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The Minister of the Presidency of Bolivia: “The organized people are invincible beyond the economic power of the fascist right”

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When Evo Morales won his first elections in Bolivia in 2005, María Nela Prada was already a member of the Movement for Socialism (MAS). From those twenty-year-old days, she remembers something she would not forget. I participated in a campaign in an indigenous community. He met a boy, about six or seven years old, he remembers. “I asked him what he wants to be when he grows up and he said: ‘President like Evo’. A previously unimaginable dream. In the villages, the farmers’ children always aspired to have their own trucks to transport what the fields produced or whatever their parents and grandparents had done as well. No Indigenous had been president until Morales, and that changed almost everything; Also, no woman had ever been Minister of the Presidency until Nela Prada took office on November 9, 2020, 15 years after she had that conversation with the boy. The 41-year-old minister, a native of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, received EL PAÍS this Sunday in Madrid, during a stopover on her return trip to Bolivia, after presenting a report in Geneva (Switzerland) before the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination by women.

The life of Nela Prada is part of the political history of Bolivia. He does not suspect his father Ramón Prada from the right-wing Bolivian ADN party, founded by ex-president and dictator Hugo Bánzer. He remembers the day he told his father he was joining MAS. The worst was expected. “He told me that he gave me and my sisters an education so that we could think for ourselves. It was luck.” That and that his mother, Betty Tejada, had been an MP for Morales’ party.

But the present moment is difficult. Luis Arce’s government, with Nela Prada in the portfolio of the presidency, began its journey in November 2020, a year after Senator Jeanine Áñez received the presidential sash from a military officer. It was the culmination of weeks of violence and tension in the Andean country’s streets, prompting Morales to leave the country after reports of alleged election irregularities emerged in October of that year. The image of Bolivia was that of a nation split in half.

― I do not see a divided or divided country, as is sometimes shown. There are some groups that have never accepted democracy and never will if the people win. What happened in our country was a coup that would not have happened without the help of the armed forces and the police.

Arce was Economics Minister for Morales, the architect of a kind of economic miracle in the Andean country. Nela Prada carries in her backpack a portfolio of her country’s macroeconomic data for the last year; the envy, at first sight, of every advanced nation. The minister pauses between questions and shows the charts: 6% GDP growth, 0.8% inflation, 5.3% unemployment in urban areas, a drop in extreme poverty to 11.1%…

In Bolivia, things are upside down for the MAS government. Outside, there is also a favorable environment for the left, with a new wave of electoral victories confirmed by Colombian candidate Gustavo Petro on the 19th, closely followed by businessman, billionaire and right-wing populist Rodolfo Hernández.

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― Is Latin America left?

― It advances with the differences that exist in the political projects of the left from one country to another. Their political horizon should not be understood as a single recipe, a single handbook, but must emerge as a force for creative and collective construction with the stamp of each people. I feel that the winds of economic, political and cultural change are being breathed for the benefit of the people.

― Is it more difficult for the left to win in the region?

— There is an articulation of the international right with a very large movement of economic resources aimed at constraining the development of left processes in the region. Though we win resounding victories, tales of dictatorship, dictatorship, dictatorship are repeated… It’s amazing. Democracy is not accepted when it comes to left-wing movements with a popular mandate. Despite this, we have shown that the organized and mobilized people are invincible beyond the economic power of the fascist right.

Nela Prada poses at the Bolivian Embassy in Madrid. JOHN BARBOSA

Trial of Jeanine Áñez

Nela Prada remembers those cramped days in 2019 well; there was fear, a heavy military presence in the streets, around the MAS headquarters, even in his home. Above all, however, the current minister has in mind how army chief Williams Kaliman Áñez created the gang. “This picture shows well what that moment was,” says the minister, “that a military man after 37 years of democratic life was the one who put the sash on the self-proclaimed president to be recognized by law enforcement as unconstitutional authority.”

Those soldiers and police officers who forced Morales to resign, who even took off their uniforms whip, the flag of the native Andean peoples, are now under the command of their Captain General, President Luis Arce, a year and a half after the MAS won another election. A brief transition that will test his loyalty. Nela Prada has a hard time saying she doesn’t trust them. Think a lot about the answer because it’s a touchy subject. “The trust between the people and the law enforcement agencies has been broken,” he admits. “We are in the process of reconstruction.” You’re not done yet, that is. “We are children of democracy,” he continues, “but it cannot be taken for granted, there can always be setbacks”.

And here the political history of Bolivia is presented again in the story of Nela Prada. As the paradoxes of her life, the minister evokes the Bolivian poet and singer Nilo Soruco, who was persecuted by the Bánzer dictatorship and banished to Venezuela at the end of the 1970s. President Arce used one of his songs at his rallies: the caracas, a hymn of resistance. As quoted by Nela Prada, one of the stanzas said, “Evil never lasted a hundred years, nor was there a body to resist.”

In a much shorter time, former President Áñez was tried and sentenced in the Bolivian courts. He faces a 10-year prison sentence for “unconstitutional resolutions” and “breach of duty”. The European Union, the UN and the United States have criticized the process for “disrespecting the right to due process”. However, according to Nela Prada, her government will appeal the conviction, which she says is insufficient – the maximum sentence imposed by the courts would be 15 years. “To restore a social fabric, it must be done on the basis of memory, truth and justice,” explains the Bolivian minister, “the past must not be left behind, as if people’s lives didn’t matter, everyone’s lives matter ” .

Be it for this or that other part of the reconciliation process, that of truth, the minister traveled to Madrid with a triptych on which the condemnation of Áñez can be seen very clearly.

During the interview, Nela Prada says that she maintains a daily dialogue with the president of the party of which she is a member, Evo Morales. In recent weeks, the local press has criticized the former Bolivian president of the current interior minister, Eduardo del Castillo, also from Santa Cruz and a MAS fighter, for his actions in the fight against drug trafficking. The Presidency Minister defends the harmony between Morales and the Arce government.

― The opposition wanted to install a narrative that our president would be a puppet of Evo Morales. This has always recognized support for our government. I am in constant communication with him and there has never been any instruction from him. As president of the MAS, he can express opinions, but the opposition want him to go into silent mode, disappear and not express an opinion. How does the fascist right try to overthrow the left government? They have operators creating a split within the popular movement and seeking an implosion within the movement.

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