About 7000 people joined the “International Meeting with Social Movements” festival in Barcelona on December 9, which features Bolivia's left-wing President President Evo Morales, the Andean nation;'s first ever indigenous president.
The event was largely attended by the Bolivian diaspora, many of whom travelled hours from Madrid and Valencia. However, flags of Catalonia, Palestine and Argentina reflected a broad internationalist gathering.
Organised by the Bolivian consulate in Barcelona, with the support of the Federation of Bolivia of Catalonia (FEDEBOL), it culminated in an hour-and-a-half long speech by Morales.
About 200,000 Bolivians live in Spain, a product of the poverty imposed on poor nations such as Bolivia. However, the severe economic crisis the rich are trying to impose on ordinary people in Spain has resulted in about 20% of Bolivians in Spain leaving in 2011. Rather than return to Bolivia, they moved to places such as Germany, Brazil and Argentina.
After decades of de-industrialisation, and the brain drain of skilled technicians and professionals, Bolivia is in need of its educated diaspora to return and reconstruct it´s country, and build an industrial base.
To facilitate the easy return of Bolivians, the Morales government is drastically cutting import duties imposed on household goods and basic building equipment when Bolivians move back home.
Before Morales spoke, Ada Colau, local spokespeson for the Platform of People Affected by Mortgages (PAH), read a statement on behalf of the Catalan Platform in solidarity with Bolivia. Colau paid tribute to the small Andean nation and its anti-capitalist path.
Morales spoke to huge cheers. In Bolivia, Morales noted, “500 years after the invasion which began the looting of our natural resources, we moved from resistance to the seizure of power by the participation of the different social sectors”.
This powerful people's movement drew the ire of local and international elites, whose mouthpieces have called Morales a “narco-trafficker” and “terrorist”, the president said.
Morales spoke of his government's redistribution of wealth: “The money was always there, but kidnapped by groups of local criminals to serve transnational interests.”
Now, Morales said country accepts international private investment “as partners, rather than patrons”.
Thanks to wealth generated by nationalising the nation's gas and companies in strategic sectors, Morales pointed to social advances, such as a reduction of extreme povery by 20%.
Bolivia's economics ministry has produced a pamphlet, available at the meeting, entitled Bolivia: Results of a New Economic Model that details some of the achievements of the poor nation.
The pamphlet pointed to Bolivia's stragey of gradually nationalaising foreign owned mining companies, and pointed out: “The Constitution of the State (CPE), protects communtarian, cooperative, private and social modes of production and encourages the active participation of the State in the economy through enhancing public investment.”
As a result, GDP per capita nearly doubled between 2005 and 2011, putting Bolivia into the category of a “middle income country”, up from a “low income country” from 2010.
Bolivia's economy has grown substantially in recent years, the result of moving in the opposite direction from the neoliberal approach. Bolivia has weathered the financial crisis of 2008 thanks to huge levels of public investment.
The pamphlet said: “Public investment has risen from US$1.351 million in 2008 to $2.182 million in 2011 ― a 43% rise.”
With this focus the Morales government, which took office in early 2006, had eliminated illiteracy by December 2008. The national minimum wage was raised from Bs440 in 2005 to Bs1000 last year.
While neoliberal governments are slashing jobs and wages to improve their economic outcomes, Bolivia is employing more people and raising wages. Results of the New Economic Model noted Bolivia had raised the salary of teachers and health workers by 61% between 2006 and last year.
Other anti-poverty measures included conditional cash transfers to three out of ten Bolivians.
Bolivia approach is increasing exports, reducing its debt and increasing its net international reserves. “From 2005-2011, Bolivia experienced an unprecedented increase in [its international reserves], which grew from USD1.714 million to more than USD13.000 million in August 2012. Public debt as a percentage of GDP is 31%, lower than Argentina´s 43%, Spain´s 79%, the US´s 107% and Greece´s 153%.”
All these combined economic and social measures “have reduce extreme poverty from 30.1% in 2008 to 24.4% in 2011”.
The “cultural, indigenous, democratic revolution” that Morales spoke of in Barcelona shows an alternative to the neoliberal agenda pursued by governments that seek to make working people pay for the elite's crisis.