Bolivia - Some Advancements and Some Impasses

Sandeep Banerjee

Let us look into Bolivia. We shall look at only some facts which usually do not figure in regular discourses and we shall try to put the facts in proper perspectives. Caution: this essay is not for those who cannot tolerate any criticism towards the so-called Bolivarian Regimes in Latin America or are always on their toes to refute those as one-sided and not appreciative towards the right or need of development there, and towards the very difficult situation that those countries are facing. By the way, in this article we may present some criticism regarding Evo’s inability to transform the society to a desired state, but several important changes indeed have happened during Evo led MAS regime and that is being manifested by the exuberant and vulgar exhibition of the vindictive celebrations of the opposition after the imperialist sponsored coup d'état displacing Evo Morales.

But before going any farther, we the Indian readers must keep in mind that Bolivia’s poition is higher in Human Development Index than India, also GDP per capita (purchasing power parity basis) of Bolivia is a little higher than that of India.

Some aspects of Economy and Society  
Bolivia was one of the poorest countries in Latin America, ‘poorest’ in South America at the time it was voting Evo Morales Aymara in 2005, according to Björn-Sören Gigler of Georgetown University [1]. Moreover, Bolivia has a unique feature. After the gory ‘conquest’ and loot of the Americas by the conquistadores, the indigenous population of the Americas, still in places called ‘los indios’, became insignificant in numbers. Only in Bolivia they are the major part of the population according to INE [2]. Majority Bolivians do not hesitate to declare themselves as indigenous, though most are ‘mixed’, and a sizeable part of the population still speaks indigenous languages like Quechua (most spoken indigenous language) and Aymara (second most). Björn-Sören Gigler gave a vivid account of the quasi-racist imprint on income distribution in this country.

Table 1: Average Income (in Bolivianos) [3]

Language spoken at home



Country as a whole













Other Indigenous








As Evo ascended to Presidency in 2006 several things started changing. Even if we disregard ‘economics’, this was the first time los indios felt in real terms that they matter. In the government circle, in administration and institutions, more and more indigenous people were placed. Indigenous dresses no longer considered less civic in ceremonies. First of August was marked as Day of Pachamama, the Mother Nature and Pachamama festival was celebrated in August, with the President himself taking part.

Stansfield Smith in a publication of Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Eleven Years of the “Process Of Change” in Evo Morales’ Bolivia” (2018) gave some account of successes in the, what we may call Bolivarian Era or Pink Tide Years of Rule. Being a known supporter of the Bolivarian process in Latin America he presented us accounts regarding development; mainly not the usually debated ‘desarrollo’ but social and human development. We shall quote liberally for sake of the readers and students of LA studies. à
“Morales won in 2005 with 53.7% of the vote, followed by re-elections in 2009 with 64.2% and 2014 with 61.3%.... The MAS government undertook an anti-neoliberal program, which has enabled the economy to grow an average 5% per year since 2006, compared to 2.8% during the years 1951-2005. As a result, the Gross Domestic Product has grown four-fold from $9 billion in 2005 to $36 billion today. Bolivia has become the fastest growing economy in Latin America....
“Prior to the nationalizations (not only of gas and oil, but telecommunications, water, electricity, and a number of mines), foreign corporations pocketed about 85% of the profits generated by natural gas production. Morales increased the country’s profit share from gas from about 15% before his presidency to between 80-90%.(i) [i. Linda Farthing gives different figures: “the total government take shot up to about 70 percent of production, making gas its primary income source with annual revenues jumping from $332 million before nationalization to more than $2 billion today.”] …
“In Bolivia under Morales, poverty has declined from 60.6% of the population in 2005 to 38.6% in 2016.Extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25 per day) fell from 38% to 16.8%. The real minimum wage has risen from 440 bolivars a month to 2,000 a month (from $57 to $287). Unemployment stands at under 4%, the lowest in Latin America, down from 8.5% in 2005....
“Before Evo became president, 5% of property owners owned 70% of the arable land. From 2006-2010 over 35 million hectares of land (one third of Bolivia), was handed over to Original Peoples’ peasant communities to be run communally. This included government lands, large estates, and forest. Another 21 million hectares previously occupied illegally by large landowners were declared public lands, mostly protected The land reform law expropriated underutilized lands, and permitted seizure of property from landowners employing forced labor or debt peonage. In all, approximately 800,000 low income peasants have benefited. Of those who received titles to their land, 46% have been women. For the first time since the European conquest, smallholders control 55% of all land. ...
“The country, after a national discussion initiated by Bolivia’s five main indigenous campesino organizations, adopted a new constitution. The new document recognized Bolivia as a Plurinational State, with equal status and autonomy for Original Peoples, and also reclaimed control over natural resources. The new government has even established a Ministry of Decolonization (with a Depatriarchalization Unit) to further the uprooting of the previous apartheid system. By 2011, 90 of the 166 elected representatives of the national assembly came directly from the ranks of the progressive social movements.

“Bolivia had an illiteracy rate of 13% when Evo Morales became president. After a mass literacy campaign that used Cuba's YES I CAN program, 850,000 were educated and by 2008 Bolivia was declared free of illiteracy. The country is second to Cuba in Latin America in terms of funding education. There are now 16,000 educational establishments in the country, 4,500 of them were built since 2006 with the funds from the nationalized gas industry.

“Life expectancy of Bolivians during Morales’ presidency has increased from 64 years to 71 years. This is partly the result of the almost 700 members of the Cuban medical brigade working in the country. Cuba’s Operation Miracle has also enabled 676,000 Bolivians to have had their vision restored. Moreover, around 5,000 Bolivians have obtained their medical degrees in Cuba, going back to their country to provide their services. The country now has 47 new hospitals and over 3,000 health centers being built.” [4]

Such accounts are available in many articles and books written during this decade. Though, of course, there are some counter-accounts, or, in today’s parlance, “counter-narratives”, and critical analyses, e.g. in writings of Jefferey Webber, who perhaps coined the term ‘Pink Tide’. Interested readers should also go through his studies, though those are mostly not short articles but rather lengthy studies. His most recent views, which are of shorter lengths, are available in the site of Verso which appeared in November, one of which partly deals with Bolivia [vide 5]. He also explained why in spite of all criticism towards Evo and his party MAS (Movimiento Al Socialismo) Evo’s ouster through the imperialist sponsored coup must be opposed.

Anyway, we shall see some other sides of the picture, mainly through data supplied by international agencies like the UN and Indexmundi.  From UN data we can get HDI data and from Indexmundi we can get income distribution data. We shall see those. However, later, perhaps in some different article, this author would like to explore the movement of inequality index through time, from the time of start of austerity program (1990) through the eve of Evo’s rise to presidency (2005) till nine or ten years of Evo’s presidency (2015) and its relation with other parameter, the Human Development Index.
Table 2: Movement of Bolivia’s HDI figures from 1990 to 2017.





















 Avg. Ann. Growth Rate %


 Avg. Ann. Growth Rate %


 Total Growth Rate %
1995-2005 (10 years)


Total Growth Rate %
2005-2015 (10 years)


 Avg. Ann. Growth Rate %


 Avg. Ann. Growth Rate %


Now let us see another set of Data showing partly the inequality in income distribution in Bolivia.

Table 3: Income distribution – a part, Bolivia. Income % held by groups. 1990-2015


Top 10%

Bottom 60%




















































So, at 2015, the top 10%, in 2015, got more share than it received in 1990 and the bottom 60% got less share than it got in 1990.

That is really surprising. An IMF led ‘structural adjustment’ program was going on in the 1990s, putting people in harsher economic (and hence social) objective condition, and yet HDI was increasing. Inequality was increasing as we can see from the next data-set, % of income accrued by top or richest 10% of the populace vs % income to the bottom or poorest 60%, from 1990 to 2002 or 2005.  But HDI is thought to be measured by competent authority! Anyway, the HDI measure is unlinked with inequality and usually we do not get Inequality-adjusted-HDI of countries in different years. Therefore, we arrive at an apparently perplexing picture — 10 years pre-Evo-period saw HDI increase of 9.34% whereas first 10 years of Evo-period saw HDI increase of 7.75%, whereas 15 pre-Evo years saw inequality increasing and 10 Evo-years saw inequality decreasing almost towards 1990 level (however, that 1990 level was not a good choice to be a target to chase for a socialist). However, a rise of five steps 1 to 6 is 500% whereas rise of five steps from 6 to 11 is less than 100%. But we have seen such pictures elsewhere too, in China’s case we can see rising inequality and rising HDI going hand in hand at least during a long period, for example in between 1990 and 2005.

Social Inclusion and Some Questions
 Constitution of the country changed to some extent during MAS led govt. era: 2006-2019. It incorporated more rights of indigenous people, ‘decolonisation’, ‘departiarchalisation’ ministry was set up, ‘right of nature’ was included in the constitution, govt. encouragement to use of indigenous languages was initiated. Though ‘pluriculturalism’ as a tendency started in the mid-1990s, for example, already in 1997, we saw “In the most recent municipal elections, 25% of the mayors and municipal council members in the country were Indians or peasants (campesinos). In addition, the indigenous presence has increased significantly in the different ministries and secretariats of the State especially in the National Secretariat of Popular Participation, the Secretariat of Ethnic, Gender, and Generational Affairs, and the Secretariat of Education. In fact, for certain political, technical, and public administration positions, being indigenous, especially if one speaks the relevant language, has changed from an identity once denied to a value added. [6]” In 2013-14 there were 41 indigenous deputies among elected 130 deputies in the lower house of the parliament, 32 men and 9 women. [7] 31% indigenous deputies were there in a country that is, to many observers, an indigenous-majority country (perhaps more than 60%), and that is what inclusionary policies achieved in one sphere (parliament) in Plurinational Bolivia!

But changing a constitution to some extent, adding some inclusionary clauses or measures, as such may not guarantee proportionate changes in reality. Also, the constitution cannot save the constitution, as we shall see. 

Inclusion, inclusionary policies, inclusiveness, participatory decision making are some words which increased their presence probably since the so-called ‘end of history’, when the Empire did volte-face and ‘gave impetus’ to install democracies instead of military dictatorship in third world or periphery countries. In this twenty-first century these words increased their presence. The world is getting reformed as these words suggest. We shall have to see how that worked in Bolivia during the MAS era.

It is very strange that there is no easily available data on participation of Indigenous persons or persons speaking indigenous languages in different government and non-government sectors in Bolivia. We find many writing and very less quantitative description. For example, you may read Bolivia’s constitution and many laws. You may get in recent accounts such lines like: “A major front in Morales’s effort to decolonize the Bolivian state was the machinery of state itself. Once in office, he filled 14 of 16 cabinet posts with people of indigenous descent, including women de pollera, that is, who wear the colorful gathered skirts and bowler hats associated with highland indigenous descent throughout the Andean world. Bolivia’s national government was suddenly made up of indigenous activists and intellectuals who often publicly framed major policy issues in indigenous terms, presented themselves as representing the country’s indigenous and indigenous-descended populations, but also nonindigenous citizens, and frequently used indigenous languages and concepts in their public appearances.” [8] Here we see only number in one case: the first ministry of Evo Morales, but no numbers regarding composition of cabinet of his subsequent governments. Leave it. There are some 300-360 thousand government servants in Bolivia, which incudes number of functionaries of local governments and also the govt run industries. Is it very difficult to get their ethnic composition? Ximena Soruco Sologuren in her “La nueva burocracia plurinacional en Bolivia: Entre la democratización y la institucionalización” [9] tells us “The bureaucracy represents the white environment of Evo Morales — says the critics inside and outside the government — it is the technocracy and therefore not indigenous, which is really the government. But the data puts such perception relative, at least in the institution studied: in 2013, 63% of all public servants declared themselves as indigenous in the governorate of Chuquisaca, 45% in the Ministry of Education and 18% in La Guardia, making the estimation in these three together to be 46% (527 persons) of the service-persons who declared themselves indigenous Quechua and Aymara.”  Therefore, we get that this author got survey of less than 1200 persons out of 300-360 thousand in Bolivia total, and based on that she refuted allegations of non-inclusion.  Based on such a small survey we are told that according to educational status of govt servants, among college level educated ones 52% are indigenous, 52% of the technological degree holders too are indigenous. Ximena based her study on Encuesta a Servidores Públicos, CIS 2013 – a document which we could not retrieve. So, we have to look into other publications of later dates to get a more wholesome picture.

On April 2017 Xinhua, the Chinese News Agency, printed a “Special: It Will Be Mandatory To Speak A Native Language For Electoral Candidates and Private Sector”. [10] “Vice Minister of Decolonization, Guillermo Aluce, in an interview with Xinhua, said that Since the next national, subnational and judicial elections, every candidate to be qualified must present a certification that speaks a native language. "It is no new invention, it is in the Constitution and law 269 which made it obligatory for candidates for the presidency, vice presidency and others, compulsion of speaking a native language, at least at the basic level," said the official.” Moreover, “Regarding the private sector officials, the Decolonization Vice Ministry coordinator said that the current law establishes that every public and private entity must demand that its officials speak a native language, regardless of knowing Spanish.” Such pronouncement leads us to believe that much have already been attained and further steps are now being taken. But a year later, on April 2018, we have a distinctly different picture from BBC. In their publication “Why, despite the laws enacted by Evo Morales, indigenous people are still discriminated against for their language in Bolivia” on April 19, 2018 we hear, “In July 2017, we sent requests for public information asking for their certifications. We also ask for the certificates of the 20 ministers of the presidential cabinet. To date we had no response, neither in Spanish nor in any of the 36 official indigenous languages of the Plurinational State. According to Guillermo Aluce, coordinator of the Vice Minister of Decolonization, currently 80,000 officials have certificates of proficiency in indigenous languages. That represents 22% of the 360 thousand public servants that exist nationwide.” [11] However this picture presented by BBC give such a ridiculously low figure (22%) that it gives rise to doubt. But had the Vice-ministerGuillermo Aluce refuted this BBC report? We did not get any such document.

Dr. Almut Schilling-Vacaflor, in her 2011 article ‘Bolivia's New Constitution: Towards Participatory Democracy and Political Pluralism?’ said, “the new Bolivian constitution cannot create a new society but that the processes around the elaboration of a new basic law have contributed to considerable changes in the social, political and symbolic order.” — and otherwise we cannot explain the inhuman exuberance of the opposition, of the armed forces and the interim president and her allies after the coup – forming of the first ‘indigenous free cabinet’ (in which, later, an indigenous person was included), the symbolic (and real) re-Christianisation of the government of Bolivia – to the extent that even Bolivian bourgeois press shuddered [vide 12], killing and raping indigenous persons, burning down Wiphala – the indigenous flag, police atrocities and so on. (Among the negative features are – they speak much of Bible, use The Cross, which is not good for the government and which, some countries may see these as a show of a rightist conservative government — the abovementioned report [12] said.)

But what change have taken place in the Armed Forces, both Police and Military, who are guards of “The State”? How much inclusion has taken place in those? From some pages of a book “Descolonización aymara: ritualidad y política (2006-2010)” By Anders Burman [13] we came to know that on August 14, 2006, Evo Morales launched a scholarship program for indigenous youth to be eligible to go to the Military Academy to become Army Officers. G. Mauricio Martín Linares Valdéz wrote a valuable article “¿Interculturalidad en las Fuerzas Armadas?” in 2010 in which he warned about the armed forces and highlighted need of inclusion of indigenous people in the armed forces, not only as officers. Because, he said, the armed forces had been brainwashed for decades y the empire, seeing themselves as keepers of the order of the white people, opposing communism, and they were always on the other side of the barricade. He suggested developing a civic-military where indigenous youth can start as a volunteer, and custom of las indios would not be any obstacle (for example, certain type of ‘haircut’ should not be obligatory). The intercultural assimilation should go deeper inside the armed forces. But, had it happened during more-than-a-decade MAS rule? One of the most atrocious cases of police brutality was seen in Cochabamba – the place of rebellion during Water war, and also a hotbed of Gas war: how could the police do that? Had they not faced any internal opposition? And we saw not a single spark of mutiny, not a voice of even 10-20 mutinous soldiers, let alone officers! Or did we saw the local government of Cochabamba taking any step against the Police there? We need to check more facts.

Ex Vice President Álvaro García Linera wrote a piece from exile which aptly described the situation inside Bolivia after the coup — EL ODIO AL INDIO – the hatred towards Indians (or indios, as the indigenous are called by the conquistadores). [13] He writes, “it is nothing more than a primitive revenge of a historically and morally decadent class”, he raised the question, “How did they (erstwhile privileged middle class) radiate their class frustrations to the police and the Armed Forces and became the social basis of this fascisation, of this state regression and moral degeneration?” He answered it, what it seems to be, in a quixotic way, “Therefore, fascism is not only the expression of a failed revolution, but, paradoxically also, in post-colonial societies, the success of a material democratization achieved.” But then, Mr Vice President, is failed revolution the opposite term of post-colonial societies with successful democratisation? And is it not that not going deeper in the revolution actually endangers a Vendée, a counterrevolution? And what then did the anti-fascist forces inside the state machinery do? We know about the fascist side. The Chief of Staff of Bolivian Military retired voluntarily after the coup, got a multi-million-dollar prize from his imperial masters in the USA, and settled comfortable there. Anyway, Bolivia was not a case of post-revolutionary society, what happened in Bolivia was an earnest effort of reform. So more questions can arise. For example: Could the MAS-regime reform the state from within? Or did the State reformed those who were included in the machinery by the inclusionary measure? Then there are cases of what in Venezuela is called Boli-Bourgeoisie, the newly developed bourgeoisie and upper layer of petit-bourgeoisie whose class aspirations are different from what they had in the pre-2006 years. Atilio Boron visited Bolivia as a guest of Evo Morales in 2016 to start a course of anti-imperialism among the army officers. He later wrote, “In this opportunity I was astonished by the degree of penetration of the most reactionary North American slogans inherited from the era of the Cold War and due to the undisguised irritation caused by the fact that an indigenous person would be president of the country.” [15] 

“Compensatory State”? Who got compensation?
 Nationalisation of Petroleum sector, Electricity (generation and transmission-distribution), telecommunication and some mines, the government income increased and its ability to distribute state income also increased. Gustavo Canavire-Bacarreza and Fernando Rios-Avilay in their 2015 paper “On the Determinants of Changes in Wage Inequality in Bolivia” wrote that: Between 2005 and 2012, average nominal wages increased by nearly 120 percent, which, despite increasing inflation, provided positive growth of nearly 40 percent in average real wages since 2005. And one thing Bolivia did courageously – they decreased wage inequality. For example, the percentile 10 saw most real wage rise and the percentile 90 saw the least. The Wage Gini dropped from 0.5 to 0.4 (roughly).

But the other side is also there. A huge inequality exists in farming. In a FAO literature of 2015, ‘’, we find smallholder farms have an average 0.89 hectares and bigger ones have average over 10, 2.8 million people work in such 1 million (or less) farms (vey difficult to read those graphs) small holder farms. [16] From a study (2016-17) on Bolivia of a committee commissioned by a ministry of Nederland we can find distribution of land for sugarcane crops in the major sugar producing state Santa Cruz. [17]

Distribution of land for sugarcane crops in Santa Cruz 2016-17 [17]

Type of Farms

Land area

% households

% land owned


less than 20Ha











From a much cited 2015 paper by Ben McKay & Gonzalo Colque we get distribution of landholding among soy farmers in Santa Cruz, the largest Soy producing state of Bolivia. [18]

Distribution of land for Soybean crops in Santa Cruz 2011 [18]

Type of farms

Land area

% household

% land owned


<50 Ha




51-1000 Ha




>1000 Ha



In 2012 76% of indigenous households got electricity vis-à-vis 95% of non-indigenous households, 55% indigenous households got sewage facility vis-à-vis 76% non-indigenous; 69% indigenous households got piped water facility vis-à-vis 87% on indigenous households —-said a World Bank Document of 2015. [19] Therefore, from this angle, the indigenous community is not yet ‘compensated’ enough from state income from petroleum sector during 12 years of MAS regime.

But most importantly, this Bolivian Nationalisation has nothing in common with Russian or Cuban examples, nationalisation was done giving ample compensation to the erstwhile owners form the state exchequers. And a good part of the state expenditure is going towards developing infrastructures and etc., making Bolivia a more or less attractive destination for FDI, although there had been repercussions of international slowdown after 2008 and also in the recent years.

Latin America and the Caribbean: foreign direct investment inflows by destination sector, 2008–‒2018 [20]

FDI to BOLIVIA (Millions of dollars)













Natural resources
















































In the next part of this article we shall see the aggressive agriculture of Bolivia and its effects: Deforestation & Forest Fires, danger of GM Soy in Bolivia etc. aspects which are more related to Ecology.  [02-01-2020]

[1] “Bolivia, with a GDP per capita of $980, is the poorest country of South America (EIU, 2005)” in ‘Poverty, inequality and human development of Indigenous peoples in Bolivia’ by Björn-Sören Gigler, 2009. EIU is Economic Intelligence Unit.
[2] “Official figures estimate that in 2001 approximately 4.6 million people or 62 percent of the total population are indigenous (INE, 2001).” Ibid. INE is Instituto Nacional de Stadistíca
[3] Table 3, Ibid
[4] “Eleven Years of the “Process Of Change” in Evo Morales’ Bolivia” by Stansfield Smith (2018). Council on Hemispheric Affairs. NY.
[5] a. “Rebellion, Reformism, and Reaction in Latin America: An Interview with Jeffery R. Webber”, 06 November 2019 available at and
[5] b. The "Eighteenth Brumaire of Macho Camacho: Jeffery R. Webber (with Forrest Hylton) on the Coup in Bolivia" 15 November 2019 available at
[6] ‘Processes of Change and Indigenous Participation’ by Lucia D'Emilio, Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, June 1997.
[7] a. ‘Presencia parlamentaria de indígenas en el país es mayor’ - La Razón / AFP / 24 de mayo de 2013; 
[7] b. ‘Más allá de los números: la participación parlamentaria de los pueblos indígenas’ – Informe sobre la encuesta, by Unión Interparlamentaria (2014)
[8] Evo Morales’s Chaotic Departure Won’t Define His Legacy: History won’t remember him for the ongoing unrest, but for the enfranchisement of Bolivia’s indigenous population by Robert Albro, November 22, 2019, at
[9] “La nueva burocracia plurinacional en Bolivia: Entre la democratización y la institucionalización y Ximena Soruco Sologuren at TEMA CENTRAL NUSO Nº 258 / JULIO - AGOSTO 2015 NUEVA SOCIEDAD
[10] SPECIAL: Mandatory to speak a native language in Bolivia reaches private and electoral candidates, By René Quenallata Paredes, 2017-04-09 22:39:46
[11] From at "Por qué a pesar de las leyes promulgadas por Evo Morales, a los indígenas se les sigue discriminando por su idioma en Bolivia" Bolivia, especial para BBC Mundo, 19 abril 2018
[12] Un mes de Añez: destacan la pacificación y critican exceso de símbolos religiosos y Erika Segales / La Paz, at
[13] ¿Interculturalidad en las Fuerzas Armadas? By G. Mauricio Martín Linares Valdéz
[14] from El odio al indio / Álvaro García Linera | domingo, 17 nov 2019
[15] The Coup in Bolivia: Five Lessons
[16] The economic lives of smallholder farmers: An analysis based on household data from nine countries by George Rapsomanikis. FAO 2015.
[17] From Fact-finding Agro-Food Bolivia - With a special focus on the Santa Cruz region - Commissioned by the ministry of Foreign Affairs Fact- finding Bolivia 2016-2017
[18] “Bolivia's soy complex: the development of ‘productive exclusion’” by Ben McKay & Gonzalo Colque, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 2015
[19] from
document: “Indigenous Latin America in the Twenty-First Century The First Decade” by International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank
[20] from Foreign Direct Investment in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2019
ECLAC, United Nations Publication | S.19-00447

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Jan 12, 2020

Sandeep Banerjee

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