Between 2000 and 2005, popular protest movements in Bolivia destabilized or defeated a series of neoliberal governments, thereby facilitating the election of President Evo Morales and his personalist party, the Movement toward Socialism (MAS). This book examines those popular movements and celebrates them without approving of the MAS’s eventual political dominance.
Gutiérrez Aguilar analyzes the two protests that captured international attention: the 2000 Water War in which the residents of Cochabamba defeated attempts to privatize the region’s water supply and turn it over to the Bechtel Corporation, and the 2003 Gas War, in which popular opposition to a plan to export natural gas to the United States via Chile led to the resignation and flight of President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. She also explores less-publicized moments of protest: roadblocks by Aymara indigenous communities in 2000 and 2001, ongoing agitation by coca growers against production controls, a shoot-out between the military and striking police officers in La [End Page 672] Paz in February 2002, and the final inability of President Carlos Mesa to stabilize the country in 2004 and 2005 because of his unwillingness to abandon neoliberal policies.
Gutiérrez Aguilar contends that the book is not a history. However, it is most useful as history—or more specifically, as a source for history. Although the author left Bolivia in 2001 and was outside the country for most of the period covered, she has followed events there closely and enjoys personal connections to prominent activists and leaders. Her use of personal correspondence, ephemeral documents produced in the heat of protest, and limited-circulation publications is noteworthy. The core of the book focuses on analyzing the popular movements’ internal dynamics and evolving objectives but provides only a limited narrative of events. Detailed, comprehensive chronological tables in the appendixes fill this gap.
In the foreword, historian Sinclair Thomson asserts that Gutiérrez Aguilar’s political thought, as expressed in this book, deserves study. While it may merit some consideration as an example of where leftist political thought in Latin America stands today, it has little utility as a guide or inspiration. Her ideology is a mélange of Marxism, anarchism, and a New Age idealization of indigenous people. The principal theoretical influence on the book is John Holloway’s work Change the World Without Taking Power—an oxymoronic idea. It is an odd kind of Marxism that expresses no interest in achieving socialism. Gutiérrez Aguilar also tends to view indigenous people and their culture as “ancient” and primordial, ignoring the overlay of centuries of Spanish colonial rule and nearly 200 years of republican governance. The book only superficially explores any Bolivian history before 1985. It is also limited in its geographic focus, examining primarily the Bolivian departments of Cochabamba and La Paz.
Gutiérrez Aguilar has a low opinion of Bolivia’s current MAS government, but she struggles to explain how the beautifully spontaneous protests held between 2000 and 2005 could have such disappointing long-term results. She ultimately blames ideological confusion, but the theoretical weaknesses she identifies in these popular movements are hers as well.