Church partners welcome victory of radical leader in Bolivia

Church partners welcome victory of radical leader in Bolivia

By staff writers
7 Jan 2006

Church partners welcome victory of radical leader in Bolivia

-07/01/06

The overwhelming victory of Evo Morales, the radical indigenous leader, in Boliviaís recent presidential election has been warmly welcomed by partners of Christian Aid, the UK-based international development agency supported by many of Britainís leading denominations.

Evo Moralesí, chief rival, the conservative Jorge ëTutoí Quiroga conceded defeat when it became clear that Morales had polled nearly 54% of the vote in the election held on 18 December 2005 ñ much higher than expected.

It was the biggest support for any candidate since democracy was restored in Bolivia in the 1980s.

And progressive church groups believe that the new president is serious in his commitment to achieving social justice for the poorest and most excluded groups in society.

However there are also worries that serious reforms could be undermined by the temptation of political grandstanding in the international arena.

In 1999 an international conference on grassroots Catholic movements was held in Bolivia, though the Church there remains comparatively traditional. Protestant groups have made fewer inroads than in other parts of Latin America.

ìIt is undoubtedly better that Evo Morales won, and by such a large margin. It means that Bolivia finally has a strong leader with the backing of a wide cross-section of society,' said Carlos Arze, the director of the Centre for Labour and Agrarian Development, a Christian Aid partner in the Bolivian capital, La Paz.

But Moralesí plans to assert greater state control over the countryís vast hydro-carbons reserves are likely to bring him into conflict and possibly litigation with international oil companies.

British Gas has already initiated dispute proceedings with the Bolivian government, which could reach an international court if an accommodation cannot be reached. The dispute centres on the tax rate paid by multi-national companies for extracting natural gas.

Many of the people who voted for Morales want him to renationalise the gas industry. Because he captured such a large share of the vote, his constituency includes not only indigenous farmers, but also former miners and even some of the middle classes. Morales will have to find a way of placating his constituency, without chasing away foreign investors.

President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has, however, managed successfully to renegotiate contracts with oil companies. Reluctantly, companies such as BP, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron agreed to give Venezuelaís state-owned oil company majority ownership of their concessions and sign new contracts that will subject them to higher taxes.

In Bolivia, the Morales presidency is also likely to come into early conflict with the United States over his drugs policy.

Morales first rose to power as the leader of Boliviaís coca leaves farmers. These leaves have been consumed for thousands of years in Bolivia for religious and medicinal purposes. Bolivians traditionally chew the leaves to stave off hunger and to boost energy.

But the leaves are also one of the main constituents in the narcotic, cocaine. Bolivia is believed to be the worldís third largest cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru.

It is currently legal to grow coca in certain parts of Bolivia to serve the domestic coca leaf market. Under pressure from the US, growing coca in the Chapare region in Cochabamba, east of La Paz, was outlawed.

Morales would like to focus law enforcement efforts on the narco-traffickers rather than traditional coca growers. Coca commands a higher price than other crops, even when it is not converted into cocaine, and many people in Chapare are desperately poor.

It is unlikely, however, the US will take the same view. US efforts to discredit Morales and link him with narco-trafficking have already begun.

The US wields great influence in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and Morales could find development aid to the country restricted in future, warned Mr Arze.

Morales' victory is part of a developing leftward shift in Latin American democratic politics, with popular dissatisfaction growing at social inequality, poverty and corruption.

[Also on Ekklesia related to Bolivia: Bolivia erupts against inequality and poverty; Christian Aid warns of trade talks walk-out after leak; Christian aid groups launch virtual gifts for Christmas; Journeys With Garth Hewitt Latin America; Brown: Debt summit progress down to churches]

click hereThe overwhelming victory of Evo Morales, the radical indigenous leader, in Bolivia's recent presidential election has been warmly welcomed by partners of Christian Aid, the UK-based international development agency supported by many of Britain's leading denominations.

Evo Morales', chief rival, the conservative Jorge ëTuto' Quiroga conceded defeat when it became clear that Morales had polled nearly 54% of the vote in the election held on 18 December 2005 - much higher than expected.

It was the biggest support for any candidate since democracy was restored in Bolivia in the 1980s.

And progressive church groups believe that the new president is serious in his commitment to achieving social justice for the poorest and most excluded groups in society.

However there are also worries that serious reforms could be undermined by the temptation of political grandstanding in the international arena.

In 1999 an international conference on grassroots Catholic movements was held in Bolivia, though the Church there remains comparatively traditional. Protestant groups have made fewer inroads than in other parts of Latin America.

'It is undoubtedly better that Evo Morales won, and by such a large margin. It means that Bolivia finally has a strong leader with the backing of a wide cross-section of society,' said Carlos Arze, the director of the Centre for Labour and Agrarian Development, a Christian Aid partner in the Bolivian capital, La Paz.

But Morales' plans to assert greater state control over the country's vast hydro-carbons reserves are likely to bring him into conflict and possibly litigation with international oil companies.

British Gas has already initiated dispute proceedings with the Bolivian government, which could reach an international court if an accommodation cannot be reached. The dispute centres on the tax rate paid by multi-national companies for extracting natural gas.

Many of the people who voted for Morales want him to renationalise the gas industry. Because he captured such a large share of the vote, his constituency includes not only indigenous farmers, but also former miners and even some of the middle classes. Morales will have to find a way of placating his constituency, without chasing away foreign investors.

President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela has, however, managed successfully to renegotiate contracts with oil companies. Reluctantly, companies such as BP, Exxon-Mobil and Chevron agreed to give Venezuela's state-owned oil company majority ownership of their concessions and sign new contracts that will subject them to higher taxes.

In Bolivia, the Morales presidency is also likely to come into early conflict with the United States over his drugs policy.

Morales first rose to power as the leader of Bolivia's coca leaves farmers. These leaves have been consumed for thousands of years in Bolivia for religious and medicinal purposes. Bolivians traditionally chew the leaves to stave off hunger and to boost energy.

But the leaves are also one of the main constituents in the narcotic, cocaine. Bolivia is believed to be the world's third largest cocaine producer after Colombia and Peru.

It is currently legal to grow coca in certain parts of Bolivia to serve the domestic coca leaf market. Under pressure from the US, growing coca in the Chapare region in Cochabamba, east of La Paz, was outlawed.

Morales would like to focus law enforcement efforts on the narco-traffickers rather than traditional coca growers. Coca commands a higher price than other crops, even when it is not converted into cocaine, and many people in Chapare are desperately poor.

It is unlikely, however, the US will take the same view. US efforts to discredit Morales and link him with narco-trafficking have already begun.

The US wields great influence in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and Morales could find development aid to the country restricted in future, warned Mr Arze.

Morales' victory is part of a developing leftward shift in Latin American democratic politics, with popular dissatisfaction growing at social inequality, poverty and corruption.

[Also on Ekklesia related to Bolivia: Bolivia erupts against inequality and poverty; Christian Aid warns of trade talks walk-out after leak; Christian aid groups launch virtual gifts for Christmas; Journeys With Garth Hewitt Latin America; Brown: Debt summit progress down to churches]

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