Evo Morales and the Populist Paradox

LA PAZ – Evo Morales succeeded in amending the Bolivia’s constitution and being re-elected President. And, backed by his parliamentary majority, he was recently able to fill vacant judicial posts, making him the most powerful president in Bolivia’s contemporary history.

According to his opponents, Morales is reproducing the tradition of caudillismo, concentrating power in his hands and turning government institutions into mere formalities. But his immense popularity over the past five years suggests that most Bolivians do not seem very worried in putting their country’s democracy at risk.

Morales’s success rests largely on the paradox of populism. Although he claims to oppose economic liberalism, he is a product of the political liberties that it promotes and feeds on the benefits generated by the market economy.

Morales was born into a peasant household on the Andean altiplano and later established himself in Chapare at the beginning of the coca boom. His career as a union leader took him away from agriculture and into politics, where he stood out for his criticism of the United States, whose anti-drug crusade meant the eradication of a cash crop for poor peasants.