The Post-Neoliberal Age

Alvaro Garcia Linera's official title is bolivian vicepresident, though that doesn't quite capture his position in the Latin American left. The 43-year-old mathematician and soci-ologist--and prolific author--is, most importantly, considered the key architect behind socialist President Evo Morales's controversial policies in Bolivia, and a growing influence throughout the region. As Morales's government passed the six-month mark, NEWSWEEK's Jimmy Langman sat down with García Linera in La Paz. Excerpts:

García Linera: The people who say that this government is irresponsible and populist don't read the newspapers enough. Our inflation is right now the lowest it's been since this government began six months ago. Exports have increased 40 percent since we took office. The neoliberal governments before us all had significantly larger budget deficits. The salary increases we have given are not populist. For 20 years no government in Bolivia could force the transportation sector, the bus drivers and taxis, to pay taxes--we are the first to get them to pay taxes. No populist government raises taxes like that. We are responsible, disciplined, very austere and very careful.

So Bolivia isn't just a foothold for Chávez's Venezuelan model? Clearly we are friends with Chávez, but we are also friends with Argentine President Néstor Kirchner, and that does not mean we will have a model like that of Argentina, because that would mean we would have to change hundreds of years of our history. We are good friends to those countries that want to collabo-rate with us, especially when it is un-conditional help. Our relations with Chávez, Kirchner, with Lula in Brazil or with George Bush are all done under conditions of help, collaboration, equi-librium, respect for internal decisions and support for our own unique culture.

Each leader has his differences. You can't compare Chávez with Castro or Evo with Chávez. They all have differences. If anything, though, Evo is more like Brazil's Lula, as they both have risen as political leaders out of labor movements. More than anything, we are different because our countries are very different. Bolivia is a multicultural country with 36 indigenous cultures, with a distinct history and a complex economy with modern urban, communitarian and traditional sectors that marks an enormous difference with these other countries.

He is an indigenous leader, with a rational [view] of things, very particular and very different from a traditional political leader. He has a very shrewd political intelligence that is uncommon.

Socialism for us is an ideal for the very long term. In the meantime, we will have Andean-Amazonian capitalism, but with greater equality and equity. This post-neoliberal society that we are making is a multicultural state with a social-communitarian economy. What does that mean? Bolivia has three platforms to its productive economy: globalized industry, urban microbusinesses and the traditional rural sector. Capitalism will continue, the market will continue, foreign investment will continue. But in a country like ours, with an especially large rural sector, strong indigenous cultures, an absence of a large business sector, then we sometimes need the state to step in.

Bolivia did nationalize its gas sector, which some critics say could hurt the country. The gas sector in the years ahead will amount to about 25 percent of our GNP. In an economic activity so important to Bolivia, how can you not have the state involved? The state will assume a majority presence in the gas sector, but not total. The gas companies will make a rational profit, but not an extraordinary one for a poor country like Bolivia. No company has been expelled, and they will not be expelled, but we have put in place new rules of the game that correspond to the new situation for the gas market in the world. Ultimately, we will have a mutual agreement with the gas companies; we will not impose the conditions.

What will the Morales government be pushing for when Bolivia begins rewriting its Constitution in August? Most of all, we want a much more democratic country that will correct the mistakes in a history that has generated racism and exclusion of the indigenous people. We want a multicultural state and society that generates conditions of equality. And we want to put in place conditions for an economy that does not just export primary materials but also industrializes to produce value-added goods and more jobs.