As my time in Bolivia comes to a close, I wish to chronicle some of the criticisms of the Evo Morales MAS government I have heard in my conversations with Bolivians and to also outline some of the problems surrounding the social movements in Cochabamba particularly as it relates to the water wars. My arguments below are in no way based on extensive research; they are simply detailing my own observations and the critiques of the Bolivians I live and study with, Ph.D students from abroad studying politics and the water wars in Bolivia, former revolutionaries who have been tortured in the 70s and 80s as well as Bolivian feminists and Marxists. All of these people politically identify on the left.
Outside Bolivia, Evo Morales is idealised by those on the left for his socialist, anti-imperialist rhetoric and his celebration of Andean culture and way of life. However, many of the Quechua people living in the Barrio have criticised him for his co-optation of Andean discourse and values as a political strategy. According to them, he blends much of Quechua and Aymara philosophy in ways that dangerously conflate contrasting and complex principles of Andean culture. Suddenly diverse indigenous practices and philosophies have been collapsed as one Andean culture/way of life in the public political discourse. Moreover, while he adopts Andean philosophy --particularly PachaMamaism/Love of Mother Earth-- in his political platform, he simultaneously panders to the business groups seeking to extract and exploit the natural resources and labour of indigenous communities. The exploitation of Bolivia's natural resources to capitalist ends are completely incompatible with the principles of Pacha Mamaism. In fact, the very indigenous people who voted for Evo have come out in numbers across the Andes against his attempts to extract the country's natural resources and displace thousands of indigenous people in the last few months.
Secondly, while Evo enjoys overwhelming support of much of the indigenous working class, many middle class Quechuas like my host family feel alienated by him and feel that he only represents and governs for indigenous people of a certain class. The difficulty however, I have had with their argument is that it is often filled with clear classist underpinnings. They support another indigenous candidate Felix Patzi who is middle-class, fully educated, published and and juxtapose him with Evo who they feel is a "poor, ignorant campesino". I am suspicious of their claims that Evo is just "not educated enough" nor does he speak Spanish "well enough" to be president. These arguments emerge out of a colonialist paradigm and linguistic hegemony that declare Spanish as the language of the "civilised" and the "superior". Needless to say I am somewhat skeptical about the intention of the argument itself. However, I will concede that Evo is forced to carry a burden of representation that fixes indigenous people as belonging to a certain class--the campesino class-- and erases the fact that there are indeed middle-class, educated, indigenous people.
Another point of interest is the water wars and the state of social movements in Bolivia under Evo's ruling party. In the international scene the water wars in Cochabamba have been praised as a moment of triumph for the will of the people. However, from what I am seeing on the ground and through my conversation with Anna a ph.d student from Whales studying the water wars in Cochabamba, I have come to see a completely different picture. First of all, people in Zona Norte have full and complete access to running, clean water. People in the Zona Sur do not. The MAS government has sanctioned the social movement fighting for water wars but members of that movement are forced to go to at least three meetings a week. Failure to attend these meeting will result in a fine of 10 bolivianos. This fine is also extended to those who fail to attend the rallies and protest whose images we see proudly being displayed in the local and international media. I am not kidding. To what extent are these people voluntarily protesting if they will be fined for not showing up? If this is not a clear example of co-optation of social movements by Evo's government, I don't know what is.Instead of licensing the movement itself, forcing people to fight for the right to access to running water and fining them if they do not show up, why doesn't MAS just give the people from Zona Sur the access to running water that has already been granted to the people living in Zona Norte? Why not just set up the same/similar mechanisms that are in place in Zona Norte in the Zona Sur? Anna has explained that the difficulty is building the infrastructure to reach the Zona Sur as its geographical layout is very different from the Zona Norte. While the umbrella group has done a good job of getting funding from Europe and has provided access to some parts of the Zona Sur, there is still a lot more work to be done. Moreover, the most marginalised groups of people still do not have access to running water.
Also while the water wars stopped those in power from making the changes they wanted to make, none of the people in authority at SEMAPA controlling water distribution for Cochabamba was fired or replaced. With the same authorities in power and no new policy put in place, no real structural change has actually taken place concerning the water problem in Cochabamba. It is the communities who have been forced to unite and to figure out how to get access to running water in their barrios on their own. I don't know what has come out of these alternatives but I have often seen people in Plaza Colón stealing water from the fountains with buckets when the police aren't looking. Needless to say, the problem is far from solved and the war definitely has not been won. Something more needs to be done on the structural level.
These are just critiques from my small observations and anecdotal evidence from the people I have spent much of my time with Bolivia. I do not know how much of what they say is true. However I will say that there needs to be a more critical approach to Evo Morales and the MAS government from those of us on the left outside of Bolivia. There is certainly a lack of real critical engagement on our part and a romanticisation of Latin America's first indigenous president. Such romanticisation prevents us from critically engaging in/with the struggle for equality in Bolivia and ultimately from working in solidarity with those on the front lines.