A little more than a decade ago, it looked as though the political left was sweeping Latin America. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez dominated the regional stage, while left-wing presidents rose to power in a slew of countries, from El Salvador and Honduras to Argentina and Chile. But now there seems to be a turn back in the other direction, as leaders and parties have been defeated in several countries and Venezuela has descended into authoritarianism and chaos verging on state failure.
Yet, one leader survives, and with more stability and success than many initially anticipated. Now, with a recent court ruling removing term limits, that leader is seeking to extend his tenure in office even further. At the current moment, it is worth asking: Why has Bolivian President Evo Morales lasted while other leftist leaders haven’t?
THE UNIFIED BOLIVIAN LEFT
Morales was inaugurated as Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2006 and reelected in 2009 and 2014. During his time in office, he and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) have transformed Bolivia’s political arena and kept a secure hold on power. There has been a notable absence of any significant defections from or challenges to Morales and the MAS from the left, while the opposition has been unable to unite and build an effective coalition.
One key factor behind Morales’ success and continued unity on the left is the grass-roots origins of the MAS. Unlike many Latin American political parties, the MAS was shaped from the ground up by a wide array of rural and urban popular movements, which continue to provide a formidable mass base of support. Although the party’s genesis predates Morales’ rise to power, it consolidated as a national party only once Morales took office. The MAS has performed strongly in every election between 2006 and 2014 and remains the only party with a truly national reach.
A second factor is that Bolivia under the MAS experienced a critical shift in domestic power relations that has empowered large segments
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