Webber, Jeffrey R. From Rebellion to Reform in Bolivia: Class Struggle, Indigenous Liberation, and the Politics of Evo Morales. 2011. Haymarket Books, Chicago, Ill. USA.

When I learned that Bolivia’s government has decided to rid the country of Coca Cola by the end of 2012 and that McDonald’s fast food is leaving Bolivia because it can’t sell its products due to what the company claims is a ‘cultural boycott’, I decided it was time to re-read this book and learn more about one of South America’s poorest countries where resource exploitation by imperial powers has dominated governments and the lives of the mainly indigenous peoples of Bolivia for centuries.

Webber, a UK academic, has written an extensively documented and referenced critique of the present government, mainly of the president, of Bolivia, a country which has gone through upheaval and change in the 21st century. He states that his criticism, based on Marxist theory which he explains in Part 1, is from a perspective on the left for which he spent much time in Bolivia and interviewed social and political activists and citizens.

He believes that, in spite of changes and reforms of the present government, Bolivia and its leadership are still trapped in neoliberal economic policies. He states that in some instances, “Morales is in fact channelling imperial economic power and guaranteeing a legal environment for their ongoing exploitive practices.”

He recalls the forces of rebellion which arose against the right-wing government in 2000 tried to privatize water in Cochabamba. The social movements grew in strength to soon call for the renationalization of the oil and gas industries; Bolivia has the 2nd largest natural gas reserves in South America after Venezuela.

Aligned then with these social movements, the political party MAS (Movimento al Socialismo: Movement toward Socialism) brought Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous president, to 2005 and subsequent re-election.

Bolivia still has a resource export based economy and can still be dominated by global economics and power; an attempt of one petroleum-rich state to break away was undoubtedly supported by foreign powers. Webber’s critique is founded on detailed reports and statistics and makes for thoughtful reading by solidarity activists elsewhere; Webber warns against the idealization of Morales by internationalists while at the same time recognizing the very real threats from the right.

He applauds Morales at the 2010 conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba in 2010 for his “vigorous denunciation of hypocrisy and arrogance of leaders the key imperialist countries at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009. He spoke to the aspirations of the thousands resisting in the streets, facing repression and lengthy prison sentences for civil disobedience in the name of preventing the regularized destruction of the earth’ ecosystems…at the same time we must not shy away from the contradictions of what is happening domestically in Bolivia…”

Webber says that Morales government does not respect or implement the rights and aspirations of workers and peasants when it comes to continuing its economic policies based on foreign-controlled exports of primary raw materials

In conclusion, Webber writes that the government “is not the only force in Bolivia fighting imperialism nor does the government consistently take anti-imperial positions”.

There are still strong movements of workers, peasants, and community activists who are cooperating to build ‘communitarian socialism’ in Bolivia that deserve international solidarity. Any place that can get rid of Coca Cola and McDonald’s requires our informed attention and support.

He closes the book with these words which, after reading this critique, activists can take to heart, “The hope for Bolivia’s future lies remains with the overwhelming indigenous rural and urban popular classes, organizing and struggling independently for themselves, against combined capitalist exploitation and racial oppression, with visions of simultaneous indigenous liberation and socialist emancipation, as we witnessed on a grand scale between 2000 and 2005.”

Filed under Book Reviews, Jeffrey R. Webber