The victory of Evo Morales, presidential candidate of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), in Bolivia’s December elections was a world-historical event of the first order. Its extent was unexpected, certainly by us. Morales won well over 50 percent of the vote. He vanquished his closest rival, former president Jorge Quiroga (the favorite of international capital) by a margin of more than 20 percentage points. Morales openly opposes neoliberalism and U.S. coca eradication policies, insists on national control of Bolivia’s natural gas and other natural resources, and promises to aid those at the bottom of the society. Bolivia is currently the poorest nation in South America, but it has the second largest natural gas reserves on the continent.
The enormously strong MAS victory, which surpassed all projections, is evidence that Morales was propelled into office by a massive turnout of the poor, mobilized by Bolivia’s dynamic social movements. These movements arose out of recent struggles over control of the nation’s natural resources, the rights of Bolivia’s indigenous majority, and opposition to neoliberal capitalism. The historic popular revolts associated with the fight against water privatization in 2000 and the gas wars of 2003 and 2005 are pushing Bolivian society in a revolutionary direction.
Yet, how far and how fast Morales and MAS will be able to proceed down that path, now that the election has been won, remains uncertain. The military remains under the control largely of officers trained in the school of torture at Fort Benning. CNN.com and other mainstream U.S. media outlets are already issuing reports transparently quoting conservative authorities claiming that Morales is Washington’s “worst nightmare” whose “socialism would be disastrous,” a friend of Castro and Chávez—immediately followed by the pointed observation that Bolivia has suffered “nearly 200 military coups” (see CNN.com, “Leftist Claims Bolivia Poll Win,” December 19, 2005). Over the last two generations the United States has been able to buy and turn into rabid neoliberal politicians scores of those who had once claimed to be Bolivian revolutionaries. Even Morales’s running mate, Alvaro Garcia Linera, has been reported as saying recently that “[w]e should admit that Bolivia will still be capitalist in the next 50 to 100 years.”
Prior to his inauguration Evo Morales first traveled to Cuba and then to Venezuela. This should remind observers that predictions based on the dismal years of U.S. domination of Bolivia since the death of Che Guevara may be mistaken. The terrified timidity of some “leftist” Bolivian politicians reflects a state of affairs and rates of change that are being rapidly transformed by new historical circumstances. The radical social movements, rooted in left-indigenous struggle, that are now demanding revolutionary change and that constitute the real force for democracy in Bolivian society are not isolated in the world. We know that we are not alone in worrying for the Bolivian democratic revolution in view of the U.S. backed forces that will be ranged against it, nor in our growing optimism that the tide is turning against the horrors of neoliberal imperialism across Latin America.
We were disturbed to learn that Dr. Ashwin Desai, author of the internationally acclaimed Monthly Review Press book, We Are the Poors, has recently been effectively banned from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa where he had previously been working in an unpaid capacity as an honorary research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society (directed by frequent MR contributor Patrick Bond). Not only has the vice chancellor of UKZN barred a search committee from considering him for a paid research position for which he had been selected, but he was also kept from resuming his honorary research fellow position (giving him access to university resources), which he resigned from in order to apply for the paid position. Formal protests have been lodged against this treatment of Ashwin by Patrick Bond, the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa, and important public intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein.
Ashwin’s crime that brought all this down on him?: In 1996 he was fired from the then University of Durban-Westville (UDW) for “incitement” of workers he had led in a struggle against outsourcing, retrenchments, etc. In 2003 following his appointment as an honorary research fellow at the then University of Natal (UN), the UDW lifted its ban on him at its campus. In 2004 the two universities—the UN and the UDW—were merged to form the UKZN. Although both branches of the merged university had accepted Ashwin’s right to work on their campuses, the vice chancellor of the UKZN nonetheless cited the previously rescinded UDW ban as the reason he was compelled to block Ashwin’s access to the university.
If the legal basis of all of this seems Kafkaesque, its political and ideological aspect is clear. Ashwin is an uncompromising critic of the neoliberal policies of cost-recovery from poor communities—through evictions, water and electricity cutoffs, and the like—being implemented by the ANC government and he has played a prominent role in community struggles against these policies. (MR readers looking for an update on these struggles in Durban should read the article by Ashwin’s comrade, Richard Pithouse, in this issue.) By their ban on Ashwin, UKZN is signaling that criticism of neoliberalism is to be ruled out of bounds in the academic community. It’s possible also UKZN is preparing the ground for major retrenchments at the merged university in the course of 2006.
MR readers concerned about political and intellectual freedom in the new South Africa and interested in obtaining more information on Ashwin’s case (including access to an online petition) should go to Raj Patel’s blog at http://www.voiceoftheturtle.org/raj/blog/.
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