Democracies Under Pressure. Authoritarianism, Repression, Struggles

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The Deep Rifts in Bolivia’s Electoral Crisis

Reflections upon 14 years of a "progressive" government, social movements, conflict and power struggles

, by KRUYT Suzanne

On a Friday in November 2020, Bolivia’s newly elected officials, economist Luis Arce Catacora and Aymara intellectual, David Choquehuanca, kneel in reverence. The president and vice-president have done their pilgrimage to the ancestral sacred site of Tiahuanaco, as many MAS elected officials have done before them since the party rose to power in 2005. Yet this year, something is poignantly different. The crowds are not there, fervently clapping for the newly elected heads of state, nor is the triumphant figure of Evo Morales present, vigilantly surveying the ceremony. Quite the contrary. The 2020 iteration of the traditional ceremony is performed modestly, almost in secret; as if any fanfare about it could cause discomfort to the ancestors. After two years of unrest —wherein violence, pain and a deep polarization of society scarred the entire nation— the MAS party has regained political power. But open wounds fester and future uncertainty hangs heavy in the air; enough cast a somber cloud over the event. A stark contrast from the triumphal ceremonies that marked previous electoral victories.

Just a year earlier, on 6 November 2019, Bolivia endured its most turbulent week in recent history; the one that upended Evo Morales’ rule over the Andean nation. The denouement came a few days later on 13 November, when Bolivia welcomed its new interim president; a female politician who few had heard of before.

For many international media outlets, especially left-leaning ones, this crucial week was perceived as a coup against Evo Morales; the culmination of a conspiracy led by conservative elites, from within Bolivia and abroad. Yet, in those interpretations, the different factors that played a role in the breakdown of Bolivian democratic institutions across the years remain unaddressed. Nor is the complexity of the Bolivian political sphere taken into account — one that requires looking beyond the simplistic notions of “left vs right”, “the peoples vs the elite” or “the indigenous population vs the whites”.

The political crisis that erupted during the 2019 elections ultimately led to MAS’ return to power, but also served to highlight the deep and complex rifts that continue to divide the nation. This article does not aim to draw firm conclusions, but rather explore a series of elements that may help understand the underlying tensions/forces at play within Bolivia’s political sphere; as well as the multiple challenges that it has yet to overcome. The very same challenges that could easily lead to new conflict scenarios in the short and medium term; none of which can be easily resolved by any one party.

The article is based on my own experiences in Bolivia since 2005, reinforced by the work of Bolivian scholars who have begun the difficult task of making sense out of these changing currents; all equally weighed down by contradictions and ambiguities.

Fourteen Years of MAS: The Concentration and Negotiation of Power

It remains impossible to describe Bolivia’s history throughout the 20th century without addressing the fundamental role that social movements have played in mobilizing workers, miners, peasants, neighborhood councils, indigenous people, students and other sectors of society. These movements, massive in scale, often proved more impactful than any one action taken by a political party.

The same remains true for its more recent history, which saw a set of heterogeneous sectors from across the Andean nation banding together and taking to the streets in rejection of both the dominant neoliberal model and the endless cycle of political elites amassing power. This culminated with the Water Wars (in 2001 and 2005) and the Gas War (in 2003). The key players were autonomous social movements; unaffiliated with any political party, not even with traditional representative organizations such as trade unions.

The drawn-out protests and marches first led to the resignation of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozado (2003) and a few years later, of Carlos Mesa (2005). With those achievements, the electoral scene became wide open to a consolidation of the people’s power. Ultimately, it was the MAS-IPSP party (commonly abbreviated as ‘MAS’) that was deemed to be the most fitting political instrument to achieve this. Founded in 1997, and steered by the cocalero movement (the union of coca farmers, the charismatic Evo Morales Ayma emerged as its leader), the party received a majority of the votes during the national elections; a clear reflection of the nation’s need for deep change in the political spectrum. This change encompassed the recognition of Bolivia’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity, and structural modifications in the neoliberal economic model. Against this backdrop, the people chose Evo Morales as the president of Bolivia in a landmark election. The MAS party would go on to repeat their electoral victory, in 2009 and 2014. Meanwhile, the fragmented opposition parties —lacking both leadership and credible campaign promises— were unable to pose a major obstacle to MAS’ ongoing string of victories.

MAS’ ascent to power was marked by a profound change in the manner in which the low-income sector’s discontent and grassroots proposals were both channeled and addressed. Street protests ceased to be their prime medium for expression. As soon as the new government was formed, these communities enjoyed broad access to the legislative and executive branches — their voices could now be heard in a different way.

During its first few years in power, the MAS government established the Constitutional Assembly in response at the behest of the peasant and indigenous sectors, who sought the recognition of the country’s diversity and plurinationality. The Assembly became an arena for powerful debate and reform. It collectively laid fresh foundations for the country through the drafting of a new constitution, ultimately adopted in 2009. However, the Assembly was no longer an organized space for social movements to gather: the right to participation became linked to political party affiliation. This led to two specific outcomes. Firstly, the majority power held by social movements in Bolivia could solely be channeled through the MAS party; wasting an unprecedented opportunity to build a truly direct democracy. Secondly, the right-wing minority parties that had long lost their legitimacy suddenly gained a new platform, which they promptly took advantage of.

The final stage for the founding of the Constitutional Assembly in 2008 coincided with an offensive by the conservative sector. Widespread incidents resulting in casualties and injuries were reported nationwide, particularly within the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija. The very same departments where economic elites actively resisted being governed by a socialist party, led by indigenous peoples. When confronted with the violence provoked by the conservatives, the MAS government opted for negotiation. The grounds for negotiation was to be the text of the country’s new Constitution.

And so, the MAS party leadership ceded to the demands of the conservative landowning class, brokering a deal behind closed doors; one that excluded social organizations from the discussions. More than 100 articles in the new Constitution were amended, completely changing the essence of the document that had already been approved by the Constitutional Assembly. The ‘adjustments’ went as far as guaranteeing the continuity of the landowning class’ privileges; and in doing so, preserving the prevailing land-ownership regime in the eastern part of the country.

While the introduction of innovative concepts such as the Plurinational State and Living Well [Buen Vivir] into Bolivia’s new Constitution were celebrated across the world, various social actors within the country were left with a bitter taste in their mouth.

Thus, what was left was the folklorization of the Political Constitution of the State of Bolivia. Its colonial and capitalist nucleus remained intact, while the deed was covered up with a smattering of rebellious Andean terms that would varnish it with a sense of legitimacy. Concepts such as Living Well or the very notion of a Plurinational State, were withered down to neutral gibberish and stripped from their transformative power. (Salazar Lohman, 2020)

This deal marked the dawn of an alliance between the State, embodied by the MAS party, and the Bolivian economy’s power players. The latter stakeholder’s economic power relied on their control over the agribusiness sector in the eastern part of the country —specifically soy farming and livestock production— who constantly pushed for the expansion of their privileges. At the same time, the MAS party started to engage in clientelistic relationships with other sectors involved in capitalist and highly profitable activities; such as mining cooperatives, coca farmers and hauliers.

As Luis Tapia and Marxa Chavez (2020) point out, these alliances were primarily consolidated during Evo Morales’ second term (2009-2014), which meant that:

“The intensity of the class struggle lessened, ushering in an era of peaceful coexistence, but also of negotiation and alliances between the old dominant economic block and the new ruling political actor. And so, the new dominant political-economic block emerged, comprised of the corporate clusters of the old ruling class —a set of diverse corporations, within the spheres of finance capital, commercial capital, agribusiness and cattle ranching— and the ruling party. The latter including namely its bureaucracy and some commercial capital clusters of Aymara and Quechua origin that had been absorbed by the State.” (Tapia and Chavez, 2020: 66)

Hence, while the MAS State apparatus operated behind a veneer of a government run by indigenous peoples, peasants, miners and workers (although as each year passed these groups became increasingly underrepresented in the cabinets); behind the scenes, it effectively continued to favor the economic interests of Bolivia’s elites. The same ones who, just a few years prior, had fiercely opposed the election of an indigenous president.

The industrial sectors that became the State’s unrelenting allies benefited from tax breaks and zero audits. Meanwhile, the MAS government began to rely heavily on the export of hydrocarbons —primarily gas— to finance its policies. The neo-extractivist model dictated that international oil companies would presumably pay more taxes than they did before, tentatively allowing for a greater redistribution of wealth through government bonds and social policies. However, the Bolivian State never recovered from its dependence on hydrocarbons. Until 2015, sustained high oil prices and good relations with neighbors Argentina and Brazil —among its top importers— secured sufficient revenue to uphold the model. But when prices started to drop, this dependency became increasingly problematic. Among the measures the government took amid the panic of the drop in oil prices, was the elimination of environmental restrictions. National parks and formerly protected areas were now fair game for gas exploration and extraction. To counteract this panic, a new measure was introduced: to tighten fiscal policy targeting small businesses and the population.

Among the most emblematic moments in the MAS party’s forging of alliances with the agribusiness elites, was the 2015 Agriculture Summit. During the event, the MAS government acceded to the majority of the soy and livestock sectors’ demands. Among these, were the expansion of the livestock and cropping frontier towards the edge of the Amazonian forests and the Chiquitania savannah, to the rate of a million hectares per year. It also opened up the nation to the use of genetically modified (GM) seeds. The MAS party even deployed the peasant trade union movement to serve its agenda, working in direct opposition of this sector’s historical demands over the years.

So, what had happened to social movements? Those who just a decade prior had wrought a great wave of change that swept throughout the nation, but who now offered little resistance towards policies that were clearly contrary to their own interests and struggles?

Social Movements in the Wake of a Crisis

The MAS-IPSP had always been more than just a political party; it self-identified as a political instrument for social movements. What’s more, MAS would have never risen to power without the support of the country’s largest social organizations; such as the Bolivian Workers’ Center (COB), the Unique Confederation of Rural Labourers in Bolivia (CSUTCB), the “Bartolina Sisa” National Federation of Peasant Women of Bolivia (CNMCIOB “BS”), the Federation of Neighborhood Councils of El Alto (FEJUVE), and many other rural and urban organizations.

However, the strategic link forged with these organizations became increasingly polluted by favoritism and clientelistic relations on the one hand, and head-on confrontation on the other. The following three cases signaled the deterioration of the alliance between social movements and the State:

1) Protests against the highway project across Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) (2011-2012)

The construction of a highway across Isiboro Securé National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) led to a head-on collision between the incumbent MAS government and a heterogeneous collective of indigenous peoples, environmentalists and urban civil society actors, who had —until then— believed in what had been extolled as the “process of change”. This incident widened the growing divide between both stakeholders. If the direct beneficiaries of the highway project were the coca growers of Chapare, who sought to expand their cultivation area; they were backed by key actors with ulterior economic interests; such as construction companies, the oil sector and others who had long prowled for access to this highly protected area. The government insisted on building this highway despite evidence of the environmental damage this project would cause; and ignored the plea of affected indigenous communities.

The indigenous peoples of the Bolivian lowlands took matters into their own hands. They organized under the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) and marched from Trinidad to the nation’s capital, La Paz. At first, their struggle was portrayed as a solitary campaign against a government that relied on widespread public support, and the Confederation stood accused of “opposing the country’s development”. However, the government’s strategies of mistreatment, smear campaigns and ultimately, violent repression towards these activists did eventually backfire: they nurtured a shared sense of indignation across many sectors of Bolivian society. It became difficult to reconcile with the notion that a supposedly “indigenous” and “decolonial” government could treat the very people who had voted it into power so poorly. The outrage and indignation translated into an extraordinary moment of solidarity, unity and courage; when the urban population of La Paz welcomed the protesters to the capital city, expressing their support.

From this moment on, the government applied a series of manipulative, divisive and destructive measures against indigenous movements; consequences of which still reverberate today. The leaders responsible for the violent repression of the indigenous peoples were awarded high-ranking government positions across the ministries and in international diplomacy.

2) The Indigenous Fund Corruption Scandal (2015)

Financing projects in exchange for political backing was a strategy systematically applied by the MAS party to exert control over social, peasant and indigenous organizations. In 2015, rampant corruption in the operation of the “Indigenous Fund” came to light. The Fund was created in 2005 for these groups to benefit from the profits generated by Bolivia’s natural gas exports. It soon became evident that the Fund had not only been used as a tool to secure party loyalty, but had also become a source of illicit enrichment for a handful of high-ranking officials. More than USD 100 million were siphoned from the Fund directly to personal accounts. Meanwhile, the Fund claimed to implement development projects where, in the best of cases, it lacked sufficient oversight to manage their actual execution; and in the worst, project frameworks were laden with vague objectives and lacked any measures to assess satisfactory project implementation (Ayo 2015).

The media scandal over the rampant corruption unveiled within the Fund led to an official investigation. The case was brought before courts and certain MAS party leaders were charged; while a good part of the politicians behind the scandal ultimately received little more than a slap on the wrist. It also revealed the pitiful state of the organizations that purportedly benefited from the government’s patronage. While the ruling elite shuffled among the upper echelons in search of personal gain, the strategic agendas of social movements fighting for indigenous autonomy and agrarian reform were increasingly diluted down by the State’s own agenda, in the name of “development”.

3) The Disability Protests (2016)

During the third MAS mandate, the doors to Plaza Murillo —the physical epicenter of political power in Bolivia— were quite literally closed shut. A certain tension and unease spread through the political sphere and a push towards isolationism soon became the legacy of Evo Morales’ third presidency. After a protest led by people with disabilities, a police barrier appeared in Plaza Murillo accompanied by a large number of uniformed officers — and remained staunchly in place for many months after the event. People with disabilities, an extremely vulnerable sector within Bolivian society, had marched more than 300 kilometers clamoring for an increase in their meager welfare benefits. The request did not appear unreasonable, at a time when the incumbent government continued to implement grandiose project as they disbursed lofty honorariums to preserve the image of a highly prosperous economy. However, faced with this reclamation, the government flatly refused any form of dialogue and repressed the march with tear gas and water cannons, shocking the Bolivian population as they witnessed the events unfold. Bolivians with disabilities camped out for several weeks in tents raised along the cold streets of La Paz, before retreating in disappointment; both divided and defeated.

This mounting authoritarianism was not only aimed at social groups that would eventually become the political party’s opponents. Its allies were also targeted; organizations such as the CSUTCB and Bartolina Sisa. Party leaders and particularly Evo Morales himself, increasingly applied trade union bureaucracy from the top down. For example, in the nomination of candidates who would run for office. Critical voices within the party were promptly silenced and disparagingly referred to as “free thinkers”.

The discursive strategy of the MAS party polarized the entire country, dividing people into two categories: those who supported Evo and those who did not. The rather complex and diverse interests of a plurinational state thus became obscured by the party slogan, “Evo is the people” (the motto of the 2019 election campaign).

“When the MAS party hegemonized the political arena, the binary gaze remained, but this time to feed people’s fear of the ghosts of the past returning; that is to say, the return of the ‘traitors’ or of a neoliberal right that conspires against the ‘process of change’. The polarization reached an unprecedented level when the word ‘people’ became loaded only with positive connotations and, finally, inextricably linked to the name of the incumbent president: @evoespueblo.” (Colque 2019)

This fostering of dichotomies —such as the neoliberal right vs. the socialists, the elite vs. the people, whites vs. indigenous peoples— made it impossible for critics to build a movement from within the MAS party or from without. Particularly one that could remain on the sidelines of the toxic political game at play. This polarization extinguished any possibility of holding this much-needed political debate.

“And, on the other hand ‒and this is something that is rarely discussed— the right-wing neoliberals and conservatives ‒ even manifesting fascist features in eastern Bolivia‒ which had been caught between a rock and a hard place by the ongoing struggles that overhauled the political system in the country between 2000 and 2005; these right-wingers found —within this dangerous game of polarization— a place to recreate and reinvent themselves, to amplify their messages. And so, they instrumentalized the liberal slogans of representative democracy in the face of an increasingly authoritarian government, for their own benefit.” (Salazar 2020)

The voices of critics clamoring against the increasing authoritarianism of MAS party officials rose to the main fora through citizen groups with little political agenda beyond the recovery of democracy, and were easily diluted into right-wing discourse. This was to become a key element in the events that took place in October and November 2019.

The 2019 Electoral Crisis

Despite previous statements to the contrary, during his third mandate Evo Morales announced his intention to seek re-election after three consecutive victories in 2005, 2009 and 2014. He had become the epitome of the “process of change”, to the extent his portrait was broadly displayed throughout every public building and governmental office in Bolivia. The dearth of new political leaders that broadly appealed to all stakeholders united under the MAS banner became the death knell of change itself, consolidating Evo Morales’ role as the head of the party.

But one obstacle stood in their way: the 2009 Constitution, championed by MAS itself, did not allow for the reelection of the same candidate a fourth time. The MAS government then resorted to holding a referendum in an attempt to amend the Constitution; trusting that their party’s widespread support would pave the way for this maneuver. However, after Evo Morales’ three consecutive terms, the seeds of mistrust had been sowed among the Bolivian population. Even those who had always voted for MAS had misgivings about Evo Morales’ autocratic ambitions. To the surprise of the MAS party and in particular, Evo Morales himself, a resounding “NO” won the referendum with 51.3% of the votes.

Making deaf ears to criticism from within the party ranks and from without, Morales and his vice president García Linera instead directed their efforts towards tactical maneuvering before the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal and the Plurinational Electoral Body, still hoping to impose his candidacy. The very fact that they made a blatant attempt to skirt the Constitution finally exposed the high level of subservience towards party lines that had spread within governmental bodies. Several government officials resigned during this period, including the president of the Plurinational Electoral Body, who qualified the events as “a situation characterized by a stagnation in the decision-making process on vital issues to guarantee the safeguarding of the institution.” This is important because the buildup of politicization and deinstitutionalization within these governmental bodies —after all, established to guarantee the rule of law and the holding of fair, democratic and transparent elections— fueled the growing mistrust among Bolivian voters; ultimately rearing its head after the October 2019 elections.

Widely covered by media outlets worldwide, these elections and the ensuing conflict over their outcome led to massive street protests, clashes between local groups, a police riot, and —after three weeks of chaos— the resignation of a large number of ministers and politicians. The events culminated with Evo Morales’ resignation, who then fled into exile. The Senate’s second vice president, Jeanine Añez, was unceremoniously inaugurated as interim president. Still, the embers reignited launching another trying cycle of protests and violent repression. The revolt resulted in at least 36 casualties and countless injured.

Road block in the streets of bolivian capital city La Paz, against Evo Morales’s 3rd term candidacy in 2019. Credit : Suzanne Kruyt.

The most accurate statement that can be made about that two-week period of protests is that many unknowns remain. The events were riddled with misinformation and sowing uncertainty among the population. To date, there have been no independent investigations held that could reliably separate facts from fiction —or misinformation— in how the events came to be.

This work merely attempts to highlight three elements that have undoubtedly played a key role throughout the events that unfolded over those two weeks; elements that were not always made visible in reports published overseas.

Firstly, that the conflict was not so much a conflict between opposing political projects, as it was primarily a conflict fueled by rejection and fear. There was no stark difference between the proposed political and economic policies put forward by the MAS party and the opposition party — Comunidad Ciudadana, led by Carlos Mesa. Both sides guaranteed the continuity of the extractivist model, coupled with social distribution of revenue. In short, both set of policies were far from socialist, but neither side leaned heavily towards radical neoliberalism. Therefore, the interest groups publicly protesting the re-election of Evo Morales did not do so on the basis of a shared political ideology nor common interests with the opposition. They did so merely to express their categorical rejection of the MAS party’s attempts to cling to power and the unbalanced distribution of power among State institutions, as evidenced by the sham nature of the elections. They protested out of fear at living in an increasingly less democratic country.

At the same time, the clusters that had continued to support the MAS party, were afraid of what would happen if Evo Morales left his role as head of State.

“Fear of power returning to the hands of the white urban elites and for the strides made in terms of identity and multiculturalism undergoing major setbacks. Fear of social benefits being taken away and for the meager economic stability they managed achieve along the last few years being whittled away. They are also afraid that the country will be riddled with conflict if Mesa rose to power again, because this time it would be their own sons and daughters who would pay the price and whose blood would be shed in the streets; as it already happened in October 2003. It’s fear of the past repeating itself, and it runs deep.” (Kruyt, 2019)

The clusters who would vote for Evo Morales did so as a rejection of handing power back to the elites of a bygone era, who only served the interests of those who looked like them: white, urban and Christian. The very same elites who ardently shunned the idea of a plurinational State.

The second element of note, is that the polarization of political discourse based on fear and the rejection of “the other”, excluded a large part of the population. This sizeable segment did not identify as Masista (a MAS supporter) nor with any of the groups that had taken to the streets calling for a “liberal democracy”. It is important to remark that in the weeks of protests leading to Evo Morales’ resignation, there was a smattering of demonstrations in the rural areas, as well as in the peripheral migrant city of El Alto. Few disruptions to everyday life were noted in these outlying urban centers. Residents did not feel called to spring into action, and with their silence they effectively voiced their rejection of either “side”. Also, during these turbulent weeks, one of the most interesting spaces to emerge were the “Women’s Parliaments”, convened by feminist groups. Therein, complex interpretations of the situation were voiced by the participants, who refused to enter a game of picking sides where the options consisted of “one political strongman or another”. It was precisely because of these voices —and deafening silences— that dogmatic interpretations of the conflict are not applicable, requiring instead further attention and a deeper analysis.

The third element to be assessed is that, throughout this conflict, Bolivia became the theater for a misinformation war; one that was fought with a host of 21st century communication tools. The incessant use of social networks to circulate highly manipulated and politicized information was, as can be expected, quite prevalent. However, the main factions also shared their own interpretations on the unfolding events to “shock” the population and sow confusion, arousing fear and inciting clashes among certain groups of citizens. These strategies were applied by both the MAS party and the opposition. They were most noticeable in the days following the resignation of Evo Morales, when the country was deep in the throes of a power vacuum. Violent clashes among the population followed and politicians began accusing each other of inciting violence for political gain.

Activists, academics, politicians and international experts actively took part in this misinformation war. They readily lent themselves to rehashing party slogans and falling into the polarized binary of “fraud” versus “coup”. In broader terms, they added fuel to the fire during a time of growing fear and uncertainty, while ignoring the complexity of a situation that affected all Bolivians and the need for a clear exit strategy from the escalating violence and uncertainty.

When the “Pacification” deal was struck between the interim government and the MAS party, towards the end of November 2019, the nation released a collective sigh of relief: the spiral of citizen violence had come to an end. The ongoing political crisis, however, continued its course.

“The triumphalist belief that we restored democracy the moment Evo boarded a plane [to flee the country] comes off as a platitude, an extremely simplistic take on a complex situation. However, the defeatist view that presumes we have a coup d’état at hand and that everything has been lost, is decidedly false. This is akin to thinking that MAS is the only option we have at hand to forge an inter-ethnic, inclusive and multicultural space.” (Silvia Rivera Cusiscanqui, Women’s Parliament, 2019)

The year-long transitional government of Jeanine Añez that followed this period of turmoil isn’t worth wasting much time upon. The interim head of state was a member of the conservative right-wing party and used her brief time in power to pursue that party’s interests. It wasn’t long before reports of corruption began to emerge, followed by persecution of political opponents and weak governance. Her ministers’ penchant for authoritarian rhetoric and racist remarks cast away any hope for her party to materialize their professed intent of “restoring democracy”. Needless to say, Añez’ attention was soon diverted towards managing the COVID-19 pandemic and organizing the new elections, that were twice postponed.

A Step Forward, or a Step Back?

The question on everyone’s mind is: why did MAS win the October 2020 elections, just a year after its defeat? There are several answers to that question, but with one that stands out above the rest: the other contenders who held onto the same tired candidates and empty campaign promises from 15 years prior, were unable to inspire a modicum of hope for better times ahead among the voters. Most voters’ shared experiences of extreme economic vulnerability, coupled with the bitter taste of disillusionment left after the 2019 electoral crisis, were only exacerbated by the global pandemic. Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that once voters were confronted with the ballot box, they were drawn towards the MAS’ siren call of economic and social stability.

The new president, Luis Arce, together with vice president David Choquehuanca, must now rise to the challenge and meet voters’ expectations; relying on their ample political track record as ministers during Evo Morales’ mandates. It will not be easy to maintain stability within a country ravaged by COVID-19. The first wave of the pandemic in 2020 resulted in 9,561 casualties; while 2021 gave rise to a new wave that in all likelihood will be deadlier than the last. Meanwhile, the Bolivian health system is in tatters, children have lost an entire year of schooling; and to top it all off, the country is undergoing a profound economic crisis.

However, the biggest challenge yet will be to govern a country scarred by recent rashes of violence and racism, which have torn the social fabric apart. Whether MAS will be able to overcome the general sense of distrust and polarization sown among the population, or even the fragmentation haunting its own ranks, is yet to be seen.

One last unanswered question remains regarding the role that Evo Morales would play in the lead-up to next general elections. In November 2020, he returned to Bolivia from his exile in Argentina. Since then, his presence has been rather ubiquitous among the upper echelons of the MAS party, leaving little room to hope for in-depth restructuring of the party’s ranks.

For the time being, it can be said that MAS’ return to power in Bolivia hints at a cyclical alternation of power between right-wing parties with neoliberal tendencies and social democratic parties; as is already common across other countries in South America. Although there are profound differences between the two blocks, their overlaps the deals struck in terms of economic and environmental policies are what stand out most. This surprising phenomenon has already shown to be true in the past and will surely be repeated again throughout MAS’ new term in power.

However, the intense acceleration of this alternating cycle as witnessed in Bolivia between 2019-2020, could very well consist of a prelude to greater turmoil in the years to come. Times like these call for national and international social movements that are able to cast a light on structural issues often overlooked by party politics. The reconstruction and renewal of these movements is undoubtedly Bolivia’s greatest challenge today.