Thursday, November 21, 2019

Impossible Game of the Bolivian Crisis

Santiago Anria and Kenneth M. Roberts have a nice piece in Foreign Affairs summing up the situation in Bolivia. As they point out, the challenge is to push through the binary arguments between "right-wing coup" and "necessary military action against autocratic government." Evo Morales had been centralizing power, but much of his legacy is very positive and, yes, this was a coup.

More pressingly, the new government is worse in many respects, and could worsen still.

The danger today is that a post-Morales government will focus not on restoring the democratic principles that had eroded under his rule but on rolling back the inclusive policies that were the hallmark of his presidency. Indeed, the self-appointed interim government that succeeded Morales, led by one-time Senator Jeanine Añez and a bevy of staunch right-wing figures, is already taking steps in this direction, with cabinet members seeking to discredit the former president and threatening to arrest “seditious” Morales supporters and journalists. Yet for all his missteps, Morales retains considerable popular support, and any outright attempt to undo his legacy risks sending the country down an uncertain and perilous road to prolonged political conflict and violence.
The point that needs to remain front and center is that Evo Morales presided over one of the most stable and successful eras in Bolivia political history. He guided the economy well, avoiding the Venezuelan pitfalls, and he promoted social policies that remain popular. It is dangerous to focus exclusively on the problems of personalization because you lose sight of why he was so popular in the first place. This isn't Nicolás Maduro we're talking about.

They conclude with some classic political science:
Instead, Bolivian politics is being fought in the streets and could become an impossible game in which forming stable governments is less and less feasible. However this turbulent era ends, the Morales presidency will stand as a lesson for governments in the region—both on the opportunities for lasting reform and on the pitfalls of autocratic temptation.
The "impossible game" reference is to Guillermo O'Donnell's book Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism, where among other things he uses game theory to argue that 1955-1966 Argentina was a political game that could not be won, in large part so many political factions were committed to preventing Peronists from holding power even when much of the population supported them. In the Bolivian case, of course this would refer to the MAS. As O'Donnell says, "it is the 'rationality' of party leaders and voters that lead to the erosion and final destruction of the existing political system" (p. 196).

As a result, statements like this from Jeanine Añez are step in the wrong direction:
“President Morales destroyed institutions,” Áñez told the BBC. “That’s what all 21st-century socialists do. We saw that movie in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. And that’s the fear that all Bolivians have.”
She has called for new elections, where the MAS needs free reign to advance candidacies and win elections without fear. Otherwise you really do face "erosion and final destruction."


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