Luis Arce will be the presidential candidate of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) in the Bolivian elections of May 3. He has obtained this position despite being the candidate with less support from local and sectoral organizations of the leftist party. He owes it to the impulse of former president Evo Morales, who, as is normal in the MAS, has imposed his judgment in the extraordinary meeting of leaders he held on Sunday in Buenos Aires, where he is in exile.
The biggest point in favor of Arce is his success as Minister of Economy of Bolivia during the last decade, but the bases of the MAS considered that, in the current circumstances, it was better to have a candidate of indigenous origin than one out of the middle class educated and white, since this was mostly engaged in the overthrow of Morales and now is inclined to the candidates of the right and center right. The name with more support within the MAS was that of former Chancellor David Choquehuanca, who was partially relegated: he will be the candidate for vice president.
The MAS presidential candidate entered the party late, shortly before the 2005 elections, the first Morales won. But he was not a newcomer to the Bolivian left: in the university he had militated in the Socialist Party 1, one of the many Bolivian progressive groups that disappeared in the late 1980s, with the fall of the Berlin wall.
Arce said more than once that he believed in socialism, although “at no time [el Gobierno de Morales] he thought of building socialism immediately. “” You cannot make a mechanical transition from capitalism to socialism, there must be an intermediate period, “he said at the time. During that period, the “Productive Community Social Economic Model” should be built, as it called its economic policy. This consisted of the nationalization of natural resources, the intervention of the State in all productive branches, to boost economic growth, and redistribution of wealth through social programs and salary increases.
During the first eight years of Morales’ management, the Bolivian economy benefited from the high international prices of raw materials, which allowed it to grow at an annual rate of over 5% and reduce extreme poverty from 38 to 18%. Many bet that this positive dynamic would cease as soon as prices fell. Maple passed this test by increasing public spending to compensate for the drop in export earnings. Bolivia continued to grow, although less rapidly than before, while the other South American countries were sinking into the current regional slowdown. The price of this policy, which some baptized as “escape forward”, were the high fiscal deficits of the last five years and the fall in foreign exchange reserves. In response to this, the transitional government of Jeanine Añez has begun a budgetary adjustment that this year will cut public investment by almost one billion dollars.
David Choquehuanca is one of the founders of MAS and was considered Morales’ natural successor until January 2017, when he was fired from the post of Foreign Minister he had held for 11 years. Morales moved him away to secure his own position as the only presidential candidate of the MAS, although he could no longer be legally re-elected. After the snub, many close friends of the former minister left the “political instrument”, but Choquehuanca himself remained within him and continued to be highly appreciated by the Aymara-based peasant unions, the indigenous community to which he belongs.
Choquehuanca is a moderate indigenist who seeks respect for the rights of Bolivian indigenous people and the elimination of racism through the dissemination of the “ancestral worldview”, one of whose principles is, according to him, pacifism. When he was chancellor, he drew attention to what his critics called his “esoteric” initiatives. One of them was to make the hands of the clock of the Legislative Palace march in the opposite direction to the normal one, to show the heterodox view of the indigenous peoples over time. In a recent interview, Choquehuaca said he will seek a “more united, more democratic, more participatory Bolivia, which does not exclude anyone, where we all build the brotherhood.” Internally, its objective is to “recover the true spirit” of the MAS-led process, which in the opinion of many of its militants was distorted in recent years by the arrival of a large number of upstarts and opportunists to the government.
Arce and Choquehuanca have a very difficult campaign ahead of them, as the Añez Executive is subjecting the MAS to an overwhelming judicial persecution. In a final episode, he has mobilized military troops throughout the country to prevent Morales’ followers from organizing protests for January 22, the day of the Plurinational State, when they celebrate the anniversary of their coming to power.