Valeria Silva is a deputy in the Bolivian Plurinational Assembly for the governing Movement for Socialism (MAS) party of President Evo Morales, and a leader within the MAS youth wing.
Denis Rogatyuk from Green Left Weekly interviewed her to discuss the future of Bolivia's “Communitarian Revolution” that is bringing key sectors of the economy under state control, and redistributing wealth and power the poor majority. In particular, Silva discusses the aftermath of the February referendum to abolish term limits for the president and vice-president — the defeat of which means Morales will be unable to stand as president again.
It was translated from Spanish by Federico Fuentes.
The February referendum that would have allow for the re-election of President Evo Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera ended in a defeat. What do you believe were the main reasons?
It is clear that in Bolivia we saw a very dirty political campaign, one to which Bolivian society is not accustomed.
We are not accustomed to showbiz politics. We are not accustomed to seeing the children of politicians dragged into the spotlight. We are not accustomed to those types of campaigns. It's a pity that the [right-wing] opposition has had to focus on these issues due to their lack of proposals.
The “Yes” vote was accompanied by arguments for the industrialisation of our natural resources, for the democratisation of access to public services, for building a country that every day is more socialist, more just, more equitable and, above all, more self-governed.
The opposition has not put forward a single economic, political or social policy; their policy has been to simply denigrate.
Unfortunately, social media plays an important role in influencing public opinion. For me, what we see on social media is more a case of the commodification of public opinion. We have not used that type of campaigning because we believe in real democracy, not in virtual democracy.
The lies spread on social media have greatly affected our support. They say if you lie enough times, something will stick. Behind the lies there is a strategy to discredit Morales. Despite this, close to 50% of the population continues to defend him.
Could you talk about the campaign run by the “Yes” vote, and the role that social and indigenous movements played.
Our full name is MAS-IPSP, which stands for Movement Towards Socialism — Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples. It is not a traditional party. The word “party” cannot really be applied to us, because in reality the MAS is the instrument of the indigenous, worker and campesino groups towards their own self-government.
The structure of the MAS cannot be compared to that of a Leninist party — we go beyond that type of structure. Much less can it be compared to neoliberal parties.
Our structure is based on the structures of indigenous communities, and campesino and worker unions. This was the structure of our campaign.
Of course, we had a national campaign committee. We have structures at the sub-national level, we have people that are politically responsible for different areas, but our traditional style of campaigning is based on mobilising existing campesino and worker groups.
Strong economic growth, together with the nationalisation of hydrocarbons, has led to important improvements in the lives of working class people. What do you think should be the next steps taken by the working class in their struggle?
Bolivia has reached an interesting point in its history were we are taking a qualitative step towards the industrialisation of our resources. The working class will have to be at the vanguard, both at the scientific and at the day-to-day level, of this industrialisation.
We are disproving the myth that the working class only exists to offer up its labour power. In Bolivia, the working class is in government.
In Bolivia, we have a trade union confederation [Bolivian Workers Central, COB] that has, among other things, promoted the re-election of Morales. You have a trade union confederation that has its own representatives in the legislative assembly. You have a trade union confederation that has representatives in Morales' cabinet.
But above all, we have a trade union confederation that has become the main promoter of the process of industrialisation.
We are abandoning the traditional primary export model to which Bolivia has historically been relegated. We are becoming a country that exports manufactured goods that can compete with any other country.
I'm specifically talking here about things like lithium. In Bolivia, we have more than 70% of the world's proven reserves of lithium.
Lithium is the energy of the future, and on the basis of Bolivian scientific know-how, as well as scientific contributions from around the world, we are assembling lithium batteries, together with the workers.
The nationalisation of natural resources has been an important source of revenue for social spending, but Bolivia has not been able to break its dependency on extractive industries. Does this represent a danger for the socialist project?
We are used to being accused of being “extractivists” from Europe, from the US, from the NGOs they have working in Latin America, all of whom want us to be park rangers for the First World. But Bolivia is a country that does not even come close in terms of environmental damage when compared with, for example, the US.
Bolivia is a country that is very rich in natural resources, and this is one of our strengths. By exploiting natural resources, we will be able to lift Bolivians out of poverty. We have the right as Bolivians to exploit our resources in a sovereign manner, because for us the concept of nature cannot be reduced to a little tree and a butterfly. For us, nature also includes our society.
We cannot talk about defending nature on the basis of, for example, what the gringos are proposing, which is carbon credits. Not when you have children in indigenous communities dying of hunger or dying because they have a tooth infection and there is no dentist to attend to them.
We demand our right to freely exploit our resources in a sovereign manner. Eventually, we will pass through this extractivist stage which Bolivia is living through because Bolivia has started to industrialise its resources.
The proof of this is in the lithium batteries that we have been assembling since 2014 in the Uyuni salt flats; the proof of this is in the generation of electricity that we are going to sell to Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay; the proof of this is that we are going to start providing processed gas to Peru and Paraguay.
We are not condemned to being an extractivist country. We have the right to use our natural resources because we are not using them to enrich transnational corporations, because we are not using them for capitalist interests. We are using them to redistribute the wealth to the Bolivian people, who are the owners of these resources according to our constitution.
We have seen right-wing parties win recent elections in Argentina and Venezuela. What do you think can be done in the region to stop the advance of right-wing parties?
Bolivia today is at the centre of the operations of the international right, especially the US right but also the European right, of course acting with their local satellites. I'm talking about political parties, about media outlets, about NGOs. We knew that they were gunning for Bolivia at this moment.
The right has achieved a victory in Venezuela, it has achieved a victory in Argentina, and as the Bolivian process is the most consolidated in terms of advancing towards socialism, towards self-government, we have no doubt that we are the principle focus of the international right, of imperialism in general.
What has occurred in this campaign is evidence of this. It has been proved than the charge d'affaires of the US embassy in Bolivia met with opposition journalists and with leaders of the opposition. It has been proven that they received economic resources to carry out a destabilisation campaign and generate violence in our country over the last few months.
We are going to respond with more work. We are going to respond by working even more closely with the social movements. President Evo Morales will continue working 20 hours a day. Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera will continue denouncing US attempts to intervene into our domestic affairs.
As the left, we will continue denouncing all acts of intervention and corruption, we will continue fighting in the streets because we come from the struggle, we did not begin our political life in power. My generation is one that has been able to grow up in democracy and has had the chance to see a country that is changing, that has left behind social and economic segregation [of the indigenous majority] and replaced this with the redistribution of resources.
We have a tradition of struggle. We have seen our parents fight, we have seen our grandparents fight.
We know how the right operates, but thankfully in Bolivia there is a social, political and economic communitarian structure that has survived colonisation, that survived through the republic, that survived through [military dictatorships] and which is now in government.
It is this communitarian structure that will preserve the process of change in Bolivia. Despite the clientalism of certain leaders, despite certain leaders who became disaffected because they were unable to carve out spaces of power for themselves, worker and indigenous leaders who were unable to grab a share of power for themselves as they want to, we know that it is the will of the people that will win out in the end.