Bolivia, a country in the Andes, has developed strongly in recent years. Since the left-wing president Evo Morales took office, poverty in the country has been more than halved, life expectancy has risen by four years and the economy is booming. Bolivia has achieved this through the nationalisation of its mineral resources and an economic policy that takes care of the poorest in the country.

Bolivia was previously known as the impoverished nation of Latin America. Despite having abundant natural resources, the majority of the profits derived from their exploitation were received by major corporations from Europe and North America. However, this situation underwent a transformation when Evo Morales, an indigenous trade unionist, was elected as president in 2006. Morales implemented the nationalization of Bolivia’s raw materials and implemented extensive social programs aimed at assisting the underprivileged population. Consequently, poverty in Bolivia was reduced by over fifty percent during his tenure, and the country’s economy experienced faster growth compared to nearly all other Latin American nations.

From poverty to the presidency

Evo Morales experienced a childhood of severe poverty in the mountainous regions of Bolivia during the 1960s. Unfortunately, four of his siblings passed away at a young age. He received only six years of formal education before contributing to the family’s income by selling confections and working at a bakery. During his youth, he became involved in the local coca farmers’ association and gradually assumed greater responsibilities within the organization.

The country’s government was controlled by the white upper class, although the population was largely indigenous. The country’s political situation had been marked by wars and coups d’état since independence in 1821. The economyThe movement was minimal. A significant portion of the population, particularly native farmers in the mountainous regions, resided in extreme destitution and had limited influence over the nation’s political affairs. Furthermore, the country’s mineral wealth was under the dominion corporationsThe impoverished population had very little access to the abundant resources of the country.

Foto von Alex Azabache auf Unsplash
The population hardly benefits from the mineral resources of their country. (Foto von Alex Azabache / Unsplash)

Morales wanted to change that. Together with other trade unionists and activists from the indigenous population, he created the Movimento al Socialismo (MAS) party. Their goal was to nationalise the mineral resources, strengthen the rights of the indigenous population and expand the welfare state. Despite opposition from the country’s political elites, Morales was elected the country’s first indigenous president in 2005 with an absolute majority. Under his presidency, which lasted until 2019, the country changed fundamentally.

Nationalisation of mineral resources

gas industry. This was a significant move made by the Morales administration as they took control of Bolivia’s oil and gas sector.gas resourcesIn 2006, a law mandated that the major multinational corporations that had previously controlled the mineral resources had to enter into new agreements with the state-owned oil and gas company, Yacimientos Petroliferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB). YPFB either fully took over the extraction of the raw materials or acquired partial ownership in certain cases. Similarly, in 2007, the Morales government adopted a comparable strategy to nationalize the mining industry. The Bolivian government further nationalized the telecommunications sector’s largest company the following year.

The government gained increased control over its resources through these nationalizations, enabling them to utilize the profits from extracting them for social and infrastructure initiatives.

Cancillería Ecuador / CC BY-SA 2.0
Evo Morales was elected Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2005. (Foto: Cancillería Ecuador / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The fight against poverty

When the Morales administration assumed power, Bolivia was the least affluent country in South America. Morales personally witnessed the severe poverty endured by the people. His objective, along with the MAS movement, was to eradicate this poverty. This objective was primarily accomplished through three approaches: bolstering the economy, increasing salaries, and enlarging the social welfare system.

the government used the revenue generated from extracting natural resources to improve the infrastructure of the nation. During the period from 2000 to 2015,public investment doubled. Roads, hospitalswere given ownership of their land, which led to increased agricultural productivity and improved living conditions in rural communities. Additionally, efforts were made to provide better infrastructure and access to education in these areas.gained accessThe text cannot be reworded as it does not contain any code or math formula.

increased in order to improve the financial situation of the least affluent individuals within the nation.quadrupledDuring the period of Morales’ presidency from 2006 to 2019, the increase in personal income allowed Bolivians to have more disposable income, enabling them to enhance their consumption habits. Consequently, this had a positive impact on the overall economy, contributing to its further growth.

Numerous social programmes were created to reduce poverty even further. The universal basic pension Renta DignidadThe importance of this is significant. Numerous elderly Bolivians were granted a pension for the initial time. Furthermore, impoverished families were provided assistance as long as they maintained their schoolInstead of directing them to their place of employment.Free mealsAdditional measures were implemented to enhance school attendance.

Poverty in Bolivia more than halved

Poverty in Bolivia has been more than halved from 47.20 to 15.60 during Morales’ term in office. Life expectancy has also risen from 64 to 68 years during this period. With an average economic growth of 4.7 percent, Bolivia’s economy has grown faster than in almost any other country in Latin America. At the same time, the government has been able to significantly reduce social inequality in the country.

MAS’s reforms mainly help the poorest in the country. (Foto: Lesly Derksen / Unsplash)

More rights for indigenous people

In addition to the social and economic improvements for the broad population of Bolivia, the MAS government was also able to strengthen the political rights of indigenous groups. A new constitution was adopted, making Bolivia a plurinational state. In the course of this, a total of 36 indigenous languages were recognised as official languages. In addition, the indigenous flag WiphalaThe flag has been used in the same way as the national flag.

Since the electoral success of MAS, more indigenous people have been elected to the national and regional parliaments or have held ministerial posts. Joshua, a taxi driver in La Paz, explained the political change as follows:

“We were once under the rule of the elite, but now our own citizens govern us. We currently experience a life of respect and self-worth.”

Morales’ flight from Bolivia and exile

The MAS government has faced both praise and criticism. Some argue that Morales was not attentive enough to the needs of the indigenous population, while others accuse his administration of neglecting environmental protection. Bolivia’s rainforests are being harmed by slash-and-burn agriculture, and the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and raw materials is a frequent point of contention.

Evo Morales faced significant criticism for his reluctance to step down from the presidency. He won the presidential elections in 2009 and 2014 with a substantial majority. However, in 2018, the Supreme Court overturned a constitutional article that barred him from running for another term. When Morales sought re-election the following year, he faced strong criticism both domestically and internationally. The election was marred by irregularities, and although Morales clearly emerged as the winner, the opposition refused to accept the outcome. This led to widespread riots across the country, with the police and military leadership aligning with the opposition. When the military chief urged Morales to resign, he complied and fled Bolivia.

The opposition from the right-wing gained control and attempted to undo numerous reforms made by the MAS government. Their agenda included reducing the welfare state, granting large corporations control over natural resource extraction once more, and most importantly, diminishing the rights and influence of the indigenous population. This opposition was primarily composed of evangelical Christians and the economic elites of the country.

The reform policy is being continued by the newly elected president.

Although it soon became clear that there was no electoral fraudIn the election of 2019, the newly formed government continuously postponed the scheduling of fresh elections. Eventually, the elections took place in October 2020, resulting in a clear victory for Luis Acre, the candidate from MAS and former Minister of Economy during the Morales administration. Subsequently, Evo Morales made his return to Bolivia.

Luis Acre is considered the architect behind Morales’ economic policy and is continuing his reforms. For example, Bolivia managed to keep inflation at the lowest level in Latin America through subsidies for food and energy.

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