When we left Bolivia in August 2008, an ongoing fight was heating up between the people in the highlands and the lowlands, between President Evo Morales’ supporters and the opposition, and between the rich and the poor. On the street, people would often ask me in passing not whether, but when, the civil war was going to break out. Even though I disliked the question, at times, I too believed this was a likely scenario for this country.
There had been episodes of armed violence on either side, threats, accusations, and a vitriolic propaganda machine that pitted the old guard against the indigenous majority now rising in power, and visa-versa.
Two years on, the picture appears very different. I noticed this change as soon as I jumped into a cab from El Alto to La Paz, and chatted with Carlos. “The protests and street blockades are now a thing of the past, señorita,” he said as we passed posters of a smiling Evo Morales. But protests aside, I noticed a lot less public debate about President Morales and his new constitution.
Could it be that most Bolivians have accepted Morales’ indigenous rights revolution as their own? Not likely. Bolivia has had a long history of racism and class divisions, starting with the arrival of the Spaniards in the late fifteenth century. To the white minority, seeing an Aymara man at the podium, and a growing number of indigenous people involved in government, is a difficult thing to swallow.
“The opposition has grown tired of attacking Morales,” Emilio Montaño, an engineer who lives in La Paz, told me. “They’ve tried to intimidate him and accuse him of being undemocratic, but all these attacks have only managed to discredit their own campaigns.”
Montaño admits that he has many reservations about Morales, mainly his ability to attract foreign investment and administer the country’s natural wealth. But overall, he says, “Evo’s done well so far, but he needs to do better now that the attacks have subsided.”
In other words, Montaño says, Morales has made it through four years of constitutional reforms and instability. And now it’s his chance to show he can govern for all Bolivians.
In my limited time back in Bolivia, it’s clear that the country has changed remarkably. I’ll be reflecting on those changes while in Bolivia over the next two weeks.
Ruxandra Guidi is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org based in San Francisco, California. She is Communications Director for the San Francisco-based non-profit Amazon Watch, and one half of the collaboration group, Fonografia Collective.