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Will Morales turn to the professional and middle classes for badly needed technical expertise?
In addition, the mining and hydrocarbons sectors are characterized by the graft, inefficiency and nepotism that are endemic throughout all levels of government here. The most visible example was the arrest earlier this year of Santos Ramirez as head of the state oil company, YPFB. Ramirez was a close confidant of Morales, and the No. 2 man in the MAS party. He is now awaiting trial.
Despite the global economic downturn, Bolivia’s economy is growing at a 3 to 4 percent rate largely because of massive government expenditures, foreign assistance and higher state revenues from natural gas exports. And there are two less talked-about factors behind Bolivia’s economic solvency: the cocaine traffic, which has grown each year since Morales took office in 2006, and what diplomatic sources describe as the off-the-books transfer of hundreds of millions of dollars to Morales’ government from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.
Observers say that decisions Morales makes in coming weeks regarding cabinet changes and appointments to top economic posts will indicate the government’s intentions more than what he or other government officials say for internal consumption.
An early indication that the government is opening its doors to professionals and others in the middle class was the announcement several months ago that Ana Maria Campero, a former publisher of a La Paz newspaper and a widely regarded moderate, would run on the MAS ticket for senator from La Paz. Elected Sunday, she has said she wants to be a “bridge” between the “social movements” that comprise much of the MAS support and the middle and professional classes.
Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, a Trotskyite, met personally with groups of business leaders in Santa Cruz before the election. He said they were welcome to join the revolutionary process. The agro-industrial sector and hydrocarbons exports from Santa Cruz compose one of the strengths of the economy.
Most rural and poor Bolivians, many of them living in extreme poverty, thrill at the prospect of attaining a larger share of Bolivia’s riches and political power. They say Morales is only finishing the work of the 1952 revolution, when peasants and miners led by urban intellectuals rose up and defeated the army and the traditional oligarchy whose privileges it protected.
Predating the revolution led by Fidel Castro of Cuba by seven years, the 1952 revolution here was the second major 20th century revolution in Latin America after Mexico’s. The country’s indigenous majority was extended suffrage, land was redistributed and public education was brought to the rural areas. The nation’s tin mines, which had been in the hands of several fabulously wealthy “tin barons,” were nationalized. The reforms later were halted or reversed by conservative military and civilian governments that followed, but the 1952 revolution always has been a touchstone of legitimacy for political leaders of all stripes.
Despite his popularity, opposition to Morales’ government has been fierce and election rhetoric has made business groups wonder what the future will bring.
“Everyone is worried," Mario Kempff, who represents Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems and Microsoft in Bolivia, said just before the election. "That has its effect on a willingness to invest. There is a high degree of uncertainty.”