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Volume 65 / Social Sciences

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS: BOLIVIA


JOSÉ ANTONIO LUCERO, Assistant Professor of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle

THE 2005 ELECTION OF EVO MORALES is widely acknowledged as a landmark event in Bolivian politics. For some, the election heralded the dawn of a democratic revolution and a break with neoliberal technocracy. For others, Morales is a populist caudillo whose policies have only further polarized the country. Of course, Bolivian political dynamics are much more complex than either of these two perspectives suggest, and the works reviewed for this volume of HLAS address the following general concerns: the crisis of the old political system, the Evo Morales and Alvaro García Linera administration, the politics of indigeneity and plurinationalism, the politics of Santa Cruz, and gender dynamics. Most are academic works, but some are primary documents providing the voices of important political protagonists.

Many works examine the collapse of pre-existing political and economic orders. Many authors see this political shift as a result of the corruption of the narrow "pacted democracy" and the rise of powerful social movements that played key roles in the resource wars (over water, gas, and taxes) during the first years of the century (items #bi2009004137#, #bi2009004138#, #bi2009004144#, #bi2009004148#, and #bi2009004149#). Other works recognize the problems of the older system, but are not necessarily optimistic about the prospects for governability and democracy under the new Morales-led order (items #bi2008003782#, #bi2008004808#, #bi2009004700#, and #bi2009004829#). There is also an interesting debate about whether, and to what extent, the new government truly is "revolutionary." (items #bi2008003992#, #bi2008002633#, #bi2009004148#, and #bi2008001451#). Other authors explore the crisis of state and current political transformation at the local level, examining such key sites of contention as El Alto, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, or smaller local municipalities (items #bi2009004425#, #bi2009004145# #bi2009004701#, #bi2009004702#, #bi2008002579#, #bi2009004708#, and #bi2009001209#).

Though many works examine the new structures and configurations of power, there is understandably much attention on the individuals at the center of this transformation, especially President Morales and Vice President García Linera. There have been several biographies of Evo Morales (item #bi2009004712#, among them) and there are also several books that provide a view of the intellectual trajectory of the vice president (items #bi2009004143# and #bi2009001209#). Perhaps inevitably, there is a growing number of works that are extremely critical of the Morales administration, texts that portray his success as the product of the work of foreign powers and NGOs and his rule as responsible for an escalating number of deaths in social confrontations (item #bi2009004703# and #bi2009004829#). A more reasoned academic critique suggests severe gender blind spots in Morales' revolutionary program (item #bi2008003992#).

Given the historic nature of the 2005 election of Bolivia's first indigenous president, it is not surprising that indigenous politics is a central concern of many of the works reviewed for HLAS 65. Several works explore the trajectories of indigenous social movements (items #bi2009004134# and #bi2009004148#), the history of indigenous representation in the public sphere (item #bi2009004147#), and the politics of indigenous languages and bilingual education (items #bi2009004142#, #bi2009004145#, and #bi2009004831#). Bolivians followed an often difficult path to a constituent assembly, but nevertheless approved a new constitution that provides pathways for new indigenous rights and autonomy. Several works examine the new legal architecture and the challenges ahead for "plurinational" Bolivia (items #bi2009004135# and #bi2008003782#). While the constitution is one arena for the government's project of "decolonization," another is the economic realm in which Bolivia seeks to redefine its relationship to the world, especially in terms of the hydrocarbon sector (items #bi2009004139#, #bi2009004138#, #bi2008003782#, and #bi2008004808#).

Of course, the political and economic changes underway are not without their critics and one of the centers of anti-Morales sentiment is the department and city of Santa Cruz, the subject of many works. Many scholars provide historical discussions of the rise of Santa Cruz (items #bi2009004826# and #bi2009004711#), while others take as their focus the construction of autonomy discourse and camba identity (items #bi2008002185#, #bi2008002864#, and #bi2009004707#). Waldmann (item #bi2009004714#) provides an especially helpful and multidimensional ethnographic look at the city of Santa Cruz, while Postero (item #bi2009004705#) and Gustafson (item #bi2009004145#) offer important insights into Guarani territories in (and beyond) Santa Cruz.

Finally, there are several important works on the politics of gender in Bolivia. The work of Mujeres Creando, perhaps the best known feminist activist group in the country, is receiving growing attention (items #bi2009004137# and #bi2009004141#). The work of Mujeres Creando (2009) can also literally be read on the walls of Bolivia as graffiti has become their main form of political and artistic intervention (item #bi2009004825#). There are also an increasing number of female politicians in the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) Party who are making their voices heard (item #bi2009004146#). Canessa (item #bi2008003992#) braids discussions of masculinity and femininity in his exploration of the campaign of Evo Morales and the history of gender dynamics in the Bolivian countryside. Mujeres Creando (item #bi2009004825#) launches sharp critiques against the machismo of both the government and the lowland opposition. As Morales has won re-election and the opposition regroups, the walls and bookstores of Bolivia will continue to offer new readings of the drama of politics.


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