Luis Arce: “Any foreign private company that wants to come and invest in Bolivia will be welcome”

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The president-elect of the neighboring country assures that his priority will be to face the collapse of the economy with an industrialization plan.

After his landslide victory in last Sunday’s elections, with 55.1% of the votes compared to 28.8 for his rival Carlos Mesa, Luis Arce is preparing to assume the presidency of Bolivia on November 8.

Almost a year after the hasty resignation of Evo Morales in the midst of a social uprising that denounced fraud in the elections, the former Minister of Economy finds a country in deep crisis. ¿

In dialogue with Clarion By videoconference from La Paz, he affirmed that his priority will be the industrialization of the country in order to resume the path of growth that had been achieved during the MAS government.

-You finally won with 55.1%, well above what most of the polls predicted, which predicted a possible second round.

-We had calculated that we were going to exceed 50%. We had a 50.3 in our heads. 55.1% is a figure that exceeds our expectations. Once again the people have taught democracy. We have recovered democracy in the face of a coup d’état. The message to the right-wing parties that participated in these elections and the November coup is that the Bolivian people do not accept any right-wing government that enters by force. The Bolivian people are committed to democracy. Bolivians have returned to recover the homeland. We were living in a dictatorship, with a violation of human rights. And the most affected was the right to free expression, which in our country was absolutely restricted. We had to run a campaign with a lot of problems, a lot of opposing elements and we achieved the much more positive result than we ourselves had predicted.

-The October elections of last year, in which the MAS was proclaimed the winner after a controversial vote recount, ended with a crisis and a revolt in the streets that forced the government of Evo Morales to resign and leave the country. Was there fraud?

-We won fairly last year. The right wing, to justify its defeat, invented the issue of fraud, and the OAS contributed to it. That is crystal clear. The clearest proof that we have won fairly are these elections. They are the violent ones, the right wing that does not accept their defeat at the polls. The coup d’état came, deaths in Bolivia and an 11-month dictatorship in the country. We have never entered the government in any other way than by peaceful and democratic means. We are not the violent ones. You can now see that there are people who are reluctant to accept the results and are saying that there is fraud. They are minority groups, in Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. They are financed and organized by the right-wing parties. They are the violent ones, not us. We are going to take back the government peacefully, legitimately, democratically.

-This year there were strong protests by the MAS and social movements, with road blockades, against the interim president Jeanine Añez … The government denounced that the arrival of oxygen and other supplies that hospitals needed in the midst of the crisis due to the coronavirus were prevented .

-Look, if the social movements had not made these mobilizations, today we would not have the elections. The right wing’s plan was not to hold elections under the pretext of the coronavirus. The elections were scheduled since December of last year to be held on May 3, they were postponed to August, then to September, then October. The right wing, the de facto government of Mrs. Añez was afraid of the Bolivian vote because it knew they were going to lose. History will absolve this movement of the Central Obrera and the social organizations. And about the oxygen, videos circulated on social networks and the media, which were in line with the de facto government, saying that. But it was not shown that the protesters actually let ambulances, trucks with oxygen, pass. It was a media show, trying to outlaw the MAS so that we would not participate in the elections.

-You will assume the government in two weeks and you find yourself in a completely different Bolivia than the one left by the MAS government a year ago, with a deep social and economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic … How will you deal with it?

-There are two elements that must be understood well. Bolivia’s economy was already in crisis since November and deepens until March. And I am talking about an economy without coronavirus. The economy fell, today we are very far from what we were growing, we were the first economy in the region in terms of growth rates and poverty reduction. Now we have a recession of 11%, unemployment of 12% that in some sectors such as construction reaches 30%. The economic and social situation in the country is very delicate. But the decision of the Bolivian people to bet on the Movement to Socialism is giving us a majority on which we could talk with those sectors that resist this victory of the Bolivian people, to achieve bridges and take measures to reactivate the economy and also to pacify to the country.

-What do you plan to do specifically?

-We have a plan. In the first place, three short-term elements: industrialization with import substitution; security with food sovereignty and the incentive to internal tourism. And we have the medium and long-term elements: the production of renewable ecological diesel, to replace the import of diesel that is done now; the industrialization of Bolivian lithium, the project of the Mutún plant, with which Bolivia enters the steel industry. We are going to start exporting electricity to neighboring countries. Argentina is one of the main markets to which we were beginning to do so, and we have to go deeper. Brazil, Peru are on the mind. We are also betting on the industrialization of gas. And we also have the reactivation of public investment. There are several elements so that Bolivia, in a period of between a year and a half and two and a half years, can resume the growth rates that we were having before October last year, of more than 4% on average.

-And will they seek for these plans to associate with foreign companies, private capital? The government of Evo Morales had reached beneficial agreements with foreign oil companies after the nationalization of hydrocarbons in 2006.

-The entire process of industrialization of our natural resources may require the participation of international strategic partners. This is the case of lithium, from the Mutún steelworks. But most of the business corresponds to Bolivia. According to our law, 50% plus one of the business must be for the Bolivian State. Along these lines, any foreign company that wants to come to Bolivia to produce, industrialize our natural resources is welcome. But it has to adapt to the law, as do the oil companies that have operated in the country since the 2006 nationalization.

-How will your government’s relationship with Argentina be?

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