclusive monopoly of caste and lineage until 1952, when it was extended to the middle classes and leadership levels of the trade unions.

Nowadays, there are sectors that press for greater “democratization” of this system and demand the right to public office as a perk for belonging to some regional leadership of the MAS. The government has responded to this pressure and degeneration of political militancy by severely rejecting and sanctioning it. Why did we expel Adriana Gil in 2006? Because a nucleus of MAS members had formed who would occupy an institution in order to demand that positions in it be awarded to them.(8)

In April of that year, we expelled some people who wanted to continue with the old practice of public office being contingent on party membership. From that time on, the President himself not only established a political ethic of public administration as a service, but made it very clear that the compañeros who joined the MAS should not hope to be part of the administrative structures of the state and that, on the contrary, they should strive to strengthen the organizational and ideological structure of the party.

If the changes in the personnel of the state are compared historically between our management of government and those before us, it will be found that we have not made 20 percent of the changes that previous administrations implemented. In the days of the MIR, ADN and the MNR(9), neither the caretakers nor the drapes in the Presidential Office were spared the party “sweep”. So it is of no concern to us that there are many members and few positions; on the contrary, you are a member, so you do not have a position. And we have emphasized this, consistent with the conception of politics as a kind of lengthy “military service” in the interest of society.

But doesn’t that impede the formation of cadres within the MAS itself?

This is a major problem, but not so much because of that. One of the major weaknesses of our political structure, of this process, is the absence of political and technical cadres. In the world revolutions the parties that formed the government have previously had decades of preparation and selection of cadres that enabled them to shoulder the changes in the society with greater organizational muscle.

The MNR itself, which was formed in the 1930s, had more than 15 years of training before acceding to government. But the MAS, which arose in 1995 as a local political structure, only recently, in 2000-2001, set out to build a national structure aimed at taking power, and by 2005 was elected to government.

It had barely four years of preparation. And that has generated difficulties, since in the basic political nucleus the MAS is not a cadre structure but a flexible coalition of social movements. It has worked to promote the organizational aspect of the cadres, but the rapid growth in urban levels has forced it to reassert the trade union membership discipline in the face of more liberal and patronage-ridden practices characteristic of urban levels. When the party was formed, the structure, for want of a better word, of functional urban cadres was parallel to the agrarian union structure and shared the political decision-making levels. But once in government, a part of the urban structure devoted itself to seeking posts, which is why, in order to limit this type of deviations and practices, it was decided in 2007 that in the national, departmental and regional levels the party structures would be under the control of the social organizations.

So how are positions filled?

Since we have become the government, the mechanisms for selection based on merit have been reinforced in the technical levels of the civil service, and politically sensitive positions are screened by the national social organizations. Since 2007, appointments to such positions are no longer processed through the departmental management lists.

What effect has the Santos Ramírez affair had on the government’s economic agenda, given that YPFB is an emblematic company in that process?(10)

YPFB is not only the emblematic company, it is the company that sustains the country economically and the material basis of our reconquered sovereignty. It has a cash flow of some 3,500 million dollars, and for Bolivia that is a lot of money. In terms of assets, YPFB controls between 2,200 and 2,300 million dollars on behalf of the state. Today, 50 percent of our exports are oil and gas and those exports go through YPFB. It is the crown of the Bolivian economy and must be one of the twenty largest businesses in Latin America.

The initial news about the corruption in YPFB was a very harsh blow since it struck the country’s emblematic business, but on top of that it was the work of a compañero who was potentially one of the most likely successors to President Evo in the MAS political leadership.

And we responded immediately and just as harshly: removing Ramírez forthwith from control of the company and publicly supporting the investigations by the state prosecutor. In doing so, we broke with the old tradition of the traditional parties of concealing, delaying or covering up corruption by their politically influential members. We decided to signal something new: in this government, and where the people’s interests are involved, there are no friends, no families, no militants, no pals or flunkies. There are those who serve and those who are corrupt, and the latter will be sent to jail, regardless. We cannot allow the least inkling of error or suspicion in the leading cadre. The order was clear: that justice take its course and that no one should exert pressure. Great care was taken to ensure that no level of the state would interfere, pressure, or suggest anything at all in favour of Santos. But the damage is done. It will take months before the wound is healed. But again, there is a notable lack of cadres.

That’s why we have had to adopt a law that allows salaries higher than the President’s for technical staff in strategic enterprises. It’s our local form of the Leninist NEP — the New Economic Policy in post-revolution Russia. The goal of the NEP, in addition to the alliance with the peasants, was fundamentally to recruit technicians to administer the subordinate levels of the state, given that while the state is a political structure it has bureaucratic-administrative and technical-scientific levels that require knowledge and skills that cannot be rapidly acquired or transformed.

To put an end to the economic catastrophe he faced in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, Lenin had to rehire the technicians from the old state, until a simpler administration was gradually created. And he ordered that below each technician there be placed a youth who would learn, and we are doing the same thing.

We began this back in 2006, changing the organization and individuals at the decision-making levels of the civil service (ministers, deputy ministers and some managers), but we did not touch the secondary structure of the state administration until younger staff could be trained to substitute for the older ones. Now we have new challenges: state-owned companies that are getting much bigger within one, two or three years.

We need competent people, who have to be recruited in the labour market. Hence the route we have taken: political control vested in the decision-making levels and excellent technical staff, with salaries many times higher than the managers of the companies in which they are working. An example is Carlos Villegas, who makes 13,000 Bolivianos, and a manager in Andina can earn 60,000 Bolivianos....; at this point we have no other option, until we have managed to train a new generation of public service workers with substantial technical efficiency but, in addition, a political commitment that allows a new equalization of the salary scale.

There is a very strong narrative in the government concerning decolonization. How does this objective translate in terms of cultural and educational policies?

There are various dimensions to decolonization and it is a major component in the politics of the social movements. We have inherited a society that is colonized through and through: economically, we had to beg foreign countries to pay salaries; politically, we had to ask permission from foreign embassies to appoint ministers; spiritually, the people thought that power was an argument over skin colour and family names; mentally, people thought that whatever came from foreign universities was knowledge and the rest was folklore. To smash this crockery clogging the vital energy of Bolivians, the first step we took was political decolonization: to make decisions as a country without consulting foreign governments. In the past, a government minister had to get the approval of the United States embassy; the minister of housing, the approval of the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.

A second moment is economic decolonization, which generally speaking means breaking with the outward flow of the surplus: the society generates a surplus in various ways — poetically, the open veins of Latin America — and this surplus would be transferred abroad in huge amounts.

So decolonization means staunching those bloodflows so that the surplus that is generated is reinvested within the country, which is what we have done with the nationalization decree and the gradual recovery of the public companies and the foreign exchange policies, the tax policies governing remittances of earnings, etc. The best example is the government take on oil and gas revenues. It varies between 65 and 77 percent, while previously it was 27 percent, that is, only 27 percent of the hydrocarbon profits remained in Bolivia. Today, for every 100 dollars in profits, between 65 dollars in the smaller fields and 77 dollars in the larger ones remains in the country. This is the material basis of economic sovereignty. Still to come is the other aspect, more enduring and more complicated, which is the cultural and spiritual decolonization of the society. This society broke with the colonizing paradigm by electing, for the first time in the history of this country, an Indigenous President. And from that moment on, all of the colonial system of symbols that imprisoned life and soul began to shatter irreversibly.

Now we have a campesino Indian governing Bolivia. Soldiers have to stand to attention before him; civil servants have to carry out his instructions; business people have to request audiences with him; and courts and rulers pay homage to him. Cultural decolonization has two axes, therefore, that must be addressed as complements. One has to do with the diversity of cultures, languages, histories and memories. And the other refers to the diversity of civilizations, that is, modes of production of the meaning of life, time, politics. Decolonization in the first of these axes, the cultural, is easier to achieve, and we now have experiences in other multicultural societies, such as Belgium, India or Canada: education in various languages, plurilingual public administration, plural historical narrative within the common national history, which comes to be a national history of various nations, etc. It will be mandatory for the schools and universities to teach such languages as Castilian Spanish (as a language of integration), a foreign language (as a language of communication with the world), and an Indigenous language that is dominant in the region (Aymara in La Paz, Quechua in Cochabamba, and Guaraní in Santa Cruz).

Within the state sphere, the civil servants have to learn one Indigenous language as well, depending on the region. Similarly, in government services, publications, speeches by public officials. And also in the realm of culture, the decolonization of memory, the official vindication or recovery of other heroes, and the dates commemorated by the Indigenous peoples. The diverse mestizo and Indigenous history must be officially recognized in textbooks. What is more complicated is decolonization from the civilizing standpoint; that has to be viewed now within the organizational and cognitive matrix of individuals. In the educational field, it involves reclaiming other knowledges, other discursive constructions, not necessarily written ones, of knowledge. How we are going to achieve this is part of a debate within the government; how we are going to preserve as public heritage what is written in the textiles (Aymara weavings), as state wisdom. It is a complicated debate.

In the area of healthcare, we have taken bigger steps, for example joining the doctor with the practitioner of traditional medicine, or placing the midwife alongside the nurse, for people to choose in the medical clinic. This is a prototype of wisdom and medical procedure that the state is beginning to institutionalize, even though there is no regulation yet of this local knowledge which is dispersed but corresponds to another civilization, not only to another culture.

Another logic, to understand what is death, life, blood, food. Politically, as well, we have made progress in incorporating communitarian democracy as one of the legitimate democracies in the mode of production of decisions in the state. Or the incorporation of social control via the trade-union, partnership and communitarian structures and even the state administration.

And in the economic sphere, we have incorporated, recognized, promoted and financed the communitarian structures as part of the productive area that must be decided on as a portion of the TGN investment.(11) This is a long and complicated process. But we have already begun to take decisive steps.

“Along with the law of the communities is the law of the state.” Listening to Evo Morales, we notice a discrepancy between his speeches in defence of Pachamama, the land and the territory, directed more toward the outside world, and a more developmentalist discourse within the country, including denunciations of the NGOs that promote a petroleum-free Amazon. How do you explain this?

Clearly, the campesino and communitarian productive logic is based on a type of productive rationality that is locally sustainable with nature, because it has as a foundation a logic of advances and returns between generations. Involved here is a material fact, that in order to guarantee the food that is present today, it is necessary to preserve the nutritional conditions for those who come after, which is conducive to a dialogical reading and a long-term sustainable relationship with nature.

The form in which this is rationalized and verbalized leads to the ritualized dialogue with nature, as a living body providing, by leave, whatever is necessary for reproduction, which is later returned and maintained to guarantee in the long term that metabolic exchange between human beings and nature. Adopting a concept of Marx in studying the rural commune in India in the Grundrisse, in the campesino civilization nature is presented, therefore, as an organic externalization of subjectivity. You cannot destroy your own body, therefore, as that would be suicidal. The campesino movement has defended and is going to defend a form of use of nature that we now call rational, as opposed to the processes of depredation peculiar to the civilization of surplus-value.

That’s why in Latin America, in the Indigenous-campesino movement, there has been a discursive construction of militant defence of the powers of nature in opposition to the expansive depredation of capitalist exploitation. With time, this agrarian and campesino productive logic became a political logic of confrontation with the neoliberal developmentalist state. The subject becomes more complex when the Indigenous campesinos, previously excluded from citizenship and economic power, become the leading bloc in the state and the communities become a part of the state, which is what has happened with us in Bolivia.

So, on the one hand, this logic of the dialogue with nature leads to state action; but at the same time, in as much as you are the state, you need resources and growing surpluses in order to meet basic necessities of all Bolivians including those most in need such as the Indigenous and popular urban and rural communities. And there, obviously, tension arises. Accordingly, you have to tread carefully. To expand environmental protection and the sustainable use of nature as a state policy, but at the same time you need to produce on a large scale, to implement processes of expansive industrialization that provide you with a social surplus that can be redistributed and support other processes of campesino, communitarian and small-scale modernization.

In the case of the gas and oil exploration north of La Paz, we are trying to produce hydrocarbons to balance geographically the society’s sources of collective wealth, to generate a state surplus and simultaneously preserve the spatial environment in coordination with the Indigenous communities. Today we are not opening a passage in the northern Amazon to allow the entry of Repsol or Petrobras. We are opening a passage in the Amazon to allow the entry of the state.

And who will ensure that the state will not be as destructive as the transnational companies?

We have to take care that it is not. Of course there will be a tension between social-state logic and a sustainable use of nature, and the social-state need to generate economic surpluses that are the state’s responsibility. It involves some tension, just like the “state of social movements”, between the democratization of power and a monopoly of decisions (social movement/state). We have to live with that vital contradiction of history. There are no recipes. Is it mandatory to get gas and oil from the Amazon north of La Paz? Yes. Why? Because we have to balance the economic structures of Bolivian society, because the rapid development of Tarija with 90 percent of the gas is going to generate imbalances in the long run.(12) It is necessary, accordingly, to balance in the long term the territorialities of the state. Likewise, we need economic surpluses in order to strengthen community structures, to expand them, to find means of modernization that are distinct alternatives to the destruction of the communal structures, as has been happening up to now. And at the same time it is necessary to promote, in agreement with the communities, a hydrocarbon production that is not destructive of the environment.

If the communities say no, is the state still going to enter?

Here is where the debate lies. What has happened? When we consulted the CPILAP(13), we were asked to go to negotiate in Brussels with its horde of lawyers and that we comply with some environmentalist statements published by USAID. How is that? Who is preventing the state from exploring for oil in the north of La Paz: the Tacanas Indigenous communities, an NGO, or foreign countries? That is why we have gone to negotiate community by community and there we have encountered the support of the Indigenous communities to drive ahead in petroleum exploration and development. The Indigenous-popular government has strengthened the long struggle of the peoples for land and territory.

In the case of the minority Indigenous peoples in the lowlands, the state has consolidated millions of hectares as historic territoriality of many peoples with a low population density. But combined with the right of a people to the land is the right of the state, of the state led by the Indigenous-popular and campesino movement, to superimpose the greater collective interest of all the peoples. And that is how we are going to go forward.


(1) The opposition parties in the Constituent Assembly argued that each individual article in the new Constitution, as drafted, had to be adopted by a majority of two-thirds of the votes, that is, more than the combined vote of the MAS deputies and their allies.

(2) Owing to right-wing harassment and threats, the Assembly met for a while in La Calancha, a military base, and then in Oruro, where the new Constitution was adopted in December 2007 without the attendance of the opposition. Following departmental autonomy referendums and the presidential recall referendum in 2008, which registered a shift in the political relationship of forces in favour of the MAS government, the draft Constitution was adopted with amendments by the Congress, then ratified in a popular vote throughout Bolivia in January 2009.

(3) Bolivian rightists organized violent antigovernment demonstrations in several departments in September 2008. In Pando a massacre that resulted in dozens of deaths, mainly of campesinos, led to charges of genocide against the governor, who had allegedly promoted the clashes.

(4) In 1985, a collapse of tin prices led the MNR government of Paz Estenssoro to lay off 20,000 miners and implement a “shock treatment” austerity program.

(5) The reference is to a mass march of many thousands from Caracollo in the department of Oruro to La Paz, the capital — a distance of 200 kilometres — in support of the new Constitution adopted in 2007 by the Constituent Assembly.

(6) EMAPA: Empresa de Apoyo a la Producción de Alimentos.

(7) Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS – Movement toward socialism).

(8) Adriana Gil, a former supporter of the MAS in Santa Cruz, has since organized her own party, the Social Democratic Force, to campaign against the MAS government.

(9)Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR – Revolutionary Left Movement); Acción Democrática Nacionalista (ADN – Nationalist Democratic Action); Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario (MNR – Revolutionary Nationalist Movement).

(10) Santos Ramírez, the president of YPFB, the state oil and gas company, was fired and arrested in February 2009 following reports that he had received payments from a shell company represented by a Bolivian oil industry executive who had recently signed a multimillion dollar contract with YPFB.

(11) TGN is an Argentine gas pipeline carrier that transports gas from Bolivia.

(12) Tarija is the southernmost department of Bolivia.

(13) Central de Pueblos Indígenas de La Paz.