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From the June 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 6)

Latin America

Bolivia: Looking for a Miracle

Robert Taylor, World Press Review contributing editor

Bolivian indigenous leader and presidential candidate Felipe Quispe (R) with running-mate Esther Balboa (L) at a May Day march in La Paz (Photo: AFP). 
The June 30 presidential election will offer Bolivian voters the most clear-cut choice between opposing visions of the nation’s economic and social development in a generation, Los Tiempos observed in an editorial (April 2). “It will be one of the most intense and hard-fought election campaigns. And it could not be otherwise, since the profound...crises through which the country is passing pose a challenge, both to the parties and their candidates, and to the voters, greater than that of years past,” Los Tiempos asserted.

“After 20 years of building a democracy and 17 years of economic reforms, a fork in the road has been reached that opens two major alternative paths,” the editorial noted. “The first implies maintaining in essence the progress achieved in recent years....The second option, diametrically opposed to the first, leads to beginning anew, retracing the steps taken, and trying out formulas that are likely very audacious but with little or no support from experience.”

A crowded field of 10 presidential candidates—among them two former presidents, a socialist economist, radical agrarian and indigenous leaders, a business executive, and a corruption-fighting judge—has embarked on a lively national debate over whether the next government should maintain present market-oriented policies or scrap them in favor of a return to broader government involvement and intervention in the economy.

While citizens’ growing economic pain in a period of stagnation fuels “the hope that some sort of miracle will be produced,” Los Tiempos said, “our own experience...must alert us to the potential dangers of succumbing to the temptation to cast everything overboard and start from scratch. The Peru of [Alberto] Fujimori and the Venezuela of [Hugo] Chávez, to cite just two near and recent cases, must serve as a warning.”

The Cuban news agency Prensa Latina (April 1) reported that the fragmentation of voter support among the candidates and a widespread mood of voter apathy have heightened the unpredictability of the outcome. “Independent polls show a cluster of small percentages that are very far from the half-plus-one number of votes required by the constitution to assume the presidency directly....The polls also show that at least one in five people will not bother to vote for any candidate or to vote at all, because of a loss of credibility,” Prensa Latina said.

Antonio Soruco Villanueva, columnist in La Razón (April 15), argued that the most critical task confronting the new president will be to rebuild confidence in the government’s commitment to a coherent and consistent economic strategy. “Bolivia is so sick that it needs the best doctor and the best diagnostic tools to recover and return to the path of progress and well-being,” he wrote. “To gamble on pure politics, on messianic saviors or sellers of illusions, is to play Russian roulette at a crucial moment in our history....We can end up being much worse off than Argentina because, aside from being poorer and less educated, we also have more demagogues.” 

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