Jul 1 2006

Bolivia’s Soul Sold?

[Note: this piece is a sidebar to The Morales Moral]

Mainstream U.S. media have portrayed Bolivian President Evo Morales’ efforts to renegotiate Bolivia’s oil and natural gas contracts as a leftist conspiracy orchestrated by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. The New York Times (5/3/06) reported, “Bolivia’s nationalization of its energy industry, announced Monday by President Evo Morales, was a vivid illustration that the populist policies, championed most prominently by Venezuela, were spreading.”

But the idea of controlling national resources didn’t need to “spread” to Bolivia, which first nationalized its petroleum industry in 1916, 38 years before Chávez was born. Morales, who promised to renegotiate oil and natural gas contracts during his election campaign, won his election with a 54 percent mandate and maintains an 80 percent approval rating (Financial Times, 5/2/06). A 2004 referendum also found that 95 percent of Bolivians supported public control of the oil and natural gas sector (Financial Times, 5/3/06).

If Venezuela supports these policies, that doesn’t hurt its image among Bolivians. A recent poll conducted by the polling firm Apoyo, Opinion y Mercado (6/2/06) reported that “many adults in Bolivia . . . consider Venezuela as their greatest friend.”

Similarly, the Miami Herald(5/27/06), in a story headlined “Some Are Worrying Bolivia Has Sold Soul to Venezuela,” accused Chávez of spreading “his leftist-populist agenda beyond Venezuela” by financing a Bolivian program to register new voters and constructing “radio stations, an airport and several roads.” The article fails, however, to condemn Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Canada or the Netherlands, all of which have also contributed to Bolivia’s registration efforts.