Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The masses are revolting

Back to the LSE yesterday afternoon for a presentation about the pattern of social protest in Bolivia by Oxford University’s John Crabtree. In contrast to last October’s workshop on that country in Cambridge, I was more assured of the subject matter and content of the discussion. Crabtree’s presentation was designed to promote his new book on the matter, which can be found here. For those who are interested, LAB is giving away three free copies here.

Although I walked in late, I think I got the gist of Crabtree’s argument. Protest has increasingly become a way of doing politics in Bolivia, aided both by the relative weakness of the state and the social volatility unleashed by economic reform. For example, the closure of the tin mines in 1985 resulted in the dispersal of workers with formal union experience to other parts of the country, which has assisted organisation of protests in those parts. One example is the coca growers under Evo Morales, who have become increasingly organised. Other cases include protests against water privatisation which quick-started the whole process in 2000, demand for land reform through the sin tierra (a virtual remake of the MST in Brazil) and the so-called Gas War which forced the president from office in October 2003.

But there are differences within these different forms of protest. There’s no unity connecting them all. And in response to a question from me – whether he viewed the developing form of social resistance in Bolivia as analogous to that of Venezuela both before and after to the Carazco (when a proposed neo-liberal reform package unleashed mass protest and violence in 1989) and a subsequent split between political and civil society – he argued against.

There were big differences between the two, not least in the contrast between Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, and Morales. Chavez has a whole system of patronage at his disposal and the support of part of the army. Morales, meanwhile, can’t claim the same. Even though he gas formed a party which sits as the second largest in Congress and he acts as kingmaker, sections of the military distrust him while he has proved unable to bring together all these disparate social protest movements.

No comments: