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Crisis time, class formation and the end of Evo Morales

Angus Me Nelly


The months of October-November 2019 transformed the political context in Bolivia and marked a confusing end to the government of Evo Morales—I say this as, a year on, it is still not entirely clear what happened. The 20 October elections were overshadowed by accusations of fraud and followed by two weeks punctuated by violence. After 14 years in power, Morales was forced from office at the suggestion of the military in the wake of police mutiny across the country. Right-wing senator Jeanine Ànez formed an interim government and entered the presidential palace, bible in hand, declaring the return of the republic. Indigenous signs and symbols were ripped down and burnt, provoking a violent reaction in the Aymara city of El Alto, where groups of indignant residents marched through the streets calling for an immediate civil war. Retribution from the new regime was swift, with dozens killed by the military in the El Alto neighbourhood of Senkata and in the coca-growing town of Sacaba, Cochabamba. The political scenario polarised, with both sides digging themselves into their respective positions—electoral fraud or coup d'etat—and refusing to budge.

In light of this, dissecting this conjuncture is not an easy task and is fraught with not only the normal difficulties one encounters when studying Bolivia but the added challenge of intense politicisation, even within academic circles. In order to overcome these significant obstacles, I propose returning to Bolivian political theorist René Zavaleta Mercado and his late work diagnosing the crisis of the National Revolutionary State (1952-early 1980s). Here Zavaleta situates his theoretical concepts in historical context and traces the historic processes of state formation, nation-building, the emergence of historic blocs and political economy across multiple temporalities—namely the longue durée and the medium-term. For Zavaleta, a crisis is not simply destructive and problematic but

is an anomalous instance in the life of a society, that is to say, a time when things do not present themselves as they are in everyday life, but, for a change, a time when things appear as they truly are.

(Zavaleta 2008: 19)

Following Zavaleta’s lead, 1 contend the October-November crisis offers a lens through which to discern the formation of both the social forces that began to emerge towards the end of Morales’ premiership and the conflicting narratives that predominated during this period.

The chapter is structured into four sections. I start by laying the theoretical foundations of the argument, drawing on the work of Zavaleta. Next, I briefly sketch out the different social forces present in this moment. I then, in section three, evaluate the political economy contours of Morales’ time in power and the contradictory outcomes that they produced, explaining the social composition of each group. Finally, I look at two competing projects of nation-building—plurinationalism and regional autonomy—to explore the attraction of different political projects and the genesis of the two competing discourses (fraud and coup d’état) on the crisis.

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