Bolivia’s Morales Struts His Stuff as Strategist and Adept Politician
A Successful Leader
But Morales may be mistaken in terms of prudence if he places too much store in Chávez’s ability to control his periodic anti-U.S. rhetoric, which almost always is more bark than bite. In other words, Morales’ job is to diversify the economic and political choices available to him and increase his ability to significantly influence oncoming events. The second challenge Morales faces is to instill and maintain domestic tranquility and to be able to continue to win over those who vote for him despite the serious corruption charges that plague his administration, and the shortcomings in the level of skilful public administration he is able to muster.
Morales’ victory may be considered a mandate by some supporters, but the nation was too close to being split to risk being falsely optimistic. Morales’ electoral success is attributable to rural indigenous voters, who backed the referendum by approximately 82 percent to 18 percent, while only 52 percent of urban Bolivians opted in favor of the constitution and Morales’ side of the story. In spite of his personal triumph, Morales has been extremely humble in handling the situation’s aftermath. The president sensibly recognizes the deep divisions caused by some of his policies in recent months. Morales appears to be a genuine man of the people, legitimately concerned with making the necessary changes in order to lift up Bolivia’s indigenous, rather than being obsessed by the markings of his own personal power. Recently, in order to gain key changes to the national charter, Morales agreed to limit himself to only one more term as president, if reelected in 2014. This represented an extraordinary manifestation of personal denial.
Obstacles to Progress
Yet Morales will have to be careful when trying to achieve his political goals, to not overstep his reach by alienating too many of his doubters. On January 31, Morales fired the head of the state oil company on charges of corruption. Santos Ramirez, former chairman of Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), is being investigated by Congress after a man was murdered in his house who was carrying $450,000 in what is thought to be bribe money. The case of Ramirez, who was the sixth head of YPFB in three years, and is alleged to have committed multiple acts of corruption, will only provide ammunition for Morales’ opponents to attack the moral rectitude underlying the president’s expansion of governmental control over national industries beyond the point that it can be easily managed.
Morales was quick to replace Ramirez with current planning minister and former energy minister, Carlos Villegas. One must wonder why Ramirez was still in such a powerful position despite being earlier charged with soliciting a bribe in exchange for granting a government contract to the Argentine-Bolivian company, Catler Uniservice. Nonetheless, it is now a matter of urgent importance that Morales restore the Bolivian people’s confidence in his administration, as corruption charges have plagued both his government and party, Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS), posing a indictment concerning the rectitude of his rule.
Distancing Himself from Chávez?
Fortunately for Morales’ standing, he has maintained an air of calmness during this process, steering clear in recent weeks of the vehemently anti-American rhetoric that Chávez has failed to master. This relative political moderation in spite of the diplomatic overkills he has committed against the U.S. and Israel must be looked at as temporary indiscretions rather than as policy to be written in stone. Washington seems to be holding back on Morales, not being prepared at this time to break all links to Bolivia as it seems much more inclined to do when it comes to Venezuela. Morales’ newly found legitimacy in Washington’s eyes allows it to dream of trying to put Bolivia on a more orthodox track towards development and parity, as a recent statement from US State Department spokesman Robert Wood envisaged: “We look forward to working with the Bolivian government in ways we can to further democracy and prosperity in the hemisphere.”