In the past several years, popular anger toward such powerful institutions has fueled a growing culture of protest, attracting tens of thousands of indigenous farmers and other disgruntled residents. The movement has gained enough clout to drive one president from office and bring a second one to the brink of resigning last month.
In 2003, protests against a plan to export fuel through neighboring Chile, considered by many to be the nation’s archrival, led to the fall of President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada. His successor, Carlos Mesa, has since faced an average of 40 protests a day, according to one newspaper’s count. In March, a series of roadblock demonstrations prompted Mesa to twice offer his resignation to Congress. The gesture was rejected, but in a televised plea, Mesa told the country that the protesters were causing Bolivia to commit “collective suicide.” ~The Washington Post
In the great litany of revolutions, recited almost daily by the neocons and their hangers-on in many major newspapers, the successful removal of the avowedly pro-American, neo-liberal and brutal President Sanchez de Lozada through popular protest in 2003 never receives any mention. (Note that while the “authoritarian” Akayev specifically ordered his soldiers not to fire on the Bishkek protesters, Sanchez de Lozada had no qualms about a few dead protesters on his orders.)
This is understandable: the populism of Bolivia is of the old, destructive, socialist type that used to sober up any conservative who was becoming too tipsy on the rhetoric of democracy, and the success of this populism has, as is so often the case with real populism, seriously destabilised the country and created chronic uncertainty about its markets. Above all, it ousted the wrong kind of authoritarian president, namely one that the hegemonists and multinationals were backing, and it has shown that the real face of populism, when not stage managed by oligarchs or apparatchiks in tandem with foreign support, is not an attractive one. Evo Morales, the despotic and demagogic leader of many of these protests, cannot be the poster boy of the global democratic revolution the hegemonists are selling–not because he lacks democratic credentials (compared to the criminals Yushchenko and Chalabi, he is assuredly a “man of the people,” for what truly little that is worth), but because he shows the world exactly the sorts of men who thrive on the rhetoric and upheaval of unadulterated populism.
Bolivia reveals all the limitations and flaws in placing hope in democracy and populism as the means to “reform,” when Latin American populism has been the most constant force in opposition to the sort of “reform” the hegemonists have been pushing. Bolivia’s example tells us that there may be whole swathes of the world in which popular regimes will stunt the development of the country or will wrack the country with chronic instability. The reason none of the hegemonists invokes Bolivia along with the usual examples (Georgia, Ukraine, Lebanon, etc.) is because their project is doomed to be Bolivia writ large: confused, destabilising populism ultimately rejecting their directives at the same time that it further disorders the countries affected. It is a symbol of utter failure all around.
It should surely sober up some of the enthusiasts for the invasion of Iraq to realise that one day in the distant future, if we are very lucky, Iraq may become as much of a fully functioning and balanced democratic republic as Bolivia. Now, won’t that have been worth all the destruction and death?