Bolivia: High-Ranking MAS Officials Guilty of Corruption

Workers movement must fight for genuine accountability and socialist democracy

After weeks of newspaper reports documenting widespread and high-ranking corruption within Evo Morales’ left-center Movement towards Socialism (MAS) government, the party’s National Direction responded on March 19th by expelling four MAS leaders (including the current MAS president of the department of La Paz.), suspending eight others, and demanding that two of its congressman (one of them Lino Villca, a Senator) renounce their congressional immunity and face possible expulsion and prosecution. Earlier in the week, Morales himself stated that those found guilty of the corruption charges should do jail-time. 

The central accusation is that high-ranking MAS officials organized a web of corruption in which people seeking jobs in public administration would have to get the signatures of specific MAS officials and then pay between US $300-1000 in order to receive a position. People from all sections of public administration have reportedly received jobs in this manner.

In a separate but related matter, the president of Bolivia’s national oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB), announced he was opening up an investigation into accusations that more than 30 people without any technical training received jobs at YPFB because of their ties to the MAS party.  Former director of the YPFB, Juan Carlos, stated that more than 120 people had received jobs in this manner during the tenure of his predecessor, Jorge Alvarado.

In addition, there have been numerous reports of nepotism within the MAS government, including charges that close family members of Evo Morales himself have been given government posts. 

Government corruption

Government corruption of this nature has serious economic repercussions. The buying and selling of government jobs inevitably leads to unnecessary administrative positions which increases government bureaucracy.  Furthermore, elected officials who should be fighting for change, instead spend their time creating administrative red tape to make money.  Only genuine workers’ control of appointments can ensure that those best suited for a job are in fact given the position. 

At the end of the day, we are talking about tens of millions of Bolivianos wasted, money which could be spent providing health, education, and social services for Bolivia’s majority poor worker, peasant, and indigenous population. 

This corruption could have significant political consequences for the left as well.  Many people voted for the MAS party in order to do away with the rampant government corruption which characterized prior, neoliberal, governments.  More than just harming MAS’ electoral prospects, this corruption could cause disillusionment within sections of the social movements.  For many people who have struggled for years and shed blood to bring about change, seeing a new set of crooks carry out the same old-style corruption will leave the impression that fundamental change is impossible and not worth the necessary sacrifice.

The right-wing media has made full use of this MAS corruption in an effort to demoralize and weaken not just MAS supporters, but the social movements who have been the real thorn in their side, kicking out two neoliberal presidents in the last four years and forcing the election of anti-neoliberal indigenous president, Evo Morales.

Some supporters of the MAS government try to argue that the corruption charges are nothing more than a right-wing attack and we are doing the right-wing’s dirty work by calling attention to and criticizing the MAS party for such actions.

Attacks from the right wing are inevitable in a country where workers and peasants are organizing and building social movements that threaten the economic and political interests of the elites, large landowners, and transnational corporations which control most of Bolivia’s resources. 

The only way we can defend the gains we have already made and bring about the changes which are necessary is by strengthening the social movements.  This is not done by uncritically supporting corrupt MAS party members. On the contrary, the social movements must do everything in its power to expose and get rid of these crooks from the workers movement and government.

At first glance, it appears that the MAS party is taking important steps to do that, expelling and suspending guilty party officials, while insisting that their congresspersons renounce their immunity and submit to an investigation. 

It is still too early to say, however, whether or not this is a genuine attempt by the MAS party to rid itself of corruption or whether they are merely throwing off some dead weight in order to silence the critics and protect more important party leaders.

Furthermore, while expelling and even imprisoning guilty party leaders might help mitigate the damage done by the current scandal, it will not prevent the return of corruption within the MAS party ranks.

The fact is that corruption is inevitable under capitalism. Capitalists use corruption to ensure that even within “democracy” their interests come first, at the expense of workers, peasants, indigenous, and the poor. In the extreme poverty that exists for the majority in Bolivia where there is no genuine accountability to the working class and the economy and society remains under the control of the capitalist elite, then instances where individuals attempt to better their own circumstances through corruption are bound to occur.

Socialist democracy

The CWI-Bolivia fights for revolutionary socialist democracy where the majority really has the power to control its elected officials to prevent corruption and guarantee that they truly represent the interests of the majority.  In order to accomplish this, we put forward four concrete proposals which would characterize revolutionary socialist democracy: 

All elected officials must be subject to immediate recall: under capitalist democracy, a candidate makes promises to get elected and then spends the next 2-6 years breaking those promises.  Under revolutionary socialist democracy, the moment a candidate stops representing the people, the people have the right to immediately strip that elected official of his position.

Elected officials must receive a salary no higher than the average salary of the people they represent: under capitalism, elected officials earn 10, 20, 50 times more than the average worker.  As a result, they don’t use public transportation and hospitals, they don’t send their kids to public schools and they don’t live in the same neighborhoods as workers and peasants.  They aren’t part of the worker and peasant majority and they can’t represent them.  Under revolutionary socialist democracy, elected officials earn the same salary as the average worker and use the same public facilities.  They live the life of the worker and peasant majority and therefore have a vested interest in improving the lives of this majority.

There must be strict limits on the amount of time an elected official can occupy a position: under capitalist democracy, public service can be a lucrative career which elevates the elected official to a position outside and above the majority worker and peasant majority.  They can become public rulers instead of public servants.  Under revolutionary socialist democracy, elected positions are occupied by a constantly changing body of people who come from jobs as workers and peasants and return to those jobs after a brief period of public service.  Public service is not a lucrative career, it is a service.

The worker and peasant majority must be armed and organized democratically: under capitalist democracy, the military stands outside and above the population. It is run by an unelected elite and is used against the majority in defense of the interests of the elite minority.  Under revolutionary socialist democracy, the majority worker and peasant population is not defenseless against the military because the workers and peasants themselves are armed and able to elect and recall military representatives who are at the service of the people.

The CWI-Bolivia supports the MAS party against all attacks from the right-wing opposition aimed at weakening the social movements.  But we condemn the corruption of certain MAS officials which weakens the social movements, as well.  We support any genuine actions taken by the MAS party to cleanse itself of these corrupt elements but at the same time argue that corruption is an inevitable product of capitalism and can only be completely eradicated by revolutionary socialist democracy.

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April 2007