Interviste (march 2004)
Interview with President Carlos Mesa

MESA: “We have had capitalization, not privatization”

The president of Bolivia, Carlos Mesa, took office Oct. 17, 2003 following the resignation of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (1993-97 and 2002-2003) in the midst of a grave crisis unleashed by the so-called “gas war” against the sale of the fuel to the United States and Mexico. Mesa, 51-year-old journalist and historian, assumed the responsibility of articulating a government of salvation and attending an interminable list of social demands of the poorest country in South America (LP, Oct. 22, 2003).
Paolo Moiola, contributor of LATINAMERICA PRESS, interviewed Mesa in La Paz about his position on neo-liberalism and the outlook for his government through 2007.

Bolivia has been in the news a lot in recent months due to the problem of gas. Could you explain the different sides of this subject in a few words?
Bolivia is an important producer of gas. Capitalization, begun in 1994, has made it possible to increase enormously the amount produced. There is, then, on the broad economic horizon (the possibility) of exporting and transforming gas. What are the problems? First, an initial historical problem due to Bolivia’s demand for its own access to the sea. Currently, exports are carried out through a Chilean port without sovereignty. In the second place, the majority of the Bolivian people do not want to sell gas to Chile, since this country will not respond favorably to the issue of our access to the sea. This fact will create problems for exporting gas to Mexico and United States. It is easier to export gas to Argentina and Brazil.
Besides exporting gas, we ourselves should start to benefit from our gas, using it as a source of internal energy and substituting machines fueled by oil with machines fueled by gas. All of this means giving incentives to the transformation and industrialization of gas in situ.

For several years, the whole world has seen a privatization process carried out according to rigid dictates of neo-liberalism. What has this meant in Bolivia?
First of all, I would like to point out that in Bolivia privatization has not been carried out in the same way as in Peru or Argentina. Ours, rather, has been a process of capitalization.
Second, the work has been done in large national companies: oil, electricity, telecommunications, train and air transport, with several successes. The airline sector has been a disaster and we are on the brink of failure. In the train sector, the economic results have been very good, above all in the train of the east, but it has been negative on the supply side since some lines were closed and as a result some people were deprived of transport services. It is necessary, therefore, to readjust priorities a bit because we need to consider not only the economic needs but also the social area in these sectors. In the telecommunications sector, capitalization has been absolutely spectacular. One figure illustrates this: we had around 300,000 lines, now we have 1.7 million.

Does this mean that the method of capitalization, chosen by Bolivia, is an instrument of neo-liberal economics that, in contrast to privatization, has worked?
In general, I would say that it has worked. Besides… we could not define it as a neo-liberal instrument in the strict sense. Another positive thing is the capital the state has collected. With it, we have been able to create an assistance fund for all people over 65.

Apart from capitalization, what is your view on neo-liberal philosophy?
Neoliberalism in its orthodox sense has failed. This can be seen in all of Latin America and Bolivia is one more example. We are in 2004 and we have been asking sacrifices of the Bolivian people for 18 years: people no longer believe in this economic model. Now it is a question of the state retaking its role in managing the economy. Not only in the sense of obtaining higher production, but also fighting poverty and developing education.

Could you say something about Bolivia’s international relations, especially with the United States?
Relations with the United States are very important, like all of the countries of Latin America that are in its area of influence. For the United States, the issue of coca eradication is fundamental. It is certainly an important issue but for us it is a problem that has very high social and economic costs as there are a lot of Bolivian families whose survival depends on coca production. The United States supports us on the economic side, but the issue of coca is a lot more complex.

Returning to internal politics, how are your relations with Evo Morales and Felipe Quispe?
They are two completely different relationships from the political point of view. Felipe Quispe [campesino leader known as “el mallku” or condor in Aymara (LP, April 23, 2001) is a person who represents a very precise and identifiable group of people who come from the zone of the altiplano; he has radical positions with little flexibility. I think his logic is “maximalist” and therefore I don’t see a way of negotiating with him in the democratic context.
Evo Morales [congressional deputy and coca leader (LP, Dec. 31, 2003)] is a different person. He has a very broad electoral outlook, he wants to form a government and for this reason he has inserted himself in the political debate. In the last several months he has contributed to the management of government with a reasonable and rational attitude. Lately, in truth, it appears to me that he is taking very critical positions with respect to the new hydrocarbons law (LP, Sept. 22, 2004). He is very close to positions similar to nationalization, creating a series of problems in international relations, with (international) cooperation (aid), and with the oil industry itself with which there are contracts signed. Nevertheless, Morales on this issue has maintained a legitimate position in the context of a democratic debate.

You appear to be a very optimistic person. Do you think you will reach the end of your mandate on Aug. 6, 2007?
This is what I am proposing to myself. It will have to be seen if the Bolivian people will continue to support a government that has sought to be transparent. Certainly we will confront difficult moments and the social tension could increase a little. I think, nevertheless, that the people understand that one cannot ask everything of a government born as a result of such a serious crisis.

Paolo Moiola, from La Paz











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