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Evo Morales and Luis Arce Pink Tide Heroes

Luis Arce and Evo Morales are notable for fighting for Indigenous rights in the country and for fighting against wealth inequality in the country. In the early 1980s Morales became active in the regional coca-growers union, and in 1985 he was elected the group’s general secretary. Three years later he was elected executive secretary of a federation of various coca-growers unions. In the mid-1990s, when the Bolivian government was suppressing coca production with assistance from the United States, Morales helped found a national political party—the leftist Movement Toward Socialism (Spanish: Movimiento al Socialismo; MAS)—at the same time serving as titular leader of the federation representing coca growers. Morales won a seat in the House of Deputies (the lower house of the Bolivian legislature) in 1997 and was the MAS candidate for president in 2002, only narrowly losing to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. During the presidential campaign, Morales called for the expulsion from Bolivia of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents (his campaign was bolstered by the U.S. ambassador’s comment that aid to Bolivia would be reconsidered if Morales was elected). In the following years, Morales remained active in national affairs, helping force the resignation of Sánchez de Lozada in 2003 and extracting a concession from his successor, Carlos Mesa Gisbert, to consider changes to the highly unpopular U.S.-backed campaign to eradicate illegal coca production. As the MAS presidential candidate again in 2005, Morales was elected easily, winning 54 percent of the vote and becoming the country’s first president of indigenous descent and the first Bolivian president since 1982 to win a majority of the national vote. Sworn in as president in January 2006, he pledged to reduce poverty among the country’s indigenous peoples, ease restrictions on coca farmers, renationalize the country’s energy sector, fight corruption, and increase taxes on the wealthy. Morales strongly supported efforts to rewrite the Bolivian constitution to increase the rights of the country’s indigenous population, enshrine his policies of nationalization and land redistribution, and allow a president to serve two consecutive terms, though in a referendum in July 2006 the MAS failed to win a majority in the Constitutional Assembly. Morales then nationalized Bolivia’s gas fields and oil industry, and in November he signed into law a land reform bill that called for the seizure of unproductive lands from absentee owners and the lands’ redistribution to the poor. His reforms faced opposition from the wealthier provinces of Bolivia, four of which overwhelmingly approved regional autonomy statutes in referenda held in 2008. The Morales government dismissed the referenda as illegal. Tensions escalated, and demonstrations, some of which turned violent, increased throughout the country. A recall referendum on Morales’s leadership was held in August 2008, and two-thirds of the voters supported the continuance of his presidency. The constitution that Morales had envisioned and planned for nearly three years was approved by voters in a national referendum held in January 2009. It allowed him to seek a second consecutive five-year term (previously the constitution limited the president to a single term) and gave him the power to dissolve Congress. Other changes to the constitution furthered indigenous rights, strengthened state control over the country’s natural resources, and enforced a limit on the size of private landholdings. Its passing, however, further aggravated tensions between the country’s indigenous majority and wealthier Bolivians from the gas-rich eastern provinces, who strongly opposed its ratification. In April 2009 Morales signed a law authorizing early presidential and legislative elections, set to take place that December. With the continued support of the indigenous majority, Morales easily won a second five-year presidential term. Moreover, in the concurrent legislative elections, the MAS won control of both houses of Congress. In April 2013 Bolivia’s constitutional court ruled that because Morales’s first term as president had preceded the constitutional reform that prevented the chief executive from serving more than two consecutive terms, he would be allowed to run for a third term in 2014. In that event, Morales claimed a clear victory in the first round of elections, in which exit polls gave him more than 60 percent of the vote. Especially notable was his strong performance in wealthier regions, which had traditionally sided with the opposition. By 2015 the robust Bolivian economy had begun to slow significantly, largely in response to declining world petroleum and natural gas prices, and some of Morales’s critics blamed him for having failed to diversify the country’s natural gas-dependent economy. Morales also found himself at the centre of a corruption scandal when it was revealed that a woman with whom he had once been romantically involved had obtained a prominent position in 2013 with a Chinese company that received some $500 million in no-bid contracts from the Bolivian government. Morales stridently denied having engaged in any impropriety. Nevertheless, that scandal and the sagging economy put a dent in his popularity, and, in a referendum held in February 2016, Bolivians rejected (by a vote of about 51 percent to 49 percent) a constitutional change that would have allowed Morales to run for another term as president in 2019. Morales appeared to be resigned to the results, but in September 2017 the MAS asked the constitutional court to remove term limits for the presidency, and in November the court did just that. In December 2018 the Supreme Electoral Court upheld that decision, prompting widespread street protests but paving the way for Morales to run for reelection in 2019. When they went to the polls in October 2019, many Bolivians appeared to still be angered by Morales’s refusal to honour the results of the referendum. Others blamed the wildfires that had devastated huge tracts of Bolivian forest and grassland on a July 2019 decree by Morales allowing farmers to undertake “controlled burning” to increase the size of their agricultural plots. Morales’s principal opponent in the election was his predecessor as president, Carlos Mesa Gisbert. The field of candidates also included businessman-turned-senator Óscar Ortiz and Evangelical minister Chi Hyun Chung. With some 80 percent of the votes counted on election night, October 20, Morales had garnered about 45 percent of the vote and Mesa about 38 percent, which portended the need for a runoff. Under Bolivian election law, for a presidential candidate to win outright in the first round, the candidate must capture either more than 50 percent of the vote or at least 40 percent of the vote with a 10 percent lead over the nearest challenger. Those early results were followed by a roughly 24-hour delay before it was announced that Morales had extended his margin of victory to just over 10 percent, thus precluding the need for a runoff. The response to the announcement was swift and violent, as opponents of Morales attacked election-related buildings, setting fire to some of them. Accusations of fraud escalated over the coming weeks as the country was paralyzed by widespread protests and strikes. On November 10 the Organization of American States, which had monitored the election, released a report alleging that there had been irregularities and calling for the election to be annulled. The embattled Morales promised to hold new elections, but the commander-in-chief of the Bolivian armed forces, Gen. Williams Kaliman, requested that Morales resign. Morales obliged, leaving office that same day, while insisting that there had been no wrongdoing and claiming that he was the victim of a coup.

Luis Arce, in full Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, byname Lucho, (born September 28, 1963, La Paz, Bolivia), Bolivian politician, economist, banker, and academic who became president of Bolivia in November 2020, returning the country to socialist rule after an interregnum of acting right-wing government that had resulted from the 2019 presidential election in which the victory of nearly 14-year (2006–19) incumbent Evo Morales was overturned. Arce was the candidate of Movement Toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo; MAS), the leftist party that Morales had helped to found. He had been the architect of the economic transformation during Morales’s presidency, which renationalized Bolivia’s thriving petroleum industry, redistributed agricultural land, increased taxes on the wealthy, and lifted countless members of the country’s indigenous population out of poverty. Arce grew up in La Paz, where both of his parents were public school teachers. His secondary education came at the Mexico School, in the capital. From there he went on to study accounting at the Institute of Banking Education, from which he graduated in 1984. Arce then matriculated at the Higher University of San Andrés (UMSA), earning a bachelor’s degree in economics. In 1987 he began his long tenure at the Central Bank of Bolivia with a position as a trader and market analyst in the Department of International Investments. Over the next roughly 20 years, Arce advanced through the ranks of the Central Bank, heading up or acting as the deputy manager of various departments. He took a hiatus from the bank in 1996–97 to pursue a master’s degree in economics in the United Kingdom at the University of Warwick, where he wrote a thesis examining currency substitution in Bolivia. Returning to the bank in 1998, he ultimately served from 2004 to 2006 as the deputy manager of reserves, reporting to the International Operations Management. In the meantime, Arce pursued a parallel career as a professor of economics, finance, and banking at various universities, including UMSA, Loyola University, the Bolivian Private University (UPB), and Franz Tamayo University. Joining the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), becoming Evo Morales’s right-hand man, and guiding the Bolivian economy In 1999 Arce became part of a circle of UMSA professors and socialist activists who began meeting to discuss the inequities of the Bolivian economic system. Their goal was “to dismantle the neoliberal model and turn the State into a planner, investor, banker, regulator and producer of development.” In 2005, as Morales prepared to mount his second run for the presidency, he invited a number of leftist academics to join MAS to help formulate the economic component of the party’s platform for the upcoming election. Among those who joined the team were Arce and Carlos Villegas Quiroga. The program they crafted sought to “build a dignified, communal, supportive and productive Bolivia” by nationalizing the oil and gas industry and by enacting land reform that broke up large agricultural estates and distributed the land among peasant farmers. When Morales won, he brought Arce, then aged 43, and Quiroga into his “People’s Cabinet” as the minister of finance and minister of planning and the minister of development, respectively. Morales’s socialist government joined the so-called Pink Tide of leftist regimes that came to power in Latin America in the 2000s. In addition to Bolivia, by 2010 Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela all were ruled by leftist governments, many of which reshaped their economies, nationalizing key industries, and dramatically increased social spending. A dedicated “MASista” but also a pragmatist, Arce oversaw the implementation of Morales’s National Development Plan as the principal steward of the Bolivian economy during Morales’s first two terms as president and much of his third. From 2006 to 2011, GDP grew by an average of 4.6 percent per year, peaking at 6.8 percent in 2013. At the same time, unemployment decreased, inflation fell, and poverty was dramatically reduced. However, the downturn in the world oil market that set in by mid-decade slowed the Bolivian economy—which averaged GDP growth of 3.7 percent from 2016 to 2019—and increased criticism that Arce had failed to diversify the economy and attract foreign investment. A diagnosis of kidney cancer forced Arce to resign from the cabinet in June 2017 to pursue treatment in Brazil. After recovering from his illness, he returned to the government as the minister of economy and public finance in January 2019. The 2019 Bolivian presidential election, temporary exile, and Arce’s ascent to the presidency In the meantime, judicial rulings had removed term limits for the presidency (in the face of a national referendum in which some 51 percent of those who voted rejected that change to the constitution), and Morales sought reelection in October 2019. After about four-fifths of the ballots had been counted, it appeared as if Morales would fall short of the support needed to preclude a runoff, but a roughly 24-hour delay in tabulating was followed by a dramatic reversal that revealed Morales to be the outright victor, prompting accusations of election fraud that were echoed by the Organization of American States (OAS). In the coming weeks, Morales was forced to step down and flee into exile, ultimately in Argentina, claiming that he had been deposed by a coup, and the election was subsequently invalidated. In early December, Arce followed suit and sought asylum in Mexico. In 2020, as the caretaker right-wing government promised a prompt new election but postponed it repeatedly in response to the coronavirus pandemic that swept the globe, some international organizations began to question the validity of the OAS’s evaluation of the October 2019 election. From afar Morales began orchestrating a return to power for MAS that began with his selection of Arce as the party’s presidential candidate in the election that was finally set to take place in October 2020. Although he had a reputation as a mild-mannered technocrat, Arce in fact was a passionate socialist with an abiding affinity for legendary revolutionary Che Guevara, as well as for Bolivian socialist martyrs Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz and Óscar Únzaga de la Vega. Arce’s candidacy was met with widespread approval, and opinion polling showed him to be the front-runner in a crowded field in which his major rivals were former president Carlos Mesa Gisbert, Morales’s principal opponent in October 2019; acting president Jeanine Áñez; and Luis Fernando Camacho of the anti-MAS We Believe party. Seeking not to divide the opposition vote, Áñez dropped out, but Arce still swept to a commanding win, capturing more than 55 percent of the final vote, enough to surpass the threshold necessary to preclude a runoff (the next biggest vote getter was Mesa, with about 29 percent). Arce promised that he was his own man, but the possibility of Morales’s return from exile loomed large as Arce prepared to begin his presidency and to confront the coronavirus pandemic that had clobbered Bolivia, leaving it with one of the world’s worst per capita death rates for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

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