Good news for a change – from Bolivia

The news out of Bolivia is nothing short of amazing. Evo Morales, the indigenous President and ally of Hugo Chavez, has begun to turn his country around in just 4 short years since his historic 2005 election. Even his former adversaries and detractors – from the IMF to the Financial Times of London – are reluctantly singing his praises.

The exceptional developments in this, one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, are reported in a study by Marc Weisbrot and his colleagues at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in the US.  Says Weisbrot:

“…Bolivia’s economic growth in the last four years has been higher than at any time in the last 30 years, averaging 4.9 percent annually since the current administration took office in 2006. Projected GDP growth for 2009 is the highest in the hemisphere..”

What is amazing is not just Bolivia’s progress but the ease with which it occurred even under extremely difficult external circumstances – including “..the United States’ revocation of trade preferences, serious bouts of political instability as a result of separatist political opposition movements, and recent declines in export prices and markets…” not to mention the global economic recession.

What strikes me about this story is that any country could do it (though Bolivia is especially blessed with energy resources – now nationalized) simply by rejecting the lunacy of neo-liberal economic policies and returning to policies of economic nationalism and fiscal expansion – the two key elements in Bolivia’s story according to the study.

For Bolivia’s desperately poor peasant population it is the beginning of a revolution. “In the last three years the government has begun several programs targeted at the poorest Bolivians. These include payments to poor families to increase school enrollment; an expansion of public pensions to relive extreme poverty among the elderly; and most recently, payments for uninsured mothers to expand prenatal and post-natal care, to reduce infant and child mortality.”

Bolivia goes to the polls tomorrow (Dec 6) with Morales enjoying a crushing lead in the polls – 55 per cent against his closest, pro-business rival, Manfred Reyes Villa, who is trailing with 18 per cent. The local media claim Reyes Villa has already bought an airline ticket to the US dated the day after the election. The three conservative parties that have been taking turns in office for decades have all but disappeared from the scene.

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