In June mass protests demanding the nationalisation of the energy sector pushed out the president of Bolivia. José Sagaz of the Bolivia Solidarity Campaign spoke to David Broader, giving a personal view.
Have the protests against privatization in Bolivia retained the same militancy since President Mesa was deposed the 6 June?
The protestors gave the new president time to nationalise the oil industry — they’ve said he has 100 days. The organisations are still intact and haven’t been dismantled.
But do the trade union federations seriously think that he’s going to do that?
Well, we don’t know. The trade union federations have to deal with rank and file demands, so they are being pushed by their base, the people. Sometimes the demands of the trade union federations might be very moderate. They wouldn’t dare to call for nationalisation, but when the rank and file asked for that, they had to echo those demands.
So are the trade union leaders, as well as political figures like Morales (Movement to Socialism, MAS) holding back the militancy of the ordinary workers?
Yes, that is the really disappointing thing. For example Evo Morales never calls for nationalisation, when all the mobilisations are calling for nationalisation of the oil industry. Evo Morales says in a very shy way “no, we want to increase taxes on the corporations”. In several demonstrations, he’s said that he’s calling for nationalization — but not when he’s talking to the media. Because, I think, Evo Morales is looking forward to being the next president (he came second in the Presidential election on 30 June), he doesn’t want to be seen as very radical.
He didn’t support the COB’s call for a general strike, so he’s playing on the radicalism of the movement, yet trying not to alienate middle-class voters?
Probably. He has been invited by Hugo Chavez to Venezuela, and by Lula to Brazil. Chavez invited Morales, like he was a president — he’s acting already as the President of Bolivia in certain environments.
I don’t know why he’s become moderate — but the working-class is well organised, so I feel confident that if Morales becomes neutral, — like Lula for example — the organised working-class will be able to get rid of him.
Is there an organised opposition to Morales?
FEJUVE (the federation of neighbourhoods in El Alto) are very critical of him. There is an ongoing battle now… what is the opposition, what is the alternative to that? There is no political group that could be the alternative. There is only the workers’ federation and the federation of neighbourhoods as structures holding the whole movement together. But there is no political opposition to Morales.
Morales has announced that his running mate for the election will be Linera, who’s called for a separatist Aymara state. Has that alienated the working class in, for example, El Alto, or do they support that demand?
That is the worst demand to have now. There is another guy, Felipe Quispe, calling for a separate state, which is really undermining the working-class movement. It’s a mixture of desperation and ignorance attracting people to these ideas. It’s just like with any fascist organisation — they are attracted by the idea that “we are a superior group of people”. It is undermining, but at the moment it is very small movement, so we have to rely on the conscience of the masses.
Last June, when the Aymaras were walking down to the presidential palace, Quispe quickly came down to the front of the demonstration, with his flags and so on. But the good thing — which I admire and feel proud of in the consciousness of the people — is that they asked him to leave. I’ve been told that aides of Quispe came quickly to him and said “brother, we have to leave now, because they are telling us that we are opportunists and will kill us if we stay here at the head of the demonstration” — and they left. We didn’t here anything all June about Felipe Quispe, he just disappeared.
Should people vote for Morales in a presidential election and exert pressure on him to push for nationalisation?
I don’t know if that is the strategy to follow, but the problem is this: every time that the people come together and ask for concrete demands, the answer is always to have new elections, vote for a new president. But we don’t really care at this particular moment if there’s a new president. It doesn’t matter, because if Evo Morales comes to power, we’ll probably be doing this in a year, just like the previous year.
New elections are a trick of the ruling class in Bolivia. When there’s a popular uprising, they say that they’re defending democracy by, calling for a new president. And so meanwhile the looting of natural resources keeps going on in Bolivia.
Are organizations in Bolivia looking for international left solidarity, or do they want to take on their ruling class by themselves?
We very much rely on international support. We need it desperately to carry on the struggle. We know this from experience. When Sanchez de Lozada, a previous president, was massacring people — he killed 80 in El Alto — it was [resolved] thanks to international solidarity, from organisations in England and the USA, picketing Bolivian embassies, and asking for explanations. De Lozada said that the people he murdered were narco-terrorists, so the United States government supported him. It was international solidarity which helped to break the myth — how can the poorest people in South America be narco-terrorists? They had to concede the demands of the people — and international support from the left was crucial in this respect.