Futures of policy and movement
The country went to the polls for the second time in a year in October of 2020, and handed the reins of government back to the MAS party with an overwhelming vote of 55% going to candidate Luis Arce. While political tensions remain high, particularly with the archconservative - fascist to many - sectors of Santa Cruz, Arce appears to have a mandate for a five-year term. Whether this new era will reflect a continuity of the more conciliatory relationship to agrarian capital remains unclear. Arce, who was Evo Morales’ Minister of the Economy for most of his 14 years in office, is known to be a backer of the biofuel idea. Yet the rising tensions with the most conservative sectors of the agrarian elite might lead Arce to return to a more assertive stance, calling on the social movements to support his government and its policies. At this writing, predictions are difficult.
What is clear is that the often-repeated critique of extractivism (whether of gas, soy, or minerals) is generally unable to mobilize alternative visions of agricultural production in eastern Bolivia. The seemingly unassailable hegemony of the soy and cattle industries has been critiqued through two lenses - that of GMOs and that of deforestation and fires. These are useful mobilizing points but do not alone offer political visions of alternative land use. The underlying assumption appears to be that smaller-scale agriculture, some form of organic or alternative projects, and more diverse forms of land use would be good. Yet the precondition for such projects would be the state’s withdrawal of subsidies to big agriculture and state’s commitment to effective redistribution. These would both entail dismantling a hegemonic bloc, and perhaps, state or popular violence, both of which seem unlikely. What might unravel in the longer term could be a destruction of the soy market through expansion of electric vehicles (thus collapsing demand for biofuels) and the resurgence of more militant peasant organizations in the face of urban poverty and lack of employment (similar to the MST in Brazil, whose short-lived Bolivian counterpart was demobilized by the Morales government). More research and creative thinking are needed to document the situation of rural Bolivia - both in the high Andes and in the agrarian landscapes of the east. Bolivian NGOs and social movements may find new synergies in the new political moment, but it remains to be seen if the new MAS government will continue to back the subordination to global agro-capital or whether the government can use its power to help create a new agrarian model. As this went to press and the country prepared to inaugurate Luis Arce as the new president of Bolivia, Bayer Bolivia (the new name of the company formed from the merger of Bayer and Monsanto) was touting its promotion of a contest that a Bolivian NGO was participating in. The winner would receive a cash prize, and would promote “new seeds for the future”. While the shape and terms of land struggle, reform, and revolution have shifted in new ways, and amid new complexities, the struggle in defense of nature, human well-being, and for a more egalitarian society and distribution of the means of production is still being waged against the interests of multinational capital.