Mercedes López San Miguel
The future president believes that his resounding victory confirms that Evo Morales won legitimately in 2019. He foresees that the charges against the former president will be dropped and he cautiously demands justice for the massacres that took place after the coup d’état.
Almost a year after the coup d’état, the victory of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), the party of Evo Morales, was overwhelming. The party led by Arce obtained 54.5 percent of the vote, 25 points behind its main rival Carlos Mesa (29.2).
Such a resounding victory reaffirms and reinforces the result of the October 2019 elections, which the Organization of American States (OAS) questioned by means of a biased report. A year ago, the candidate was Evo Morales and his contender, Mesa himself.
The former Minister of Economy, the architect of Bolivia’s successful economic model during the Morales governments (2006-2019), firmly argues: “Evidently, with such an overwhelming result it was clear that we also won last year, with a narrower difference, but above the ten percentage points that Bolivian law requires to avoid a second round. Comrade Evo won in the first round, cleanly. This Sunday, October 18, there was not the slightest doubt that in Bolivia there is a majority that prefers the Movement to Socialism”.
In times of remote interviews, Luis Arce appears on the screen seated, wearing a plaid shirt, responding with a slow tone and short phrases. From La Paz, Bolivia’s president-elect has reason to smile.
Does victory generate emotion in you?
Not so much because of the result, which has not been a surprise, but because it was really exciting to experience it with the comrades.
How did you take the greeting given to you by Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS?
It was an insult to the Bolivian people that the OAS came with practically the same delegation as last year, when it made such a stupendous and shameful report, and interfered in the affairs of the Bolivians by violating the rules of international observers. We are not happy to receive any compliments from the OAS, on the contrary, we are outraged because they came with the same people as last year.
Mexico and the Puebla Group are asking Almagro to step aside. Do you agree?
After having generated all those events that led to the coup d’état, which caused deaths, of course I agree.
In Argentina, those who lost the elections maintain decision-making power through an influential sector in the justice system. Do you think that the same risk exists in Bolivia?
There is always a risk in that sense. But with such a result that we had in the elections, everyone has thought about the need to generate a government of unity and to leave aside the internal fights in order to promote a positive climate for the development of the small, medium and large companies, and to get out of this economic crisis. We are facing an 11 percent economic downturn, which may deepen further if no action is taken. We understand that we all want to row the boat in the same direction.
Do you think that the accusations against Evo Morales for terrorism and sedition can be used to erode your government?
We understand that all these accusations that have been made against us, against me, against other leaders of the MAS, against peasants and leaders of the Bolivian Central Workers have been fabricated with political motivations. We are convinced that these trials will fall one by one. They have no legal basis, but strictly political.
Will you push for justice for the massacres in Senkata and Sacaba that took place after the coup, which left 21 dead and 200 wounded?
That is now in the hands of the judicial body, it is not in the hands of the Executive. These are the resources of the judicial branch, which must move forward in this work. We are committed to ensuring that this happens, but without interference. We are going to make sure that the legal procedures take place.
The coup d’état had the support of the police. The regime of Jeanine Áñez took a hard-line approach and action. Do you see threats with respect to the police forces?
Those who were involved in the coup have been the leadership of the police and the Armed Forces. Therefore, the base, the ordinary police, the underclasses of both institutions were not involved. There is a risk as long as the high commands of the police and the military are there, down below we see that there should be no threat. Last year, Mr. (Luis Fernando) Camacho’s father was seen going to talk to the authorities, where it was said that they brought enough money for the police and military to participate in the coup. We hope that the generations below us will be able to act with respect for the Constitution and the popular vote.
Do you foresee changes in the leadership?
Normally the high command is changed with the entry of the new government.
In eleven months of de facto government, what does Bolivia face?
The setback has been evident. Unemployment has dropped from 4.2 percent to about 12 percent, three times as high, and in the construction sector it has reached 30 percent, very large and negative figures. The recession is at -11 percent, when we were growing at 4 percent. There is a 16 percentage point drop in production. In addition, the fiscal deficit was 6 percent when I was Minister of Economy, now it has increased to more than 9 percent. The social indicators have also worsened: poverty has increased and the concentration of income in a few hands, which is a characteristic of the neoliberal model, that is, opening the gap between rich and poor. We have regressed in income distribution, there are many negative figures that are evident after this de facto government.
The pandemic has also worsened the economic situation.
Of course. We had already been in bad shape since the coup d’état in November because of mismanagement, and then came the pandemic in March that finished off the economy. Therefore, we saw the crisis coming with the bad decisions of the government and it deepened with covid-19. Even in the period from 1982 to 1984, when we had bad indicators, we had not been that bad. Now, with the overwhelming victory of the MAS, it is ratified that we have a majority that supports us. We see the optimism of various sectors of the population; expectations are already changing. When we handled the economy we had the best economic moments and social indicators.
You announced urgent actions as a bonus to combat hunger. What other measures will be a priority?
This measure is primary because it has to do with income redistribution to generate increased domestic demand and more spending by the population. On the other hand, we have to reactivate production; basically we have three star projects: industrialization with import substitution for small and medium enterprises, a security program with food sovereignty, and production of ecological diesel from the beginning of the administration. We are going to continue with our strategic scheme of keeping natural resources in the hands of the State.
How will you address a key resource like lithium, on which there are many private interests?
We will resume the program we have been proposing since October of last year with the aim of industrializing lithium and generating 42 new industries, which will provide jobs and income for the Bolivian people.
Evo Morales has already said that he will not be part of your government. Are you going to call for new faces?
That’s right, we want to be a MAS version 2.0, where we give space to young professionals committed to their country so that they can contribute from the points of decision and begin to look at the possible change, not only within the cabinet but also in political life. We are all passengers, we have to leave a mark; the support for whoever replaces us and takes the reins of the process. Here the most important thing is to continue the process of change that comrade Evo led.
What do you expect from the relationship with Argentina?
Fortunately I have a very good relationship with President Alberto Fernandez, I visited him when I was in Buenos Aires with the Bolivian residents. We have been talking lately and I want to thank the Argentine president for his willingness to make Bolivia one of the priorities when the research on the vaccine they are developing with Oxford University is completed. In this way, we will benefit from having this vaccine as soon as possible and solve a large part of the population’s health problem. This is very important. The Argentine president called me the same night of the election results, congratulating me on the victory; it is one of the best relationships we have had in recent times.
The coup leaders questioned the role that the Argentine government played in giving asylum to Evo Morales and Alvaro García Linera.
There are many Bolivians who, as a result of the coup d’état, are in Argentina, and we thank the Argentine people for having received us. I hope that soon all Bolivians can return to the country.
The vote of Bolivians living in Argentina in favor of MAS was overwhelming, with 88 percent. With 74,423 votes cast, it was the most important voter turnout abroad.
Yes, totally. It is an enormous loyalty that the Bolivian people living in Argentina have when they vote with that volume in favor of MAS. Our campaign manager, comrade Evo, is in Argentina. It could not be otherwise.
Do you believe that a new cycle is opening for the left and center-left in the region? I am thinking of Bolivia, Argentina and Mexico.
It is certainly a possibility. The Ecuadorian process could mark another milestone in South America. Our resounding victory is a continuity, because here the right wing has never won elections since 2005; the only mechanism was last year’s coup d’état. The popular vote has been inclined towards the Bolivian left for 15 years. This election delivers a message in Latin America, it provides a humble contribution in international politics: winds of change are coming with a different economic era as well.
How do you envision relations with the United States, given that they have been conflicting in the past?
Yes, we do not have diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level. Our foreign policy is going to be open to all countries, but on the condition that sovereignty is respected, that treatment is equal. Any country that meets that requirement is welcome. If the U.S. wants to establish relations with us, it must know that these are the prerequisites.
Translation by Internationalist 360°