Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bolivia in transformation

Bolivia: Processes of Change
By John Crabtree and Ann Chaplin
Zed Books
Pbck. £14.99

This is another extremely useful contribution by Zed Books to our understanding of the recent transformations sweeping Latin America.

Bolivia is Latin America’s poorest country, despite possessing a wealth of raw materials, from silver, tin and hydro-carbon deposits. These resources have been exploited over centuries by first the Spanish colonialists, then by multi-nationals with the connivance of local oligarchs, leaving the overwhelmingly indigenous population barely surviving in dire poverty. It has, like its neighbours, seen numerous governmental changes over the decades: military coups and dictatorships which represented merely a change of exploiting group. However, with the election of the first indigenous president, Evo Morales, in 2006, real change became possible. He is a former union leader and avowed socialist, determined to radically transform his country, giving indigenous people greater autonomy and control over their lives for the first time and nationalising much of the country’s mineral wealth resources.

Crabtree and Chaplin know the country well and have conducted independent research, including hundreds of interviews with ordinary people, grass-roots leaders, trade unionists and indigenous groups, and have used these as a basis for their illuminating description of what has been taking place under Morales’s presidency.

What the book clearly explains is how the complex ethnic make up of the country, its history of dictatorships, trade union militancy and popular revolt, overlaying class conflict, makes the implementation of effective and democratic change extremely difficult.
It is a book which will be of vital importance for those with a deeper interest in Latin America and Bolivia, but for a general reader it conveys a fascinating picture of the historical development and contemporary change in this little-known, land-locked Andean country.