Carlos Mesa (La Paz, 1953) will dispute the presidency of Bolivia this Sunday against Luis Arce, the man chosen by former President Evo Morales to return MAS to the Burned Palace. Mesa was already president in 2003, when he succeeded Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. He resigned two years later, cornered by the same social upheaval that had driven out his predecessor. Last year he lost to Evo Morales, but the cancellation of that election suspected of being fraudulent now gives you a new chance. By videoconference from La Paz, Mesa tells EL PAÍS that he will promote the political and social unification of Bolivia, assumes the seriousness of the economic crisis that his country is going through and asks his MAS rival to respect the results if they are adverse.
Question. Has Bolivia gained anything in the last 12 months?
Answer. He has gained a clear awareness of the value of democracy. That awareness has mobilized society. That is the most important element in the historical conquest of this terrible crisis that Morales left us with his gigantic fraud.
P. But is Bolivia worse, better or the same today than a year ago?
R. From the point of view of the democratic vocation of Bolivian society I am optimistic. However, there are very deep wounds that we have to heal and of course I cannot ignore the economic concern. The situation is worse than in 2019, but it has to do with covid. The deficit inherited from the MAS was 8% of GDP. That 8% has increased, the debt is higher and the decrease in GDP is very worrying.
P. Do you trust the electoral court now?
R. I trust, first, because it is a tribunal elected unanimously by the Assembly, with two thirds of control of the MAS. Second, because the people who make it up have an impeccable track record. Third, because at this moment it is an independent body, a radical difference it has from the previous one.
P. Would you be willing to agree with the MAS in Congress?
R. I would very much like the MAS to learn to oppose it, something that it has not allowed the other parties to do during its 14 years in office. President Morales never met with the head of the opposition. If it touches me, my relationship with the MAS should be from government to opposition, not from government to ally.
Q. With what sectors do you plan to form a government, if you win on Sunday?
R. We are articulating alliances with union sectors, unions and neighborhood councils in a diverse and multiple scenario. Bolivia is a country well organized in networks, but the MAS governed by dividing. We are working on a negotiation space of another nature. You cannot govern without a political base and without a social base.
P. One of the underlying problems is the political and social fracture. What is your roadmap to unite the country?
R. I may or may not be successful, but I have no doubt that the only candidate who proposes and can carry out a path of reconciliation, healing wounds and rebuilding unity is me. The myth must be broken, especially for the international community, that a country that is 40% indigenous, according to the 2012 census, has to be indigenous or non-indigenous. The inclusive democratic vocation does not depend on skin color. It would be interesting if the industrialized countries of the world, and especially the European ones, judge a president not by his skin color but by what they do. My commitment is to deepen the fight against racism, exclusion and discrimination.
P. The mood in recent weeks seems heated Is there a risk of a social outbreak?
R. The atmosphere is heated because the lord Luis Arce he has decided on a surreal interpretation of the electoral process: “If I win the election, there is no fraud; if I lose the election, there is fraud ”. What are the elements of analysis that Mr. Arce has to presume that there will be a fraud? What is the political, institutional and technical foundation? None, zero. “If I don’t win,” says Arce, “I’m going to take my militants to the streets.” And you know what MAS is on the street. It is not the peaceful resistance of a march. It is blockades, it is violence, it is assault on certain places. That is what worries me: a candidate who behaves like Evo Morales. If the popular vote gives the victory to Mr. Arce, I am going to recognize it, just like that.
P. How do you rate the management of the health crisis by the interim government?
R. What has become evident is that the health system in Bolivia is not prepared, I am not going to say against a pandemic, but to face a habitual situation of response to the demands of society. The crisis forces us to be realistic, because we cannot do magic the first year of government. If we have to give a specific response to the covid, with the possibility of obtaining support for countries for more equipment and more medical professionals.
P. What will your eventual government’s relationship with the countries of the region be like?
R. We have problems with Argentina that must be resolved. I regret that President [Alberto] Fernández was wrong in his reading of the President’s Government [Jeanine] Áñez. Hope that can be corrected. In this context, what is important is to have a fluid relationship of common and very respectful interests, specifically with Brazil and Argentina, our most important neighbors, but also with Chile, Peru, Paraguay and all the countries of South America, except Venezuela. .
P. Could the presence of Evo Morales in Argentina be a point of conflict?
R. If Evo Morales comes to Bolivia, he has to be accountable to the country, but following the rule of law. The difference with Morales is that I would not be, as president, judge, legislator and whoever carries out the sentence. I don’t do political persecution. An investigation will have to be done and if the investigation leads to a lawsuit and if the lawsuit leads to a conviction, it will have to be analyzed. But I believe that, if the mechanisms of the rule of law are followed, without persecution, Argentina will have to do what it has to do.
P. And the relationship with Chile?
R. For Bolivia, and for me in particular, the Bolivian maritime demand to claim a port with sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean will not stop until it happens. But it would be myopia for me not to acknowledge that there is a Hague ruling that has been negative. What do we have to do? Build trust between the two countries, allowing us a fluid relationship to address important issues: free transit, customs issues, the very complicated problem of heavy transport and potentially the economic complementarity between Chile and Bolivia.
P. The ties between Bolivia and the United States have always been complex. What situation are they in now?
R. The government of President Áñez has approached the US, but the US government has been prudent in waiting for the election of a new government. Therefore, it is better but it is not consolidated. The objective is the full resumption in the shortest possible term at the level of ambassadors, with one caveat: we learned the lesson of the pre-Evo Morales period, between 1982 and 2006, when the conditions of then today would be unacceptable. Then we kicked out the US We are not going to repeat the experience of the years prior to 2006, nor the absurd treatment of the Morales government.
P. In the government of Jeanine Áñez there have been ministers who have shown a revengeful attitude and there are those who fear persecution.
R. First, beyond the base of society, which I fully respect, it is still a surprising irony that senior MAS leaders speak of persecution after 14 years of government, of absolute control of the president, who believed himself an emperor. , who told the former presidents in public “you are confessed criminals.” A president who made more than 1,300 people have to leave the country to escape persecution, who has made politics judicial. That said, I believe that a couple of ministers in this government have acted in the wrong way with a revanchist logic and with a logic of not respecting the rule of law as a central element.
P. Are you not afraid that the electoral rivalry with Luis Camacho will take away the points you need to win?
R. There is a very great fear of at least 60% of the population that does not want the MAS to rule again. My impression is that the most important part of the undecided vote that could go to us or the third candidate is going to go completely to us.
P. Are you worried about the economic situation?
R. It is a complex situation that requires several elements. One, a renegotiation of the Bolivian foreign debt, with more flexible terms, better interest rates and a commitment to pay. Fortunately, the Bolivian economy is very small and our debt margin is important: we have only 30% of GDP in debt. The fundamental equation is to inject liquidity into the economy with a very modest deficit reduction in the first and second years.