Ecuadorian indigenous leaders gather in March to advocate null votes in the second round of presidential elections.

Parallels in Ecuador, Bolivia elections highlight growing role for independent and Indigenous politicians

Today’s New York Times is highlighting (with a quote from me) the growing number of Indigenous politicians and parties (en castellaño) claiming space in Andean politics. Different individuals and collectives are making the case for indigenous autonomy, post-extractivist economic models, accountability to the grassroots, and internal democracy (vs. centralized hyper-partisanship).

In Ecuador and Bolivia, this often means challenging the official standard-bearers of the left: Rafeal Correa’s chosen successor Andrés Arauz, and the Evo Morales/Luis Arce-led Movement Towards Socialism (MAS-IPSP).

Despite narrowly being shut out of today’s Ecuadorian presidential runoff, Pachakutik will be the second-largest party in the new parliament. As Pachakutik’s Yaku Pérez fought for second place in the first-round election in February, Correa’s party made it clear they would much rather face a neoliberal banker than debate extractivism, indigenous rights, and democracy in the general election. Pachakutik and the Ecuadorian Indigenous movement, which backed a late 2019 uprising against neoliberal policies, is calling for null votes in protest today and promises to continue its fight in parliament and through street protest no matter who wins. “We will permanently remain firm in our horizon of resistance,” the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador declared in mid-March, “and we will establish other mechanisms of struggle to make a path for the social and popular demands of the country.”

Pachakutik and the Democratic Left (Izquierda Democrática) have agreed on an alliance in the National Assembly, where they won 27 and 18 seats respectively (32% of the body), have proposed a joint agenda, and are seeking independent allies. If they attract five additional legislators, they will comprise the largest delegation, and regardless will be essential votes for whoever wins today’s election.

Pachakutik and Democratic Left will hold the balance of power in Ecuador’s new parliament.

In Bolivia, regional elections wrap up today with four run-offs for governor. In three of those, independent Indigenous candidates are challenging the MAS from the left. Three independent left candidates also will govern El Alto, Trinidad, and Cobija as mayors: Eva Copa, Cristhian Cámara, and Ana Luisa Reis. These three mayors-elect were all former members of the MAS-IPSP passed over by the party’s centralized nomination process (known popularly as the dedazo). Damián Condori, a peasant leader who built an independent party when he was passed as MAS-IPSP candidate for governor in 2015, is facing a tight runoff today in Chuquisaca after winning a plurality in the first round. Santos Quispe, the son of renowned indigenous leader Felip Quispe (“El Mallku”), is challenging in La Paz. And Regis Richter, another candidate sidelined by this year‘s dedazo, is the challenger in Pando. A run-off in Tarija is a more conventional left–right contest in a deeply divided department.

Eva Copa’s advocacy for the MAS under the difficult circumstances of Áñez government made her a national figure, but she ran for mayor highlighting issues of local accountability. Condori and Quispe represent political in-roads for their department‘s rural Indigenous populations, following in the wake of outgoing La Paz governor Felix Patzi. Their rise shows demonstrates an ability to stake out political ground outside of the vertical power structure of the MAS-IPSP. However, the biggest debates in Bolivia about democracy, indigenous autonomy, and ecological sustainability in Bolivia are likely to continue to happen outside of electoral politics for now.

Three of the four gubernatorial runoffs in Bolivia feature MAS–independent left contests.

MAS-IPSP leaders, celebrating victory, pledge to turn the page from Evo Morales

Mr. Arce has positioned himself as a transition candidate, vowing to carry on Mr. Morales’s legacy, while training younger leaders from his party to take the reins.

“We are MAS 2.0,” he said in an interview shortly before the election.

He added that Mr. Morales would have no role in his government.

Turkewitz, Julie. “Evo Morales Is Out. His Socialist Project Lives On.” The New York Times, October 19, 2020, sec. World. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/19/world/americas/morales-arce-bolivia-election.html.

At the end of a long Election Day evening, Luis Arce Catacora stepped forward to claim victory in Bolivia’s presidential elections. Two coinciding preliminary counts coincided in estimating he had a 20-point advantage in the contest, nearly double his best pre-election polls and the 10% margin he needed to avoid a runoff. In all likelihood, Arce and vice presidential candidate David Choquehuanca will garner an absolute majority of valid votes. Many are rightly viewing their victory as a vindication for Bolivia’s largest political party and a demonstration of the continued power of its grassroots base. The election campaign was conducted under the shadow of an anti-MAS-IPSP government and a punishing global pandemic, with many of the party’s leaders in jail or exiled, by far the most adverse circumstances the party had faced since at least 2002.

Arce and Choquehuanca appear to have gained rather than lost electoral ground since the October 2019 general election, and likely even more since the nationwide protest wave that followed. Voters and political organizations that abandoned the MAS-IPSP ticket in 2019 returned to it in significant numbers, largely in the highland departments of La Paz, Oruro, and Potosí, as well as central Chuquisaca. It should be clear to all that Arce/Choquehuanca led a more successful bid than did forcibly exiled president Evo Morales (nominally their “campaign chief” from Argentina). If you listen closely to their statements before and after the election, it becomes apparent that they won in substantial part by keeping the former president at a distance and promising a new era in socialist government, free of the mistakes of the past.

In a global environment in which many are eager to read the election as a referendum on Evo Morales, I am writing here to highlight just how hard the MAS-IPSP leadership of 2020 is working (and has worked) to separate itself from its former leader, and why that separation may have endeared it to a sometimes disenchanted electorate and grassroots base.

Read More »