Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Democracy in Bolivia survives — for now

Things aren’t getting any easier for Hugo Chavez’s clients in Latin America. Although the final results for Bolivia’s recent gubanatorial and mayoral elections won’t be known until April 24, it appears that President Evo Morales’s efforts to break the back of his opposition have fallen short. While Morales appears to still control at least five ...

STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Things aren't getting any easier for Hugo Chavez's clients in Latin America. Although the final results for Bolivia's recent gubanatorial and mayoral elections won't be known until April 24, it appears that President Evo Morales's efforts to break the back of his opposition have fallen short. While Morales appears to still control at least five of the nine governorships in Bolivia, the opposition held strong in their traditional resource-rich bastions of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Tarija. One governorship still remains too close to call.

Stinging too were the losses of the mayorships in seven of the country's 10 major cities, including the capital La Paz, where a one-time ally of Morales won after breaking with his ruling MAS party.

Morales was visibly displeased with the results, which came after months of bullying and repressing the opposition, straight from the playbook of his patron Chavez. Clearly, he was hoping to deal a death-blow to the already battered opposition, the only remaining obstacle to Morales's aspiration to "refound" Bolivia based on a bizarre mix of retro-indigenous mythology, socialism, and coca-growing.

Things aren’t getting any easier for Hugo Chavez’s clients in Latin America. Although the final results for Bolivia’s recent gubanatorial and mayoral elections won’t be known until April 24, it appears that President Evo Morales’s efforts to break the back of his opposition have fallen short. While Morales appears to still control at least five of the nine governorships in Bolivia, the opposition held strong in their traditional resource-rich bastions of Santa Cruz, Beni, and Tarija. One governorship still remains too close to call.

Stinging too were the losses of the mayorships in seven of the country’s 10 major cities, including the capital La Paz, where a one-time ally of Morales won after breaking with his ruling MAS party.

Morales was visibly displeased with the results, which came after months of bullying and repressing the opposition, straight from the playbook of his patron Chavez. Clearly, he was hoping to deal a death-blow to the already battered opposition, the only remaining obstacle to Morales’s aspiration to "refound" Bolivia based on a bizarre mix of retro-indigenous mythology, socialism, and coca-growing.

After half-heartedly claiming victory, Morales returned to form by threatening criminal proceedings against election officials in the four provinces that his party didn’t win on charges of perpetrating "fraud."

Like Chavez, Morales still enjoys national popularity — he easily won re-election in December 2009, will remain in office until 2014, and holds a comfortable majority in congress — but the results of this election demonstrate that his support may be wide but it is not deep and that many Bolivians are not keen to give him the sort of carte blanche that Chavez snookered Venezuelans into providing him in recent years.

But despite the electoral setback, it would be a mistake to believe Morales will back down in any way. His next maneuver is orchestrating Bolivia’s first-ever election for high court justices, which critics understandably see as a way to give a patina of legality to his authoritarian bent.

What do Morales’s autocratic machinations mean for the United States? It’s true that Bolivia is a poor, landlocked country with little U.S. investment amidst a crowded field of international issues competing for the Obama administration’s attention. And the administration has rightfully shown no urgency in sending an ambassador there since Morales ordered the unceremonious expulsion in 2007 of well-respected, career diplomat Phillip Goldberg, under the absurd pretext that Goldberg’s previous posting in the Balkans meant his assignment in Bolivia was to break up the country into disparate parts.

But threats to Bolivian democracy deserve U.S. attention not only because of the tremendous investment over the years by the United States in supporting democracy and rule of law in the Americas, but also because the Bolivian people, who have suffered perhaps more than any in the hemisphere at the hands of colonial exploitation, deserve better than their current lot. They need leaders looking to the future, who embrace globalization, and can leverage Bolivia’s vast natural resources into real growth and prosperity, not the current crop who care only about nursing historical grievances and following the same old failed statist policies of the past. 

José R. Cárdenas was acting assistant administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development in the George W. Bush administration.

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.