Luis Arce, the new president of Bolivia who seeks to differentiate himself from Evo Morales

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The former Minister of Economy and dolphin of the former president marks the return of the Movement to Socialism to Power. But he says his government will not be the same.

After a year of political crisis, after elections canceled due to alleged fraud, protests, the resignation of a government amid accusations of a coup, Bolivia begins a new stage this Sunday with the assumption of Luis Arce as president.

Led by former Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca as Vice, the change of government marks the return to power of Evo Morales’ party. But Arce assures that he will manage the country with his own style.

From a high position in the Central Bank, Luis Arce unraveled the contradictions of neoliberalism applied by the conservative governments of Bolivia and shared his views with students and colleagues at the university.

Until in 2006 the newly elected president Evo Morales gave him the opportunity to direct the Ministry of Economy with the mission of reorienting economic policy.

For locals and strangers, Arce was the mastermind of the economic success of the Morales government, which led the strings of the country until his tumultuous exit in November of last year, amid accusations of fraud in the October elections.

A year after that failed election, Arce – a 57-year-old pragmatic economist with studies in the UK and a proponent of statism – was Morales’ bet for the return to power of his party, the Movement to Socialism (MAS). And he achieved a categorical victory with 55.1% of the votes against his main rival, the center leader and former president Carlos Mesa.

In his campaign, Arce tried to regain the vote of the middle class that supported Evo Morales in much of his government but began to distance himself in the last stretch of his almost 14 years in power.

“We opted for Lucho because the economic issue will be fundamental,” Evo said recently, justifying the election of his former minister as a candidate for the presidency.

And although it was Morales himself who, from Argentina, led the presidential campaign, Arce assures that his will not be “a puppet government” and it will be he and not the former president who will make the decisions.

Accelerated by the pandemic, the economic crisis works in favor of the former minister. “We will recover democracy, we will rebuild the economy and we will restore stability to Bolivia”, is the phrase he repeated the most during the campaign.

But for his critics, Arce’s economic success was not due so much to his ability but to the bonanza of commodity prices for more than a decade until 2012, which filled the coffers of the Morales government.

In his defense, the former minister assures that it was not only “the price effect” but the redistribution of income and state investment that leveraged industrialization.

However, Bolivia continues to depend on the export of raw materials – natural gas, minerals and agricultural products – and its economic and political stability depend on fluctuations in international prices, said economist Jaine Dunn.

“The economic model was based on taking advantage of the prices of raw materials, public investment and the redistribution of income through the payment of social bonds. The point is that the bonanza ended and the economic plans did not change direction,” added the economist .

With Arce as minister, the economy grew for more than a decade at an annual average of 4.6% and poverty fell from 60% to 37% thanks to the subsidies.

As president, he will also have to strive to reunify a country polarized between the former president’s supporters and detractors.


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