With December 2005 elections, Bolivia’s political landscape changed utterly. In his victory speech, Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, promised Bolivia’s poor majority an end to the ‘injustice, the discrimination, the marginalisation we have suffered historically’. 65% of Bolivia’s 9.3 million population live below the poverty line and that can reach as high as 80% in rural areas. Many are becoming impatient with democracy because of the lack of economic results – recent polls indicate support for democracy across the continent is down from 61% to just 53%.
This report opens with a road blockade outside Cochabamba in central Bolivia. Protests, road blockades and unrest are common in Bolivia – unrest linked in many ways to the glaring economic and social inequalities felt in the country. The previous two presidents were deposed in three years. Coca production too has been a debilitating factor in Bolivia’s economic development – the report features a coca farmer Ramon Rebollo and his father Pedro in the Cochabamba tropics who moved to the Chapare to make a living from planting coca following the collapse of Bolivia’s mining industry in the 1980s. They are now growing alternative products but stress the need for foreign buyers to support their economy so that coca will not continue to ‘hurt us and hurt you.’
The European Union (EU) is Bolivia’s largest donor of grant aid and for the EU it’s been important to fund not only development projects but also local initiatives that develop a sense of identity and an awareness that communities have rights. The EU is clear that to maintain democracy into the future, poverty must be reduced.
The marked contrast between east and west in Bolivia is evident in this report. Santa Cruz to the east has been the focus of Bolivia’s natural gas industry and the city’s population are visibly better off than their western neighbours. Here we meet the head of the business representative body CAINCO and hear of the ‘two different visions’ for Bolivia. Santa Cruz is calling for further referenda in June 2006 to decide on the autonomy of the region, breaking the central government structure in La Paz. The EU experience of regional development has been to include, not consider ‘separate models of development’. The EU Head of Delegation to Bolivia explains how ‘integration – whether it be between countries or within countries between regions is a win win situation and that’s been the experience in Europe’.
As Evo Morales comes to grips with his new power, and with elections taking place across Latin America in 2006, this report looks at the challenges of bridging the divide between rich and poor across the continent, particularly in Bolivia. It reports on the need for fair and just societies to ensure the survival of democracy across the continent.
The European Commission is holding a high level conference on reducing social inequalities in Latin America, in the Caribbean and in the EU on the 27th – 28th March, 2006 in Brussels. The Commission is also currently involved in the preparation of the 4th EU-Latin America / Caribbean Summit which will take place on 12th of May in Vienna.