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date: 15 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Evo Morales Ayma was elected president of Bolivia in December 2005, taking office in January 2006. He has since been reelected on two separate occasions, in 2009 and 2014. Like Lula in Brazil, Morales is one of the few Latin American leaders to emerge from truly humble origins, a trait that helps explain his lasting popularity with a largely poor and indigenous voting public. The evolution of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), Morales’s party, had its roots in the struggles to resist the United States–inspired “war on drugs” in the late 1990s, yet it managed to broaden the scope of its appeal to involve a range of social movements, both rural and urban, using the defense of natural resources as a leitmotiv to bring together disparate groupings. In government, Morales sought to engineer an abrupt change from neoliberal policies pursued by elite-led civilian administrations since the 1980s, reasserting the role of the state in development, bringing the all-important hydrocarbons industry back into public control, speeding up land reform, introducing a constitution that reasserted indigenous rights, and enacting policies designed to redistribute income and combat poverty.

A polemical figure, Morales has attracted adulation from supporters and bitter criticism from opponents. Scholarship has reflected this polarization. Conservative critics, at one end of the spectrum, have tended to stress the authoritarian features of his government and its disdain for democratic niceties; Marxists at the other end tend to see it as an exercise in pale reformism that has left the power structure in Bolivia largely intact. In between, of course, there are a variety of intermediary positions that draw out both the achievements and limitations that this article seeks to assess.

Keywords: Evo Morales, Bolivia, Movimiento al Socialismo, constitutional reform, coca, ethnicity, Santa Cruz, land reform, social policy, natural gas, indigenous rights, protest, extractivism, nationalization

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