Bolivia’s new president, Luis Arce, has vowed to rebuild his nation’s battered financial system, revive ties with leftwing neighbours and serve one time period solely, as he ready to take workplace after October’s landslide election.
Chatting with the Guardian earlier than his inauguration on Sunday, the UK-educated economist was cautious about characterising his victory as proof that Latin America’s leftwing “pink tide” of the early 2000s was bouncing again after a interval of rightwing dominance. Since 2018 the left has returned to energy in Mexico and Argentina, whereas a leftwing economist is properly positioned to win Ecuador’s presidential election in February.
However Arce’s win did characterize a sensational domestic resurrection for the Motion for Socialism (Mas) get together, which some observers thought was doomed after its figurehead, Evo Morales, was pushed overseas final yr after a failed election, social unrest and what supporters name a US-backed coup. “The left isn’t defeated in Bolivia – quite the opposite, we now have a brand new alternative now to work for the Bolivian folks,” the incoming president mentioned.
Arce, 57, mentioned his emphatic first-round win confirmed Latin Individuals would not settle for anti-democratic, rightwing regimes, such because the interim authorities that took energy after Morales abandoned Bolivia in November 2019. “We’ve got reclaimed democracy for Bolivia, and our message is that we’ll not tolerate any sort of de facto dictatorial regime or coup in Latin America,” he mentioned, promising to hunt justice for the victims of a shooting of unarmed civilians on the top of final yr’s unrest.
He promised to restore ties with Argentina’s Peronist leaders and restore relations with the leftwing governments of Cuba and Venezuela, which Bolivia’s conservative interim president, Jeanine Áñez, severed, regardless of missing a democratic mandate. He mentioned Juan Guaidó, the Trump-backed Venezuelan opposition chief who has been attempting to topple Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, since declaring himself the nation’s rightful chief in January 2019, “represents nobody”.
However Arce additionally signalled he can be pragmatic, “leaving issues of ideology and politics to 1 facet” when coping with leaders of various stripes, akin to Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro. “We need to do good enterprise with our neighbours,” he mentioned.
Consultants see a bumpy street forward for Arce, with Bolivia nonetheless reeling from the humanitarian and economic impact of one of many world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. Its Covid-19 dying price per million folks is presently the fifth highest on the planet, greater than that of the US and Mexico.
“I wouldn’t count on any sort of honeymoon,” mentioned Eduardo Gamarra, a Bolivia skilled at Florida Worldwide College. He mentioned painful austerity measures with the potential to trigger “social turmoil” had been unavoidable.
Arce, who has a grasp’s from Warwick College, the place he studied within the 90s on a British authorities scholarship, mentioned the financial outlook was bleak, with GDP falling 11% this yr and unemployment as excessive as 30% in sectors akin to development.
“The very first thing we should do is get Bolivia out of this financial disaster. The nice majority of Latin America international locations are affected by this proper now, however significantly Bolivia … So we should rebuild the financial system.”
Arce faces political exams too, not least within the form of Morales, who’s planning a triumphant homecoming from exile in Argentina on Monday. “His massive problem now could be how lengthy he can hold Evo out of the image,” Gamarra mentioned.
Requested whether or not it was the correct second for Morales to return, Arce mentioned: “He’ll make that call. We received’t intrude in his selections … and naturally we is not going to cease him … It’s a really private matter for him.”
Nevertheless, Morales would have no formal role in his administration, Arce mentioned. “That is my authorities. Comrade Evo is the Mas president and that shall be his position … However I’ll lead the federal government.”
Morales induced anger final yr, even in Mas, for ignoring a referendum and looking for a fourth time period in an try to increase his 14 years in energy.
Arce mentioned he didn’t plan to stay in workplace as lengthy, and hoped to see a “renewal” of his get together with the emergence of a brand new era of leaders. “I need to spend 5 years [in office] and no extra,” he mentioned.
Jim Shultz, the founding father of the Bolivia-focused Democracy Heart, mentioned that was not essentially how issues would end up. “Let’s see what occurs, as a result of the structure offers him the choice of a second [term],” he mentioned. “After all he would say that in the beginning.”