Balancing Environmentalism and Economics
Juan Evo Morales Ayma has been President of Bolivia since 2006. Born in a mining village in Bolivia's western Oruro department, Morales claims to be the country's first fully indigenous head of state. He is the leader of the Bolivian political party "Movimiento al Socialismo," which goes by the Spanish acronym MAS. The group's aims include transferring more power to the country's indigenous and poor communities, and when Morales took office he pledge to reduce poverty, ease restrictions on coca farmers, re-nationalize the country's energy sector, fight corruption, and increase taxes on the wealthy. He was elected to a second term in January, 2009 with a 63% majority.
Question: You’ve made a point of defending the environment, yet a growing percentage of Bolivia’s economy is based on gas and mining. Is this a contradiction?
Evo Morales: Bolivia historically made and still makes a living from natural resources. Before it was tin, but also silver, gold, and other minerals were plundered by many foreign countries. Europe after the United States.
And now Bolivia also depends not only on tin and other minerals, but also depends on the gas and oil. A rational extraction should be made, taking care of the environment. We should give added value to this natural resource, and generate revenue to fight poverty with more resources, that come from natural resources.
It is one thing to plunder the natural resources of a country for the benefit of another one. It is another thing to use those natural resources for the benefit of the people. And therefore we nationalize hydrocarbons, so now the economy is improving and the fight against poverty is also improving in Bolivia.
Some take advantage of these natural resources to put the capital in the hands of the few, while some use these natural resources to benefit the majority, as we do in Bolivia. Additionally, this exploitation is done in close consultation with indigenous peoples with care for the natural environment.
Question: Your government has announced that it will take more control over Bolivia's economy. What will these changes mean?
Evo Morales: Well, we have already started overseeing the national economy. Before we arrived, the private sector had full control of the economy, 70 to 80 percent. The state controlled only 20 to 30 percent.
Now, the 70 to 80 percent is controlled by the Bolivian state, and the other percentage by the private sector. We admit that it's legal, constitutional, that the private sector is entitled to its own economy, but to ensure these profound changes that clearly this government is promoting, including profound changes in the food industry, what we are doing is an important step. There are industries focused on the metallic and non-metallic fields, and in minerals, to benefit the Bolivian people.
The moment we give added value to our natural resources, the national economy will improve. Therefore state control is so important for the people who have always been excluded from the claims of social and economic development.
Recorded September 22, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
President Morales has made a point of emphasizing his concern for the environment. Is it a contradiction then that the Bolivian economy depends so heavily on the exploitation of natural resources?