Is Bolivia a Quality Democracy

Democracy is defined by Princeton University as “the political orientation of those who favor government by the people or by their elected representatives.” (University 2010) Basically a democracy is a government that is run by the people and/or its elected officials. A democracy is a government that is meant to serve the will and needs of the people to improve life in all aspects. Both the USA and Canada are examples of successful, and long lived, democracies. The opening to the book Assessing the Quality of Democracy states the essences of democracy and the need for it to be an adaptive state:
“As democracy has spread over the past three decades to a majority of the world’s states, analytic attention has turned increasingly from explaining the character of democratic regimes. Much of the democratic literature of the 1990s was concerned with the consolidation of democratic regimes. In recent years, social scientists as well as democracy practitioners and aid agencies have sought to develop means of framing and assessing the quality of democracy. This stream of theory, methodological innovation, and empirical research has three broad motives; First, that deepening democracy is a moral good, if not an imperative; second, that reform to improve democratic quality are essential is democracy is to achieve the broad and durable legitimacy that marks consolidation, and third, that long established democracies must reform if they are to attend to their own gathering problems of public dissatisfaction and even disillusionment.” (Diamond and Morlino 2005, 1)

Skipping ahead a little in the book they go in to say,
“Who is to define what constitutes a ‘good’ democracy, and to what extent is a universal conception of democratic quality possible? How can the effort to address deficiencies of democracy avoid becoming paternalistic exercises in which the established democracies take themselves for granted as models and so escape scrutiny? How can assessments of democratic quality go beyond mere analytics and be useful to political reformers, civil society activists, international donors, and others who seek to improve the quality of democracy? These are only some of the questions that pervade and motivate this growing subfield of study.” (Diamond and Morlino 2005)
From this we can see how deciding whether or not a country is a quality democracy is a little tricky and involves many different facets of thought. This paper is obvious my approach and opinions in this matter and it is very possible I am wrong in my assumptions.
A quality democracy is defined, in my opinion, by several things. First, and foremost, is the concern for the people and their welfare before anything else. The people are the country, and the reason for any kind of governing system. The second mark of a good democracy is the dedication to bettering the economical wellbeing and stability of the country. The more prosperous a country becomes the better the living situations and the overall quality of life should increase within that state. The goal should be to become prosperous in order to benefit the country and its people as a whole; not to make the government more powerful or wealthy. Not that the country has to be a rich one to be a quality democracy just that the ultimate goals and values are those that are for the betterment of the country, and not politicians.
My thesis for this research is that Bolivia is not a quality democracy and the facts and research outlined in this paper will either prove or disprove this statement.

Political and Governmental
To take a quick look back to the 16th century, Bolivia was originally populated with an Indian population that was under the rule of the Incan Empire and used to be known as Upper Peru. (Skidmore, Smith and Green 2010) They gained their Independence in 1825 from Peru and renamed the country after independence fighter Simon Bolivar, who subsequently became Bolivia’s first president, which at that point in history was intended for life. Part of the power of the president at this point in history was the power to nominate his presidential successor. Even though Bolivia had a president, all the workings and policies reflected those of a monarchy. This is just a quick look into the first instance of a Bolivian president, even if it is not in the modern sense and concepts.

One point that kept showing with the research into Bolivia is similarity to most other Latin American countries by having a long history of military interference with the government.

Currently, Bolivia is considered a Democratic Republic and has recently drafted, and implemented, a new constitution in 2009. It is a completely electoral state including the smaller governing bodies such as mayors of the smaller towns. Since Bolivia is a democracy, it is ruled by a President elect who is the head of the government as well as the head of state. There are nine departments in the Administrative divisions of the government with many smaller branches.

“The reforms (of the 1990s) just changed a few, but it wasn’t enough. It was a change in name only. They, the politicians, made the changes among themselves, the authorities. They never consulted with the people (el pueblo) … So, the people arose, they got mad and the kicked out Goni (the president, Gonazales Sanchez de Lozada). (Grey 2007)

The third millennium is the epoch of the original peoples, no longer that of the empire; it is the epoch o the struggle against the (neoliberal) economical model.”

This quote is from Bolivia’s current president Evo Morales, the former leader of the coca growers union and a member of the Movement toward Socialism party. He was also descended from the indigenous Indians who had lived in Bolivia for centuries. (CIA 2010) Morales has been in office since 2005 and was re-elected into office in 2009, which is highly unusual since according to the old Bolivian constitution a president can only serve one term in office. In the old constitution, the president would be chosen by the Senate if neither of the candidates was over 50 percent of the popular vote. The drafting of a new constitution in 2009 allowed a candidate to be re-elected if neither of the new candidates were over 50 percent of the popular vote and if the margin of votes was less than 10 percent dividing them. (CIA 2010) (Reuters 2010) (Coster 2010)This erases the term limit that is placed on the former president and allows him to enter the race. This was history making because it was the first time in Bolivia that a president ran for re-election, let alone won and started a second term. Plus, it had the added feature that he was part of the indigenous people descended from the Incans of the past.

“Morales… broadened the scope to include real participation of the Indian population in local and national governance… Morales organized a special inauguration ceremony following Aymara (the indigenous people) rituals prior to the official event. He represented himself as the first full-blood indigenous president who was dedicated to overturning Bolivia’s centuries-old social hierarchy. After centuries of oppression, this was a stunning culmination and display of newly found Indian power.” (Skidmore, Smith and Green 2010, 181)

Morales policies are intended to focus the countries resources towards those areas that need it and not the ones that already have a stable means of support, such as the natural gas areas and the farming areas. Part of the new constitution was the re-distribution of land to the people to balance the prosperity of the land with the impoverish people. The idea was to give the people not only a way to feed themselves but also a way to make a little extra money and better their lots in life. This, obviously, was not a popular idea with the prosperous land owners who had long enjoyed the privileges of their class. Another area where he lacked popular support was with the indigenous classes that he so proudly came from. He didn’t fluently speak either of the native languages and the majority of the time speaks Spanish. According to The New York Times;
“Officials in the lowlands, where most of Bolivia’s food and petroleum are produced, ridiculed the new charter. But others say the new Constitution addresses underrepresentation of Indians, pointing to articles that would reserve seats for them in Congress and in other areas of the fast-growing bureaucracy. Even Mr. Morales’s cabinet has just two Indian ministers; his top aides, the vice president (a former guerrilla) and the chief of staff (a former military officer), are light-skinned intellectuals” (par 9 – 10)

The new constitution was created to try and balance the social classes as well as stabilize the economy but it seems regardless of the changes made there was still mass unhappiness in Bolivia with the various aspects of change that Morales has, and wants to, implement in Bolivian society.

Officially Bolivia calls itself a Plurinational State which basically translates to a focus on the diversity and needs of the population. The general idea is that the government distributes the nation’s income to different areas in order to help those who need it the most. These general ideals aren’t that different from the Marxist ideas that are so prevalent in Latin Americas history. (Skidmore, Smith and Green 2010)

I am including a breakdown from the CIA’s World Fact Book of the political structure to help illustrate how the Bolivian government is constructed.
Executive Branch—which includes the president and governmental cabinet.

Legislative Branch— there are actually two legislative chambers in Bolivia. Congress also falls under this branch.

Judicial Branch—There are five levels of jurisdiction in the Bolivian judicial system. It is headed by the Supreme Court with has a separate Constitutional Tribunal, as well as a Supreme Electoral Tribunal which rules on matters related to the electoral process.

There are nine departments that are subdivisions of the government which is headed by elected governors. Within the political system in Bolivia there are four major political parties. They are:
1. Movement Towards Socialism (MAS),
2. National Unity (UN),
3. Fearless Movement (MSM),
4. Social Alliance (AS)
There are many smaller civilian-based parties but none that are of any consequence or major influence. (Government 2010)

There is history involved in the politics that would indicate that Bolivia was a bad democracy, but the recent changes in the government, both leadership and structurally that are showing great promise and potential in making Bolivia a quality democracy. So far my thesis seems to be in jeopardy of being proven false.
The majority of the general populous still has a high content of Indian descendents and most are fiercely proud of that heritage. As stated previously, the large majority of the Bolivian population is indigenous and descendant from the Incan Indians that had inhabited the area before Spanish conquest.
Originally under the control of the Viceroy of Lima the land then called Upper Peru would eventually become Bolivia. The majority of the proceeds from the silver that was mined there was a very large contributing factor to the Spanish Empire.
Towards the beginning of the nineteenth century Upper Peru declared its independence from Peru and Spain, renaming itself after the freedom fighter Simon Bolivar in the mid-eighteen twenties. Just because independence was achieved this didn’t meant instant stability or prosperity. The growth of a new government was slow and there were constant changes and upheavals in the first half century or so. Some of their land was even taken over by Chile, which effectively cut off sea access and the ease of trade that Bolivia had enjoyed and taken for granted for all those years while still under Spanish control.
Not only did Bolivia mine gold and silver, they had gold mines as well, which became one of the few saving graces for this newly independent country. Gold was ever increasing in value in the world market. Gold mining was definitely a profitable endeavor for the mine owner as well as the country, but this was soon surpassed by the mining and exporting of tin. The natural reserves of tin far outweighed any of the other metals and other natural resources that Bolivia possessed. The increase in wealth with the mine owners had an eventual effect on the political systems in Bolivia, when they decided that they wanted or needed anything they would simple hire strong arms and place pressure on the still weak government. This was a fairly successful method, especially since a large majority of the countries jobs and income came from the mines.
Despite the wealth of the various mines and other natural resources available to Bolivia, it has a very high poverty rate because it is still one of the least developed countries in Latin America by comparison. Somewhere around two thirds of the population consists of impoverished subsistence farmers. The annual population rate is incredibly low, averaging less than two percent a year. (Grey 2007) Another factor in the social state is the literacy rate, which is also very low. Many of the children attend less than a year of schooling in their lives, and that is if they are lucky enough to get that. The prominent religion is Roman Catholic thanks to the early influences from Spain; however there is a slowing rising Protestant movement in recent years.
The poverty rate in Bolivia is staggeringly high, toping over sixty percent of the general populous. That would roughly be around six million people all living in squalor with no sewage system, no running water, no medical care and barely enough food to survive. (Grey 2007) The people have bad working conditions in the silver and tin mines, as well as no education or any opportunities to better their lots in life. The Great Depression was especially hard on Bolivia cutting the price of tin down below half of what it was. Because of the loss of the easy sea access, shipping costs had always been high for Bolivia and the effects of the Depression were devastating.
While the struggling economy from the Depression almost crippled them, tin would eventually bring Bolivia out of its slump and in later years and place them as one of the four leading suppliers of tin worldwide.
Working in the mines in dangerous conditions and low pay was a prominent social structure until a war broke out with Paraguay in the nineteen thirties. The shock of the war helped the working classes realize that they needed more from life and formed various social groups to pursue and hopefully achieve these goals. The workers in the mines were both men and woman. Often times there were even children that worked the mines in order to help feed their families. One woman worker from the mines said, “We eat the mines and the mines eat us”. (Skidmore, Smith and Green 2010, 158) This shows the general feeling that was prevalent among the people, especially those in the mines.
According to The New York Times many laws were recently passed to fight different aspects that were considered problematic to society in including racism.
“Bolivia’s leftist president, Evo Morales, signed an anti-racism law Friday that his opponents say could be used to stifle media criticism of his government. The law allows authorities to close down news outlets deemed to have published racist content, which has led to protests by senators from the eastern region of Santa Cruz, the nation’s richest area and an opposition stronghold. Mr. Morales, Bolivia’s first president of native Indian descent, said the measure ensured greater equality for the indigenous majority in South America’s poorest nation.” (Reuters 2010)
This shows at least a general awareness, if not concern, for the stability of the relationship of the people of Bolivia by its leadership and the recognition of the need for change and evolution. They recognized that there are problems present from the history of the country and they want to change as a way to move Bolivia towards a more modern and tolerant society.
From research, the social structure of Bolivia is a divided and impoverished one. There is drastic difference in the social classes and there is little available to move out of where you are born. Classically speaking I would say that Bolivia had a very poor social structure and that directly reflects on the government’s influences and practices. Looking at the past social aspects of Bolivia I would say this was definitely an argument towards Bolivia not being a quality democracy, however with the new governmental changes and the amendments to the constitution that distributes money where it is needed and gives land to the workers, I would definitely say that Bolivia is on the right track to correct mistakes and problems of the past. The governing body is showing concern for the needs of the people and working to fill those needs. Once again there is hope for this small country in regards to a new governing body that works and is beneficial to country and the people.
Economic systems
Economically speaking, Bolivia is one of the poorest and least developed countries in modern Latin America. (Government 2010) There have been recent discovery of natural gas deposits and the country is hopeful this will help boost them as a significant player in the world economy. Other industries include; sugarcane, tobacco, petroleum, mining and clothing.
Bolivia’s original exports that brought them commerce and eventually times of economic stability, were silver and tin. Because of the changing times and the advancements of the times, tin was surprisingly the leading export for Bolivia for many years and is still one of the major mining and export industries in the country.
There were other natural resources that were present in Bolivia and a major one was petroleum. There were wells being drilled as early as 1916 by private companies and when the Bolivian government saw the value in this industry, they simple nationalized the entire operation by the end of the nineteen thirties. The petroleum industry was a steady export and the peak for Bolivian petroleum was in the 1970s and steadily declined after. The ever changing global economy and market contributed to the decline in the Bolivian petroleum industry, they are a small country and they were competing against many large countries, most of which the drilling companies were privately owned and inevitably, by the early 1990s the oil industry returns to being privately owned. (Skidmore, Smith and Green 2010, 158)
Another export, though not as prevalent as their other ones or quite as legal in many cases, was coca. This plant is what is used in the manufacturing of cocaine and thrives in the South American climate. The farming of this plant not only affects the economical structure in Bolivia but it has some political connotations as well. Helen Coster of the Washington Post wrote,
“The United States says that Bolivia – the world’s third-largest producer of coca, after Colombia and Peru – produces too much excess coca, which is often processed into cocaine and sold in South America and Europe. Critics say the decision is political, intended to punish Bolivia for its lack of cooperation in the U.S.-led war on drugs, specifically President Evo Morales’s decision to kick out the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008.
“Washington is saying that if you’re not fighting the war on drugs the way we want you to, we’ll punish you,” says Sdenka Silva Ballon, a sociologist and founder of the Museo de la Coca in La Paz. “If Bolivia had invited DEA agents back, then the U.S. would probably be pleased with its efforts.” (Coster 2010)
The Bolivian government takes a stance against drugs and the production of cocaine but refuses to outlaw the farming of the coca plant. Coster goes on to say,
“Coca is an issue that has long defined U.S.-Bolivian relations, and which Morales, a cocalero and head of the coca growers’ federation, uses to galvanize his base.”Evo’s electoral stronghold was the cocaleros and other groups with the same school of thought: the have-nots neglected by the government masses,” says Caesar Guedes, representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime in Bolivia. “There’s a thin line where the government has to be careful: keep the culture of coca without the support and endorsement of cocaine. It takes work for the government to make that message clear.” (Coster 2010)
While the production of cocaine is obviously illegal, the farming of the leafy plant is not and surprisingly plays a part in the history of the country. The indigenous people have long used this plant as a medicine to combat fatigue, hunger and thirst. It had also been used as a mild anesthetic before stronger ones were wildly available. There were also smaller tribes that used the plant in religious ceremonies to assist in vision quests and many times was used as an offering to their gods.
There was a brief gold rush in the 1980s which fit right into the countries mining history and for a short time they were exporting around 80 percent of the legal gold exports in the world market.
The Bolivian economy was history making in the 1980s with prices increasing by over 20,000 percent in a one year period. This was a real threat until a new government was formed in the end of 1985 that instigated a stabilization program. This plan capped prices and halted inflation and actually lessened it for awhile. Not too long after it started to rise again. There was not one major war that effected the Bolivian economy but the buildup of the various government coups that seem to be very prevalent in this country’s history. They were also affected by high interest rates, price drops for commodities and the instability of the foreign markets.
The country hoped that the solution to their economic problems was Siles Suazo, who was elected in 1980 but did not take office until 1982. His government would have power for a short three years. By this point in their history Bolivia could not obtain any foreign loans and the inflation rate was over 300 percent annually. According to Juan Antonio;
“By any standard, Bolivia’s economic crisis in the 1980’s has been extraordinary. Like its neighbors. Bolivia suffered from major external shocks, but the extent of economic collapse in the face of these shocks (including a hyperinflation during 1984-85) suggests that internal factors as well as external shocks have been critical to Bolivia’s poor economic performance. One major theme of our work is that the recent economic crisis in Bolivia is a reflection of political and economic conflicts in Bolivian society that have undermined the development process throughout this century. While major reforms have been begun by the present government, many of the deepest problems in Bolivian society that contributed to the crisis remain unresolved.” (Antonio 1988)
Natural gas became a commodity for this small country. A major pipeline was constructed in the 1970s and twenty years later another line was built due to an agreement with Brazil for export. Bolivia has the second largest reserve of natural gas in Latin America and equaled almost 30 percent of its exports. Controversy was sparked due to control of the natural gas and the economical impact it would have on the surrounding areas.
Based upon the research for Bolivia contained in this research, I would say historically this was, and is, a fairly weak and poor country. The political structure was constantly unstable with various instances of military involvement. The recent strides with the redrafting of the country’s Constitution shows promise for the country’s future, and the future of the people. The discovery of the gas reserves is also a promising note for the country. I don’t see historic Bolivia as a good example of a quality democracy because of the aforementioned facts; however, I do see potential and hope for this country in the coming years. Recent times and changes within the government system and leaders have shown a renewed hope and energy that Bolivia will become a stable and prosperous nation. There are many years of calamity and disaster for Bolivia and the hurdles that the new powers have to jump are not easy ones. They are showing themselves to be loyal Bolivian citizens as well as practical minded in regards to the changes that were/are needed to make their homeland something to be proud of.

Works Cited

Antonio, Juan. “Bolivias Economical Crisis.” NBER Working Paper Series, Vol. w2620, June 1988.
CIA. The World Fact Book. September 29, 2010.
Coster, Helen. “Bolivia Walks the Line as it Struggles to Battle Coca Production.” The Washington Post, November 13, 2010.
Diamond, Larry Jay, and Leonardo Morlino. Assessing the Quality of Democracy. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.
Government, US. U.S. Department of State “Diplomacy in Action”. May 13, 2010.
Grey, Nancy. “Now We are Citizens; Indigenous Politics in Post-multicultural Bolivia.” New York: Stanford University Press, 2007.
Reuters. “Bolivia: New Law Called Threat to Media Critism of Government.” October 09, 2010.
Skidmore, Thomas E., Peter H. Smith, and James N. Green. “Modern Latin America.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
University, Princeton. WordNet, A Lexicon Database for English. September 20, 2010.