That Fiendish Cocalero!
Evo Morales: another angry snowman.
by Shelton Hull
By the time Evo Morales is sworn in as the president of Bolivia on January 22, American elites may have already settled on their means of dealing with him. Morales, 46, is leader of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS); this translates to “Moving Toward Socialism,” although some would suggest that his movement is fundamentally socialist, and that one can’t move toward being/having what one already is/has.
Morales and his crew are no newbies — no fresh young things, they. Morales spent five years in Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies (their parliament, not a prison) before being ousted in 2002, which led him to seek the presidency. He finished second, before winning an outright majority last year, and the MAS has been a viable political force for most of the past decade. Advocates cast Morales as a patriot, the first indigenous president his nation has ever had, while critics deride his ascent as a streamlined version of the Escobar political machine in 1980s Colombia. We remember how that worked out.
Collective memory plays an important role in the politics of that region. Like his more well-known fellow statesmen, Morales reaped great rewards from his aggressively anti-American stances. His position, essentially, is that the US has no right to destroy the crops of a sovereign nation, and that Bolivians who helped our efforts to do so are either dupes or traitors. That would include much of the Bolivian government, of course.
His is a thoroughly domestic outlook; he seems to have no regard for the millions of people whose lives have been destroyed by drug abuse. Morales has said, on the one hand, that “there will be zero cocaine, zero drug trafficking but not zero coca” in Bolivia, but on the other that “the coca leaf is beating the North American dollar.” Given that up to half of all the $100 bills in circulation at one point (prior to the bills’ replacement in the late-’90s) carried trace amount of cocaine dust, such remarks are troubling.
Chavez and Castro have allegedly told Morales to expect an assassination attempt sooner, rather than later, but it’s doubtful he needed to be told that. Morales is already a star among the international left, which loves anyone capable of bucking the superpower. In his old Chapare district, a leading target of eradication efforts, Morales has pulled as much as 70% of the vote. While his agenda doesn’t go much deeper than coca issues, the MAS hits the proper lefty buttons by opposing globalization in all its forms.
As far as I know, the White House does not subscribe to this publication, so they will not hear this from me, but hopefully someone will tell Mr. Bush that Evo Morales presents a perfect opportunity to begin scaling back the Drug War in anticipation of more pressing concerns. Since a great majority of Bolivian coca ends up in Europe, which is itself scaling back its efforts on this front (in part because certain key European nations could erupt into civil war at any moment), let them have it!
The War on Drugs was busy-work for a peacetime nation, but now the War on Terror has superseded it. If the Drug War was working, then the billions we’ve poured into these countries would have kept folks like MAS from achieving the successes they have. What does it say about us that the MAS outperformed every “non-major” political party we have? Only that democracy, in some cases, still works.
If the people of Bolivia vote fairly to fully legalize coca production, there is not much to be done about it. All of the things we would use for leverage — enforcement of debts, banishment from the FTAA, the cancellation of two-thirds of US aid to Bolivia — are outcomes the MAS has game-planned for. Neo-con chest-thumping aside, there is no realistic action to take that would balance out the profits Bolivia could reap. Whether the US increases eradication efforts in Peru and Colombia or not, Bolivia will leap-frog both to become the world leader in coca production by 2010, and the money will roll in.
President Bush was quick to offer congratulations to Morales. Smokescreen? We will see this summer, but all signs are that Bolivia will become a test-case for the post-neoliberal order. The US must help empower Latin America to develop their economies quick, so we can push for hemisphere unity. One fact, though, is indelible: the martyrdom of Morales is not an option.