Connect to share and comment

With power consolidated, will Evo Morales take Bolivia to the center?

Will Morales turn to the professional and middle classes for badly needed technical expertise?

A mine worker attends a rally in support of Bolivian President Evo Morales in La Paz, Oct. 9, 2009. The government’s socialist policies have had the most disastrous effects in the key mining and hydrocarbons sectors. (David Mercado/Reuters)

LA PAZ, Bolivia – Evo Morales has a license to do what he wants.

The socialist president of Bolivia overwhelmingly won a second term with 63 percent of the vote. His party also earned a majority in the Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of the Senate seats in Sunday's election. He even made inroads in the eastern departments where opposition to his reforms has been the strongest.

But his government is still plagued by inefficiency, corruption and bureaucracy.

So with his power consolidated, two questions are on many Bolivians’ minds: Will Morales fulfill his promise to be “a government of dialogue” in his second term? And will he turn to the professional and middle classes for the technical expertise that his administration and the public sector agencies badly need?

The government’s socialist policies have had the most disastrous effects in the key mining and hydrocarbons sectors. Despite windfall revenues in the past two years from international oil and gas prices and the nationalization of the sector, a lack of investment and exploration has led to declines in both mineral and natural gas production.

“There is no doubt. The next government of Evo is going to try to be efficient in its administration,” said Jorge Crespo, a former minister and diplomat who served during several previous administrations.

Morales came to power after rising through the ranks of the coca growers unions in the Chapare region in Bolivia’s central highland valleys. He says he will continue to govern mainly for the nation’s poor and its indigenous campesinos who comprise some 60 percent of the population. But he also says Bolivia must industrialize its economy, and the government will need help to do that.

Much of the support for his party, Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), comes from rural and indigenous groups and unions where politics often takes precedence over pragmatism or productivity. However, in the eastern departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija, Morales and the MAS still face strong opposition. Significantly, those are the areas that have become the country’s economic engine.

Despite MAS’s radical politics, Crespo and others say there is a need in the government ministries and agencies for professionally trained technocrats and others with expertise rather than political credentials.

“There is so much bureaucracy, such a lack of capacity,” said Rolando Calvimontes, a former national highway director and ex-mayor of Villamontes, in Tarija Department, where most of the country’s natural gas is located.

The mining sector, once the backbone of the mineral-rich country’s economy, has languished in recent years as at least 200 privately owned mines were taken over by members of MAS-aligned campesino groups. There has been virtually no investment in the state-run mining company, COMIBOL.

“Evo has just destroyed the mining industry,” said Charles Bruce, a Scot who has worked in Bolivia’s mines for 50 years and lost his mine to a campesino takeover two years ago.