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The current Bolivian President, Evo Morales, has managed to govern longer than all of his predecessors thanks to his three successful attempts to relax his term limits. In this article I argue that the high risk-taking personality of Morales, especially his social risk-taking, helps to explain why he has consistently tried to extend his time in office. To address this proposition I follow a twofold strategy. First, I show the results of a survey conducted among experts in presidents of the Americas. This survey measured different personality traits of the leaders that governed between 1945 and 2012, including their risk-taking. Second, I examine some of the most important decisions that Morales has made throughout his adult life. Both the survey and the analysis of Morales’ trajectory suggest that his attempts to cling to power are rooted in his risk-taking.
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Bolivian Studies Journal /Revista de Estudios Bolivianos http://bsj.pitt.edu
Vol. 22 2016 • doi: 10.5195/bsj.2016.167 ISSN 1074-2247 (print) • ISSN 2156-5163 (online)
What Drives Evo’s Attempts
to Remain in Power?
A Psychological Explanation
Ignacio Arana Araya
1
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Abstract
The current Bolivian President, Evo Morales, has managed to govern longer
than all of his predecessors thanks to his three successful attempts to relax
his term limits. In this article, I argue that the high risk-taking personality of
Morales, especially his social risk-taking, helps to explain why he has
consistently tried to extend his time in the presidency. To address this
proposition I follow a twofold strategy. First, I show the results of a survey
conducted among experts in presidents of the Americas. This survey
measured different personality traits of the leaders that governed between
1945 and 2012, including their risk-taking. Second, I examine some of the
most important decisions that Morales has made throughout his adult life.
Both the survey and the analysis of Morales’ trajectory suggest that his
attempts to cling to power are rooted in a risk-taking dynamics.
Keywords
constitution, Evo Morales, nationalizations, risk -taking, term limits
1
The author is grateful to Erin Barton for her valuable comments and suggestions for
improving this manuscript. FONDECYT Project N°3160357 generously funded this
research.
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Resumen
El actual presidente boliviano, Evo Morales, ha logrado gobernar más que
todos sus predecesores gracias a sus tres intentos exitosos de extender los
límites de su mandato. En este artículo argumento que la personalidad de alta
propensión al riesgo de Morales, especialmente su propensión a los riesgos
sociales, ayuda a entender por qué ha tratado consistentemente de extender
su mandato presidencial. Para examinar esta propuesta sigo una estrategia
doble. Primero, muestro los resultados de una encuesta realizada a expertos
en presidentes latinoamericanos. Esta encuesta midió diferentes rasgos de
personalidad de los líderes que gobernaron entre 1945 y 2012, incluyendo su
propensión al riesgo. Segundo, examino algunas de las decisiones más
importantes que Morales ha tomado a lo largo de su vida adulta. Tanto la
encuesta como el análisis de la trayectoria de Morales sugieren que sus
intentos por conservar el poder están arraigados en su propensión al riesgo.
Palabras claves
constitución, Evo Morales, límite de mandatos, nacionalizaciones,
propensión al riesgo
Introduction
When Bolivian President Evo Morales took office on January 22 of 2006,
he was ineligible to run for a second consecutive term under the 1967
Constitution. He had to step down in 2010. But that was not part of his plan. In
his first year in power, he convoked a constituent assembly to replace the
existing constitution, which finally occurred in January 2009. The new
constitution, crafted by pro-governmental forces and under the close scrutiny
of Morales, increased the presidential term from four to five years and allowed
immediate reelection. On December 2009, general elections were held under
the new charter. Morales was reelected and was able to govern until 2014.
However, that was not enough for him, and he used his influence on the
judiciary to remain in power. Eventually, it paid off. In April 2013, the Supreme
Court ruled that Morales’ first term (2006-2009) did not count towards the
constitutional term limits because he was elected under the previous charter,
and therefore under a different set of rules. That decision allowed Morales to
run for the 2014 presidential election, and in winning, he gained the right to
govern until 2020. In October 2015, Morales surpassed Andrés de Santa Cruz
(1829-1839) as the longest serving president in Bolivia’s history. But Morales
was not satisfied. In February 2016, he convoked a referendum to be allowed
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to be reelected for a fourth term, potentially extending his administration until
2025. This time, however, he narrowly lost (by 51% to 49%). Nevertheless, this
defeat seems unlikely to stop Morales’ quest to preserve power: he has until
2020 to try to extend his term again, and in December 2016, he announced
plans to do so.
The ambition to remain in office is certainly not unusual among elected
and non-elected rulers. As Bueno De Mesquita et al., claim: “We assume that
political leaders in all systems are motivated by the same universal interest: the
desire to remain in office” (793). But few elected presidents try to extend their
term in office, and fewer succeed in their attempts. Why Morales has
continually tried to extend his term in office?
I claim that Morales has tried three timesso farto extend his term in
office to a significant degree due to his risk-taking personality, especially his
social risk-taking.
2
Presidents who attempt to change the constitution to relax
their term limits run important risks. These heads of government cannot fully
anticipate the consequences of their attempts because there are many things
at stake that they do not control, such as the interests of other state powers
and the reaction of the political class, voters and the press. If presidents fail in
their attempts to relax their term limits, they may end up being overthrown, as
occurred to Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009 and Guatemalan
President Jorge Serrano in 1993.
In this paper, I address this proposition by first showing the results of a
survey that I conducted among experts in presidents. In this survey, I measured
the individual differences (i.e., personality traits and background
characteristics) of 165 presidents of all the Americas who governed one
country for at least six months between 1945 and 2012. Among the individual
differences measured was risk-taking. To measure risk-taking, experts
(Nicholson et al.,) filled out the Risk-Taking Index (RTI), which asks about the
individuals’ relation to risk in six domains (recreational, health, career,
financial, safety, and social risks). Using these measurements, and based on the
judgment of eight experts, President Morales scored higher on risk-taking than
the average of all the presidents in the sample, and higher than the average of
Bolivian presidents. Interestingly, among the different dimensions of risk-
taking, Morales scored particularly high on social risk-taking. But the data that
comes from large-N quantitative analysis may contain some measurement
2
The specialized literature has described social risk-taking as a behavior that may rise
disapproval from others, usually entailing violating social norms (Mandel; Keltner and
Buswell; Weber et al.,).
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errors and therefore incorrectly depict some individuals as risk-takers.
Therefore, I take a close look to Morales’ trajectory. I examine relevant aspects
of his public and adult life to trace whether he has exhibited risk-taking
behavior.
In the next section I briefly discuss what risk-taking is, and present the
results of the expert survey that I conducted. In the third section, I examine
Morales’ public trajectory. Since an entire biographical review is not possible, I
focus on some specific aspects of his life that expose his relation to risk. I
examine some key political decisions he made since he became a cocalero (coca
leaf grower) and then as president (especially the nationalization of the
hydrocarbon industry), his attempts to extend his term in office, how he
managed physical violence, his foreign policy decisions and his relationship
with the US government. I claim that all of these events reveal a consistent risk-
taking personality that explains Morales behavior, offering a clue on the path
that he might follow in office. In a fourth section, I conclude discussing why
Morales has succeeded in his attempts to remain in power and why he is likely
to continue succeeding.
1. Risk-Taking and Morales
Risk-taking can be defined as the willingness to lose something of value
weighted against the potential to gain something of value (Kungwani). Risk is
present in all areas of life. As Fischhoff and Kadvany claim: “Risks are
everywhere. They come from many sources, including crime, diseases,
accidents, terror, climate change, finance, and intimacy. They exact their price
in many ways, including money, health, safety, reputation, peace of mind, and
self-esteem.” (1)
Researchers differentiate between general and domain-specific
tendencies toward risk (e.g., Weber et al., Dohmen et al.,). These studies
show that individuals can be risk-takers in some areas of life but risk-averse
in others. This inconsistent behavior is rooted on the individual’s perception
of risk (Nicholson et al.,). From a practical perspective, to understand the
behavior of individuals it is relevant to examine both their general and their
domain-specific risk-taking.
In a past work, I measured the individual differences (i.e., personality
traits and background characteristics) of 165 presidents of all the Americas who
governed for at least six months between 1945 and 2012. To measure person-
ality traits, including risk-taking, I surveyed 911 experts of 26 nationalities, who
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answered standardized psychometric questionnaires and items designed to
measure the most important characteristics of leaders. In this survey, risk-
taking was measured using the Risk Taking Index (RTI) from Nicholson et al. This
scale captures a general propensity toward risk by examining the individuals’
relation to risk in six domains (recreational, health, career, financial, safety, and
social risks), as shown in the following Table.
3
The scale asked raters to
differentiate between the chief executives’ behavior before reaching office and
their behavior during their term. This distinction was necessary because heads
of state have incentives to moderate their risk propensity once they are in
office. Similarly, the conditions for risk-taking in office are influenced by
unobserved factors that transcend the presidents’ personality.
We are interested in the president’s attitude towards risk. Do any of the following
descriptions apply to the president before his term in office and during his term in office?
Before term
Yes/ No
Recreational risks (e.g. rock-climbing, scuba diving)
Health risks (e.g. smoking, poor diet, high alcohol
consumption)
Career risks (e.g. quitting a job without another to go
to)
Financial risks (e.g. gambling, risky investments)
Safety risks (e.g. fast driving, city cycling without a
helmet)
Social risks (e.g. publicly challenging a rule or
decision)
Table: Risk Propensity
Source: Risk Taking Index, Nicholson et al.,
3
Three minor modifications of the RTI were introduced in the survey. First, the original
scale uses a five-point scale that goes from “never” to “very often”. For simplicity, this
five-point scale was simplified to a “yes” or “no” question. Second, while the RTI asks
about the present and past behavior of individuals, I asked “before term” and “during
term.” Finally, the original statement that captured social risks was followed with the
examples “standing for election, publicly challenging a rule or decision”. I erased the first
phrase given that most leaders stood for elections.
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Each answer for the six dimensions of risk propensity was given a zero for
“no” and 1 for “yes.” Following the literature (e.g., Steenbergen and Marks),
the score of each dimension is the average score received by raters, and the
score of risk-taking for each president is the average score for the six
dimensions.
4
Thus, a leader scores “0” when all raters agree that the chief of
state did not engage in any dimension of risk behavior (a score of “1” means
the opposite). Interestingly, asking about the presidents’ risk propensity before
reaching the presidency and during their terms proved to be worthwhile: the
average head of state was more risk-prone before taking office, supporting the
expectation that leaders tend to consciously moderate their behavior once in
office.
Figure 1 compares the risk-taking of President Evo Morales with the
average of the other 164 presidents assessed and the average of the eight
Bolivian presidents evaluated besides Morales, both before and during their
terms. Noticeably, Morales was assessed as more of a risk-taker than the
average president of the Americas was, and than the average of the Bolivian
presidents.
Source: Author’s elaboration based on his “Presidential Database
of the Americas” unpublished database
4
When a rater did not fill out the risk dimension of a president, the score of the dimension
was based on the score received by the other raters.
0
0.2
0.4
0.6
0.8
1
All Presidents Bolivian Presidents Evo Morales
Figure 1: Risk-Taking in the Americas
Risk Before Term Risk During Term
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Figure 2 compares the risk-taking of the Bolivian Presidents who were
assessed in the survey: Gualberto Villarroel (1943-1946), Hernán Siles Suazo
(1956-1960, 1982-1985), Hugo Bánzer (1971-1978, 1997-2001), Jaime Paz
Zamora (1989-1993), Jorge Quiroga (2001-2002), Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada
(1993-1997, 2002-2003), Carlos Mesa (2003-2005), Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé
(2005), and Morales himself. The presidents from left to right are ordered from
the least risk-taking to the most risk-taking (based on the before-term
measurement).
5
Noticeably, Morales is tied with Hernán Siles Zuazo as the
third most risk-taking leader, just behind Jaime Paz Zamora and René
Barrientos.
Source: Author’s elaboration based on his “Presidential Database of the
Americas” unpublished database
5
Presidents who governed in different terms and received different scores for those
terms are shown separately to show the (marginally distinct) results.
0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1
Figure 2: Risk-Taking Across Bolivian
Presidents
Risk Before Term Risk During Term
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The preceding figures show that Bolivian presidents are, on average,
more risk-taking than the presidents of the Americas taken as a group, and that
Morales ranks among the most risk-taking Bolivian leaders. However, what
specific aspects of risk-taking are relevant in Morales’ personality? Figure 3
deconstructs Morales’ domain-specific risk-taking. The graph is categorical:
Morales does not score particularly high in recreational, health, career,
financial and safety risk-taking, but is a high social risk-taker.
Source: Author’s elaboration based on his “Presidential Database of the
Americas” unpublished database
According to the specialized literature, social risk-taking entails
potentially going against the social environment. It often involves violating
social norms while others are watching (Keltner and Buswell). It includes
behaviors such as confronting coworkers or family members, expressing your
thoughts about an unpopular issue at a social event, or breaking up with an
emotional partner (Weber et al.,). Mandel, for example, defines a social risk as
“one in which a negative outcome would result in embarrassment or
disapproval among one’s family or peers, whereas a positive outcome would
result in approval or esteem among one’s family or peers. It is risky to reveal
oneself to others because the information provided could be a basis for
rejection. A negative social outcome can threaten such intangibles as face,
0
0.1
0.2
0.3
0.4
0.5
0.6
0.7
0.8
0.9
1
Figure 3: Morales' Domain-Specific Risk Taking
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identity, or approval” (Mandel 31-32). She adds that people who are more
easily embarrassed tend to care more about social norms and about what
others think of them.
Some experts that participated in the survey provided some explanation
on their evaluation of Morales’ risk-taking: “When he was in the [political]
opposition, his speeches and actions were of high political risk. He confronted
the great political and economic powers. And, being president, his social,
economic and political policies have bet for great turns,” said one specialist.
“The biggest risk (he faced) was to be a cocalero leader, which almost cost him
his life,” another one said.
The next section describes a behavior aligned with the notion of social
risk-taking: throughout his public life, Morales has recklessly opposed his social
environment. The next sections also explore a type of risky behavior that the
expert surveyed overlooked: safety risk-taking. Morales has faced physical
threats and violence on numerous occasions.
2. The Trajectory of Morales
The attempts made by President Morales to change the constitution to
remain in power are not unique in Bolivian history. President Gualberto
Villarroel (1943-1946) successfully tried in 1945 and Víctor Paz Estenssoro
(1952-1956, 1960-1964, and 1985-1989) got away with his attempt in 1961.
However, these changes did not help the leaders to remain in office. On July
21, 1946, an enraged mob broke in the Palacio Quemado (the governmental
palace), assassinated Villarroel, threw his body from a balcony and then hung
him from a lamppost. On November 4 1964, the Paz Estenssoro administration
was overthrown in a military coup. Morales has been unique in the number of
times he has tried and succeeded in extending his term in office. This section
traces the relation between President Morales and risk-taking.
2.1. Adventurous Political Decisions
Morales decided to enter the public arena in a time of conflict in the early
1980s, when the cocaleros were confronting the government’s coca
eradication policy. He soon stood out as one of the most outspoken and
combative leaders of the movement, which put his life at risk in a number of
ways. Then he made another critical decision: he started a career in a political
party. Since Morales was not happy with his party’s leadership, the Assembly
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for the Sovereignty of the People (Asamblea por la Soberanía de los Pueblos,
ASP), he formed his own party. This decision would end up paving his way to
the presidency. Once in power, he made several bold decisions at the
international (see points 2.4 and 2.5) and domestic levels. In national affairs,
besides the attempts to extend his term in office (analyzed in 2.2), Morales
implemented a series of economic policiesstarting with the nationalization
of the hydrocarbonsthat set him in opposition to some economic and
regional elites.
Morales was born into an Aymaran family in extreme poverty on October
26, 1959. He and two siblings were the only three of María Ayma and Dionisio
Morales’ seven children who survived past childhood. He was born in the small
rural village of Isallawi, in the Oruro Department, were he grew up farming,
helping his parents with the crops and their herd of llamas and sheep.
6
He
attended high school in the city of Oruro while managing to work on the side
as a brick-maker, baker, and trumpet player. In 1978, after serving in the one-
year mandatory military service, Morales moved with his family to the Chapare
province, in the Cochabamba Department. There the Morales family grew
different crops until they started growing coca, because its prices were rising
steadily and it was easy to cultivate. Morales soon learned the dominant
indigenous language in the area, Quechua. In El Chapare, he made his first steps
in public life, joining the local San Francisco trade union of coca growers. He
would soon become the union’s General Secretary.
Morales became engaged in politics in momentous times. Under US
pressure, the Bolivian government was sending troops to burn coca crops and
violently repressing coca growers. The eradication policy was shocking for the
farmers’ budgets. Although coca is a necessary plant for producing cocaine, in
Boliviaas in other countries from the regionit is a traditional product that
has been widely chewed and used as tea for medicinal, nutritional, and
religious purposes. Part of the rage erupted because the government failed to
provide coca farmers with an alternative crop, and instead offered them small
financial compensations.
The situation infuriated Morales, who got involved in the coca growers’
movement and served as Secretary of Records from 1984 to 1985, and as
Secretary General of the August Second Headquarters in 1985. The cocalero
movement grew in importance during the eighties, staging protests between
6
Bolivia is a unitary state administratively subdivided in nine departments (equivalent to
regions in other countries).
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1984 and 1991. The movement occupied local government offices, blocked
highways and roads, did hunger strikes, and organized mass protests and
demonstrations.
Morales gained prominence within the movement during these years. His
notoriety sharply increased when his soon-to-be nemesis reached power.
Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, from the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement
party (Movimiento Nacionalista Revolucionario, MNR), took office on August 6,
1993. Under pressure by the American Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA), Sánchez de Lozada would soon relaunch the campaign against coca
farming by committing to eradicate 5,100 hectares of the crop by March 1994.
Morales became an outspoken critic of Sanchez de Lozada’s coca eradication
policy, an opposition that ended with Morales being incarcerated more than
once (more about this on 2.3). However, Morales’ staunch opposition to the
government gave him national and international recognition.
Morales started supporting the formation of a political wing of the
cocalero movement by the end of the 1980s, but that ambition would take time
to materialize. On March 27, 1995, the Unique Confederation of Rural Laborers
of Bolivia (Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de
Bolivia, CSUTCB) formed the Assembly for the Sovereignty of the People
(Asamblea por la Soberanía de los Pueblos, ASP), a political party that united
farmers, miners, unions, peasants, and indigenous peoples. In 1996, Morales
was appointed chairman of the Committee of the Six Federations of the Tropics
of the Cochabamba Department, a position that he retained until 2006.
Despite the fact that the ASP was not recognized by Bolivia’s National Electoral
Courtwhich accused the ASP of minor procedural infringementsthe
assembly ran under the banner of the United Left party. In the 1997 national
elections, Morales became one of the four ASP candidates to Congress elected
as deputy.
Morales was enjoying a comfortable position as an ASP leader. But that
was not enough; his ambition was to become the undisputed leader of the
party. Therefore, he made a bold decision once more: he split from the ASP and
formed his own party, the Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the
Peoples (Instrumento Político por la Soberanía de los Pueblos, IPSP). Morales’
decision paid off: he gained significant support and the ASP became a marginal
party. In 1998 he reached an agreement with David Áñez, leader of the
inoperative but still registered party Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al
Socialismo, MAS), to take over the party name and fuse it with the IPSP. The
MAS-IPSP (MAS from now on) would start as a party that had the coca farmers
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as its central force, but would evolve to become a left-wing socialist party with
a much broader political appeal.
Subsequent years saw an increase of civil unrest in different issues related
to the widespread view that only a small elite group benefitted from the
economic and political status quo. Numerous people died amid protests. In
2003, Sánchez de Lozada resigned after widespread protests and clashes
between the police and activists that left 80 deaths and 411 injured. He was
replaced by his vice president, Carlos Mesa, on October 17, 2003. Mesa had
supported Sánchez de Lozada’s resignation, and once in power he tried to
implement some popular demands. But after 20 months, he was compelled to
resign after a resurgence of roadblocks, riots, and protests led by the cocalero
movement. Congress accepted Mesa’s resignation on June 6, 2005. Mesa was
replaced by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé,
who upon taking office convoked general elections for December 2005. This
was an opportunity Morales wanted to seize.
During this time, the MAS underwent an internal restructuring that gave
the party more independence from the social movements that supported it, in
part to divorce the party leadership from radical rank-and-file. Until then,
Morales’ rise was up to a significant extent explained by the support he enjoyed
from social movements.
7
Morales picked the leftist intellectual Álvaro García
Linera as his vice presidential candidate, a choice that would please some of
the middle class and the ideological left.
8
Morales won the December 18, 2005 election, receiving 53.7% of the
votes and becoming the first presidential candidate to win an absolute majority
since the restoration of democracy in 1983. Morales also became the first
indigenous Bolivian president, which aligned him with the ethnic majority of
7
Dupre claims that social movements started to dominate mainstream Bolivian politics
after they forced the government of Hugo Bánzer to make political and material
concessions to indigenous protesters in 2000. From then onwards, social movements
became key in helping the MAS to gain seats in Congress, to bring about the resignation
of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003, and to help Morales become president.
8
García Linera argues that the Morales administration has included the social movements
in the government. According to him, the social movements are part of the internal
structure of the MAS, their mobilization is key to advance the government’s agenda, and
their demands and policy positions are behind important strategic decisions and the
selection of high positions in the state’s administration. However, other scholars (e.g.,
Gutiérrez 2008) claim that Morales has separated social movements from the
government.
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the country. His closest opponent was the candidate of the center-right party
Social and Democratic Power (Poder Democrático y Social, PODEMOS), Jorge
Quiroga, who received only 28.6% of the vote.
Once in power, Morales would follow the same pattern that took him to
the presidency: he would make risky decisions. In his inaugural speech, Morales
condemned how Bolivia was governed until then and talked about
“refounding” the country. He was plethoric of anti-neoliberal statements,
reaffirming his intentions to reverse the policies of preceding governments.
9
A central part of neoliberalism is privatizations, or the selling of state-owned
enterprises, goods and services to private companies. Since taking office,
Morales has led his country in the opposite direction, nationalizing several
industries and companies, transferring privately-owned assets to the state.
A brief review of the four main nationalization processes that he has
pursued are sufficiently revealing of his approach to risk. Morales nationalized
the country’s hydrocarbons, the leading telecommunication company Entel,
four power companies, and the electrical transmission company
Transportadora de Electricidad. These nationalizations have entailed
significant risks. They have led his government to confront local elitesin a
country that has the world’s record in coups d’état—, foreign governments and
multinational corporations.
On May 1, 2006, Morales issued Supreme Decree 2870 to “nationalize”
the country’s national gas industry. Morales raised the profit taxes from 18%
to 82%, and despite gas companies threatened to leave the country or sue the
state at international courts, they eventually accepted the policy change. The
decree refunded the state company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales
Bolivianos (YPFB), repurchasing a majority of shares in the privatized
companies and claiming public ownership over Bolivia’s oil and gas resources.
The state, through YPFB, began to control the sales, transportation, and
distribution of hydrocarbons and had a major say in relevant decisions related
to the refining of raw materials. After the nationalization, the government
renegotiated supply contracts with Brazil and Argentina, significantly raising
the prices of gas exports. (Lefebvre and Bonifaz)
The hydrocarbons nationalization increased the state’s revenues. While
the Bolivian state received $US 173 million from the hydrocarbon extraction in
9
Neoliberalism proposes that unregulated capitalism leads to efficient economic
transactions, economic growth, and increased prosperity. The state is considered to
limit individual freedom and entrepreneurship. Therefore, it is expected to perform only
functions that the private sector cannot perform (Oppenheim, 2007).
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2002, it received $US 1.3 billion in 2006 (Sivak 199203). The nationalization
allowed the government to increase social spending; more than 11% of the
state’s revenues became earmarked for indigenous groups, universities, and
the monthly payment for all Bolivians over the age of 60 called Renta Dignidad.
(Dignity Pension)
The second nationalization took place two years later. On May 1, 2008,
Morales announced the nationalization of the country’s leading
telecommunication company Entelwhich became Entelwas allegedly to
extend the telecommunications services to all the borders of the country. This
nationalization allowed the government to acquire 50% of Entel’s shares from
Telecom Italia, but led to a bitter international legal dispute. The company sued
the Bolivian state in the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of
Investment Disputes, and in the International Court of Justice. The Bolivian
government responded by suing the company in American courts. In the end,
the dispute was settled in 2010 when the Bolivian government paid $USD 100
million to Telecom, a tenth of what the company demanded (América
Economía). This nationalization seemed to have paid off. The Morales
administration recently claimed that an investment of $USD 900 million in Entel
in the last nine years allowed the company to double its income from $USD 300
million in 2007 to nearly $USD 600 million in 2015, besides increasing the
coverage to the entire country and decreasing consumers’ internet bills. (La
Razón, April 23, 2016)
The third nationalization occurred on May 1, 2010. Morales issued
Supreme Decree 493, nationalizing four power companies previously owned by
the state through the National Electricity Company. “We’re recovering the
energy, the light, for all Bolivians,” Morales said after taking control of the
shares that French, British, and Bolivian private investors held in the biggest
generating companies located in Corani, Guaracachi, Valle Hermoso, and
Cochabamba (Reuters 2010).
10
This action allowed the government to control
80% of Bolivia’s electrical generation.
Finally, on May 1, 2012, Morales issued the Supreme Decree 1214 that
nationalized the electrical transmission company Transportadora de
Electricidad, taking control from Red Eléctrica Internacional SAU. The latter
is a subsidiary of Spain’s Red Eléctrica Española, which at the time owned and
ran 73% of the power lines in Bolivia and provided 85% of the population with
10
All translations from texts originally in Spanish are mine.
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electricity (LatinNews). The Bolivian president accused Transportadora de
Electricidad of failing to invest adequately, and asserted that the
nationalization was just recovering the property of the company, after it was
privatized 10 years before. Bolivian soldiers peacefully took over the
company’s office in Cochabamba.
The numerous nationalizations threw the Bolivian government into a
series of litigations at international courts, especially with foreign multinational
companies. Throughout the process, the government was criticized
domestically by the economic elite and some of the media, and internationally
by foreign companies and governments. However, the strategy paid off over
time. In 2016, Bolivia’s General Procurator, Héctor Arce, announced that the
state had reached agreements with eleven companies but was still facing six
arbitration processes due to the nationalizations that took place between 2004
and 2012. (Página Siete)
2.2. The Constitutional Attempts
Morales won the 2005 presidential elections with a central campaign
promise: to “refound” the country through the enactment of a new
constitution. Morales did not come up with the idea of enacting a new
constitution: Law 3091, promulgated by President Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé
on July 6, 2005, authorized the president to convoke a constituent assembly to
replace the constitution. The potential constitutional replacement had been a
prominent issue in the previous years in Bolivia, and was part of Morales’
campaign promises. However, Morales received no explicit mandate to
conduct the constitutional replacement process as he did, and he avoided to
discuss relaxing presidents’ term limits during the campaign.
Soon after taking office on January 22, 2006, Morales started
preparations to convoke a constituent assembly, which was finally elected on
July 2. The election had the highest electoral turnout in the country’s history.
The MAS was highly successful; it won 137 of the 255 assembly seats. The
assembly met for the first time on August 6 and soon it became clear that the
enactment of a new charter was going to be a contested process.
There were bitter disputes about the content of the new charter and the
procedures to approve it. The opposition was concentrated in the four
departmentsPando, Beni, Santa Cruz, and Tarijawith the strongest
secessionist claims, and which are usually referred to as the “media luna” due
to their geographical resemblance to a half-moon. Law 3364, which convoked
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the Constituent Assembly, required the assembly to approve the new
constitution by a two-thirds majority. But once the assembly was elected,
the MAS proposed that only a simple majority be required to approve most
matters, making the two-thirds only necessary for issues that are more
sensitive. The opposition accused the MAS of trying to change the rules to draft
the constitution as they saw fit, since the government’s party enjoyed a
majority in the forum. After many rounds of negotiations, in February 2007 the
assembly approved requiring an absolute majority for the text, with a quorum
of two thirds needed to approve individual articles. The MAS incited student
protests against the assembly, accusing the opposition of boycotting the final
part of the assembly vote. This forced the assembly to be moved for protection
to a military school outside the city of Sucre, where a preliminary draft was
approved on November 24.
On December 8, the assembly was moved again due to safety concerns,
now to the city of Oruro. Most members of the opposition boycotted the
meeting, and on December 9 of 2007, the new charter was approved in an
overnight session. Several opposition leaders and civil organizations claimed
that the constitution was illegally approved and complained that a third of the
constituent delegates were not present during the charter’s approval.
Although part of the opposition claimed that they would not recognize the new
constitution, in the end they could not prevent its approval.
The assembly’s draft was further revised. First, by an Editing Commission,
which synthesized and modified the charter. This Commission presented its
version to the Bolivian Congress on December 14, 2007. The charter was then
further reviewed by the “Cochabamba dialogue” between Morales and
opposition prefects (the elected leaders of Tarija, Santa Cruz, Beni, and Pando)
in September of 2008. Finally, it was negotiated in Congress before being
submitted for a referendum in October of 2008 (Prada). The referendum
showed widespread support for the new constitution: voter turnout reached a
peak of 90.24%, and 61.43% of the voters approved it. The charter was
enforced on February 7, 2009.
During the constituent assembly, the MAS and Morales were very keen
on minimizing the importance of relaxing the presidents’ term limits. According
to Rivera, the debate on term limits was neither open nor sustained, for two
reasons. First, pro-government forces did not openly discuss their intention of
allowing the immediate reelection of the president and the vice-president. The
second one is that “the issue was relegated by others of greater political
importance for the state,” such as the adoption of a new state model, the
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integration of diverse nations and indigenous groups into the constitution, the
“recovery” of natural resources, the state decentralization and the inclusion of
redistribution policies. (Rivera 24-25)
Nonetheless, opposition forces presented some resistance to the idea of
relaxing the term limits. As a result, a transitional provision was included in the
draft, supposedly with the purpose of preventing the reelection of Morales.
The second paragraph of article 4 states: “The mandates prior to the validity
of this Constitution shall be taken into account for the purpose of computing
the new functions.” That clause was interpreted by the opposition as a
guarantee that Morales could only be reelected once more after the 2005
election, given that his first term ended with the 2009 elections. But the
opposition was naïve.
After the constitution was approved, the 2009 general election was
held on December 6. Morales won his second presidential election receiving
64% of the popular vote, and with a voter turnout of 90%. Morales’ main
opponent, Manfred Reyes Villa, only received 27% of the vote. The MAS won a
two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress.
The opposition’s interpretation of article 4 of the new constitution
proved to be nothing more than illusion. The government argued that Morales
was unable to finish his first term (2006-2010) because it was interrupted
by the 2009 general elections. Pro-government forces in Congress turned
Morales’ intentions to stay in power into an application to the Constitutional
Court. In April 2013, Bolivia’s Constitutional Court authorized the president
to run for a third term on that year’s general election. The Court decided
that Morales was in fact in his first term, since his inauguration on January 22,
2010 counted as his first term under the “new” constitutional order. “The state
has been refounded as a plurinational state and that refounding emerges
from a constituent power that has generated a new Political Constitution
that contemplates a new order,” stated as an explanation Ruddy Flores,
president of the Constitutional Court (El Mundo 2013). This interpretation was
bitterly contested by the opposition, but they could not alter the court’s
decision.
Morales ran for the presidency for the third time on October 2014,
winning in the first round with 61.36% of the votes, followed far behind by the
Democrat Unity’s candidate (Unidad Democrática, UD), Samuel Doria Medina,
who obtained 24.23% of the votes. The MAS also kept control of Congress,
gaining 88 of the 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 25 seats in the 36-
members Senate.
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Morales’ third consecutive victory allowed him to stay until 2020,
effectively governing over four years more than any other leader since Bolivia’s
independence. But, soon after the election, Morales wanted to pave the way
to secure permanent power.
At the end of 2015, Morales proposed a referendum to amend article 168
of the constitution in order to be allowed to run for a fourth term. Morales
wanted to take advantage of his popularity and secure the opportunity early
on in his term. After 17 hours of debate in Congress, the legislature eventually
approved the referendum on November 5, 2015 (El Mundo 2015). The
referendum took place on February 21, 2016. To the surprise of Morales and
the MAS, 51% of voters rejected the president’s attempt to reform the
constitution.
Consistent with his trajectory, Morales viewed this defeat as a temporary
one. Before the electoral results were known, Morales said that he was going
to accept them. However, he later claimed that the results should be nullified
because voters were influenced by a misinformation campaign (New York
Times). On December 15, 2016, the IX Extraordinary Congress of the MAS party
supported Morales’ fourth candidacy for the 2019 elections. To achieve this
without breaking the law, the MAS stated that they could pursue four paths
(El País). One would be to pursue a new referendum, this time convoked by
popular initiative. A second would be to have Morales resign six months before
his term ends, so he could become a candidate. A third would be to get
authorization from the Constitutional Court, and the fourth would be to allow
Congress to amend the constitution to let Morales run for the presidency. Soon
after the IX Extraordinary Congress, Morales alluded to the 2019 election
saying that “if the people say so, Evo will remain with the people to continue
to guarantee this democratic and cultural revolution”. (CNN)
Although the mechanism that Morales may use to try to extend his term
in office remains unclear, it seems clear that he will do his best to run for the
2020 presidential election. Considering that he has already faced and
overcome all sorts of challenges to extend his term two times, and that his
party controls Congress, the odds of succeeding one more time are in his favor.
2.3. Coping with Physical Risks
In their biography about Morales, Pinto and Navia describe the Bolivian
President as someone who has been willing to accept physical risks as an
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activist and as a politician, many times enduring physical violence and threats
(110, 114-116, 120-125, 127).
The context in which Morales developed his political career was no game
for kids. At the beginning of the 1980s, the United States started exerting
pressure on Bolivian governments to eradicate coca cultivation from the
country. These were years in which the Colombian drug cartels needed massive
quantities of coca leaf, making it an attractive commodity for Bolivian farmers.
Successive Bolivian administrations acquiesced to eradicate cocaleros, who
fought back fiercely. Consequently, sporadic episodes of violence between
cocaleros and the Bolivian security forces occurred between the mid-1980s and
2003. Although these confrontations politically strengthened the cocalero
movement, it would physically suffer many losses.
Morales escaped death a number of times during this period. For
example, in 1989, agents of the Rural Area Mobile Patrol Unit (Unidad Móvil
Policial para Áreas Rurales, UMOPAR) beat him up and abandoned him
to die in the mountains, but he was lucky to be rescued by other union
members. Police agents attacked Morales one day after he gave a speech in
which he criticized UMOPAR for massacring 11 coca farmers in Villa Tunari a
year before. After this experience, Morales thought of creating a cocalero
militia to fight back against state forces, but ended up choosing to combat
politically.
Morales would suffer physical violence again during his opposition to the
coca eradication policy advanced by the government of Sánchez de Lozada. In
August of 1994 he was arrested, beaten, and incarcerated under sedition
charges. In jail, he started a dry hunger strike and was released on September
7 after 3,000 peasants began a march to La Paz, the administrative capital city,
to demand his liberation. He was arrested again in April of 1995, during a
meeting of the Andean Council of Coca Producers that he was chairing. He was
released after a week in prison.
Morales also held several hunger strikes as a cocalero leader, and then
continued with them during his presidency. For instance, in 2009 he went on a
dry hunger strike for five days in reaction to the political opposition’s strategy
to delay the 2009 election by demanding a new biometric registry system.
Finally, Morales has faced numerous death threats during his public career and
as recently as December 2016 (e.g., La Razón, Dec. 4, 2016). These threats,
nonetheless, have never seemed to inhibit his behavior, just like other physical
risks he has taken throughout his adult life.
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2.4. Dramatic Turn in Foreign Policy
Morales led a dramatic change in Bolivia’s foreign policy. He quickly
engaged in international politics by developing relations with new government
and leaders, often unfriendly to the United States. Morales also antagonized
the United States, led international crusades to achieve regional integration,
and promoted “anti-imperialist,” “anti-neoliberal,” and pro-indigenous
worldviews.
As a leader of coca growers, Morales sought to internationalize the
demands of the group he represented, in an effort to legitimize coca leaf
consumption. He soon discovered that such a path would allow him to reach
important audiences. As soon as he was elected, on December 29, 2005, he
started a two-week international tour in which he visited many countries.
While previous elected presidents tended to first visit the United States,
Morales went to Cuba, Venezuela, Spain, France, China, South Africa, and Brazil
to expand the international support for the incoming administration. This tour
gave Morales significant international exposure, and he returned to Bolivia
with much praise as well as many signed agreements of cooperation (with
Brazil, Cuba, and Venezuela) and aid offers (from Spain, France and the
Netherlands).
Bolivia also experienced an “anti-imperialist” and “anti-neoliberal” turn
in its foreign policy (O’Keefe). Before and after taking office, Morales was
an outspoken critic of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank,
and especially the United States. This marked a strong shift compared
to preceding administrations, which had often been submissive to the
multilateral organizations and Washington’s pressure. Morales rapidly
built strong links with the Marxist regime in Cuba and Venezuelan President
Hugo Chávez, leader of the United Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Unido
de Venezuela, PSUV) and a vocal critic of the United States and of
neoliberalism. In April 2006, Morales agreed to join both countries in the
Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (Alianza Bolivariana para
América, ALBA). This left-leaning intergovernmental organization has eleven
members and has the purpose of achieving the social, political, and economic
integration of Latin American and Caribbean countries under the paradigm of
social welfare and mutual economic aid. According to Sivak, under Morales
Bolivia changed from being a friend of Washington to becoming “the least US-
friendly government in Bolivian history” (160). The claim may not be an
overstatement.
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Consistent with the anti-imperialist turn, Morales became close to
governments and leaders who opposed Washington, including Venezuela, Iran,
Libya, Russia, Vietnam, and China. For instance, Morales visited Iran two times;
calling the country which Washington considered a part of the “axis of evil” a
friendly revolutionary country. While in Tehran, he signed cooperation
agreements with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Morales also
established diplomatic relations with Libya, personally visiting Libyan
strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi and securing Libyan investments in Bolivia
(Reuters 2008). Although these actions would have been unthinkable for
previous administrations, Morales’ dramatic changes in foreign policy did not
destabilize the country in political and economic terms, as several critics
expected.
2.5. Confronting the US government
Morales was an uncomfortable figure for the United States early on.
American officials pushed to have Mr. Morales expelled from Congress during
the government of President Jorge Quiroga (2001-2002). Eventually, in 2002 a
majority of pro-government deputies (140) approved ousting Morales, who
was accused of being responsible for the death of four police officers due to his
inflammatory language. This event helped to victimize Morales before the
public opinion, and he and the MAS gained popularity as a major protest force
amid the widespread dissatisfaction that poor urban and rural Bolivians had
with the political class.
After winning his first presidential election, Morales did not wait much to
criticize the United States president. “[George W.] Bush is the only terrorist,
because he is the only one who intervenes militarily in the affairs of other
countries,” a recently elected Morales said to the news organization Al-Jazeera.
(Telam-Sni)
In 2006, Morales gave a speech at the United Nations headquarters
in New York in which he again accused Bush of being a terrorist for invading
Iraq and Afghanistan, and called to move the headquarters out of the US.
In December, he issued a Supreme Decree that demanded all US citizens
visiting Bolivia to pay for a visa, in reciprocity for the amounts that Bolivians
pay to get an American visa. Since Morales’ government refused to grant legal
immunity to US soldiers in Bolivia, the US cut its military support to the country
by 96%.
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Morales’ defiance of the US reached a new height on September 2008,
when it was revealed that the United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) had given $USD 4.5 million to the regional governments
of the media luna departments. Morales accused US ambassador Philip
Goldberg of “conspiring against democracy” after the ambassador was
recorded leaving the office of an opposition prefect.
11
Morales ordered him to
leave the country, which made Goldberg the last US ambassador in Bolivia. The
US expelled the Bolivian ambassador, Gustavo Guzmán, in retaliation. Morales
escalated the conflict expelling the US DEA, accusing its agents of espionage,
supporting opposition separatists, conspiring to overthrow him, and killing
farmers. The US reacted withdrawing the Peace Corps from Bolivia. The
bilateral relation would only improve when Barack Obama was elected to lead
the White House. In November 2009, the countries started negotiations to
restore diplomatic relations, which eventually occurred in November 2011. But
there always was some tension. Morales called for a revocation of Obama’s
Nobel Peace Prize after the US backed a NATO military intervention in Libya
(Lovell 2011), and he never allowed the DEA back into Bolivia.
Morales has sought to antagonize the United States in numerous other
ways. For example, in the summer of 2013 he said that he would consider giving
political asylum to Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the US
government who copied and leaked classified information from the National
Security Agency, NSA. That statement caused an international uproar. Morales
made the statement on his way back from Russia. Since the US suspected that
Morales could be hiding Snowden in his plane, Washington asked several
countries to deny Morales access to their airspace, a request with which Italy,
France, Spain, and Portugal complied. Morales was forced to land for 14 hours
in Austria. The governments of Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Suriname, and
Venezuela rallied to Morales’ side and demanded an apology from the
European countries that denied the airspace. Morales later declared that
Bolivia did not need a US embassy and that he could close it, adding that doing
so would be better for the country’s democracy.
3. Discussion
The expert survey showed that Morales is a risk-prone individual, above
the mean of all the Bolivian presidents assessed and the mean of all the leaders
11
Prefects (since 2010 governors) lead the departments in Bolivia.
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of the Western Hemisphere as a group. In particular, Morales was rated as a
high social risk-taker, defined as someone who is willing to go against his social
environment. The review of Morales’ trajectory showed that Morales has
consistently been an extreme risk-taker throughout his adult public life.
Morales won the presidency after making a series of bold decisions in which
the outcome was uncertain. He entered politics in a moment of violent struggle
between coca farmers and the government. Unsatisfied with his party’s
leadership, Morales formed and led a new political party. He continued fighting
despite being arrested, beaten, and threatened. In the presidency, he has
made a number of risky decisions. Morales has conducted a series of
nationalizations of important industries, facing the opposition of local elites,
multinational corporations, and foreign governments. In the international
realm, Morales has led an active foreign policy that marked a complete shift
from previous administrations. The confrontations with the US government,
development of strong alliances with countries that antagonize the US, and
Bolivia’s participation in organizations such as ALBA plunged the Morales
administration into significant uncertainty in regards to the international
realm. Besides making decisions that entailed significant risks in domestic and
international politics, Morales has been willing throughout his entire adult life
to take safety risks. He has been beaten almost to death, been incarcerated,
received death threats and undergone hunger strikes. In summary, both the
survey and the close examination of Morales’ trajectory suggest that the
Bolivian President is a high risk-taker, especially in the social and safety
domains.
This analysis suggests a causal relationship between Morales’ risk-taking
personality and his attempts to extend his term in office. Given Morales’
consistently high risk-taking trajectory, he is likely to continue trying to remain
in power. Although this research has produced insightful results, it also has
some limitations. The first and most obvious is that besides Morales’
personality, there are other factors that may explain his attempts to extend his
term and that were not considered on this text.
An alternative explanation for the willingness of Morales to hold onto
power is that he has essentially been following the will of his supporters. Both
Morales and his vice-president Álvaro García Linera have described their
government as an instrument of the MAS and social movements. From this
perspective, Morales’ attempts to remain in power are simply a reflection of
the bottom-up pressure he receives from his adherents. However, there are
two reasons to question this explanation. First, as described throughout this
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paper, Morales is a social risk-taker who has no problem opposing social
pressures. Therefore, if he were not personally interested in holding onto
power, he would have no problem stepping down. Second, although the
support of social movements and the MAS have been key to Morales’ rise to
power, he reached the highest position in the country after an ambitious career
in which he faced and overcame some adversaries. For instance, he
competed with Alejo Véliz in the first years of the MAS history to become the
dominant figure in the party (Laserna). He also contended with the Aymara
leader Felipe Quispe, el Mallku, to gain authority over that indigenous group.
To sum up, although the MAS and social movements can put pressure on
Morales to extend his term in office, arguably Morales would not hold to power
unless it is his personal ambition.
While Morales’ risk-taking is likely to explain his ambitions to hold to
power, there are three variables that may help to understand why he has
succeeded. One of these variables has been Morales’ popularity. His approval
rates allowed him to enjoy a political majority in the Constituent Assembly.
Without such support, the new constitution would probably have been more
explicit in setting term limits for Morales. That popularity also allowed Morales
to win three consecutive elections. Second, the MAS majority in Congress has
allowed Morales to advance his political agenda, was central to introduce
adjustments to the 2009 constitution in favor of Morales, submitted the
request to allow their leader to run for the presidency for a third term to the
Constitutional Court in 2013, and approved the call for a referendum that asked
Bolivian voters in 2016 whether Morales could run for a fourth term. A third
relevant variable is the level of judicial independence. Different authors have
already stressed that little judicial independence exists in Bolivia (ICJ, HRW).
Arguably, the Morales administration’s informal control over the judicial power
explains the court’s decision to allow him to run for the 2014 presidential
election. The three variables mentioned are likely to impact whether Morales
will be able to run for a fourth term. Noticeably, among the four possibilities
that the MAS has noted as ways to reelect Morales in 2019 (described on
section 2.2), one would be based on congressional approval, a second would
be based on the approval of the Constitutional Court, and a third would be
based on popular support. As long as he can rely on these popular,
congressional, and judicial pillars, he is likely to succeed in his attempt to
remain in power beyond 2020.
Morales’ attempts to remain in power through constitutional changes are
not unique in Latin America. Among the 303 presidents who governed a Latin
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American country for at least six months between 1945 and 2012, 32 leaders
tried 40 times to extend their term in office (Arana Araya 59-60). These
attempts, especially when they were successful, have eroded regional
democracies. To begin with, these leaders have relativized the value of the
most important political documents in their countriesconstitutionsby
adapting them to remain in office. The signal that they send is that if one is
powerful enough, one can adapt the rules of the political game to serve
personal ambitions. Second, the rulers that can stay in office for more time
enjoy the ability to use public resources to generate an electoral majority,
decreasing the chances of power alternation. Third, leaders who stay in office
longer can personalize politics by submitting other state powers under their
leadership. All of these consequences lead to a weakening of the rule of law
and the legitimacy of democratic institutions. So far, the administration of
Morales has achieved numerous economic and social successes. Just to
mention two, the country’s per capita GDP has tripled since Morales took
office, and the indigenous population has gained unprecedented legal
recognition and political representation (Moreno). Nonetheless, Morales has
overstretched the country’s democratic institutions with his agenda of
retaining power, and may well end up becoming the leading undertaker
of Bolivia’s fragile democracy.
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Program, and is cosponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Press.
... American and Latin American presidential studies can be divided in two dominant approaches. President-centered researchers consider the attributes of leaders essential to understanding policy outcomes and decision-making in the executive branch (Arana Araya, 2016a, 2016bArana Araya & Guerrero Valencia, 2020;Barber, 1972;Corwin, 1940;Cronin & Greenberg, 1969;Greenstein, 2009;Hermann, 2003;Koenig, 1964;Neustadt, 1960;Renshon, 2008;Walker, 1990). In contrast, presidency-oriented scholars minimize the importance of presidents as individuals and rather focus on the institutional setting in which they work (Heclo, 1977;King, 1975King, , 1993Lowi, 1986;Moe, 1993;Wayne, 1983). ...
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