When Evo Morales won his first elections in Bolivia, back in 2005, María Nela Prada was already a member of the Movement for Socialism (MAS). From those twentysomething days she remembers something that she would not forget. She was participating in a campaign in an indigenous community. She met a boy, about six or seven years old, as she recalls. “I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he told me: ‘President like Evo’. A dream unimaginable until then. In the villages, the children of the peasants always aspired to have their own trucks to transport whatever the fields produced or whatever their parents and grandparents had also done. No indigenous had been president until Morales and that changed almost everything; Nor had a woman ever been a Minister of the Presidency until Nela Prada took office on November 9, 2020, 15 years after she had that conversation with the boy. The 41-year-old minister, a native of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, received EL PAÍS this Sunday in Madrid, at a stop on her return trip to Bolivia, after presenting a report in Geneva (Switzerland) before the Committee for the Elimination of of Discrimination against Women.
The life of Nela Prada is part of the political history of Bolivia. She is not suspicious of her father, Ramón Prada, of the Bolivian right-wing ADN party, founded by former president and dictator Hugo Bánzer. She remembers the day she announced to her father that she was going to join the MAS. She expected the worst. “He told me that he had given me and my sisters an education so that we could think for ourselves. It was lucky.” That and the fact that her mother, Betty Tejada, had been a deputy for Morales’ party.
But the current moment is difficult. The Government of Luis Arce, with Nela Prada in the Presidency portfolio, began its journey in November 2020, a year after Senator Jeanine Áñez received the presidential sash from a military man. It was the culmination of weeks of violence and tension in the streets of the Andean country and that led Morales to leave the country after reports of alleged irregularities in the elections in October of that year. The image of Bolivia was that of a nation split in half.
― I do not see a divided or divided country, as is sometimes shown. There are some groups that have never accepted and will never accept democracy when the people win. What happened in our country was a coup d’état, which would not have been carried out without the assistance of the Armed Forces and the Police.
Arce was Minister of Economy with Morales, the architect of a sort of economic miracle in the Andean country. Nela Prada carries a portfolio in her backpack with the macroeconomic data of her country for the last year; she the envy, at first sight, of any advanced nation. The minister pauses between questions and shows the graphs: 6% GDP growth, 0.8% inflation, 5.3% unemployment in urban areas, a drop in extreme poverty to 11 ,1%…
In Bolivia, things are turning upside down for the MAS government. Outside there is also a favorable context for the left, with a new wave of victories at the polls confirmed by the Colombian candidate Gustavo Petro on the 19th, closely followed by the businessman, billionaire, right-wing populist Rodolfo Hernández.
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― Is Latin America leftist?
― It is advancing with the differences that exist from one country to another in the political projects of the left. Its political horizons should not be understood as a single recipe, a single manual, but must emerge as a force for creative and collective construction with the stamp of each people. I feel that the winds of economic, political and cultural transformation are being breathed for the benefit of the people.
― Is it more difficult for the left to win in the region?
— There is an articulation of the international right, with a very large movement of economic resources, aimed at restricting the development of leftist processes in the region. Although we achieve resounding victories, narratives of dictatorship, dictatorship, dictatorship are replicated… It’s amazing. Democracy is not accepted when they are leftist movements with a popular mandate. Even so, we have shown that the organized and mobilized people are invincible beyond the economic power of the fascist right.
Trial of Jeanine Áñez
Nela Prada remembers well those convulsive days of 2019; there was fear, a strong military presence in the streets, around the MAS headquarters, even her house. But, above all, the current minister has in mind how the head of the Army, Williams Kaliman, put the band on Áñez. “That image portrays well what that moment was,” says the minister, “that a military man, after 37 years of democratic life, was the one who was putting the sash on the self-proclaimed president, recognizing from the forces of order an unconstitutional authority ”.
Those soldiers and police officers who forced Morales to resign from office, who even took off their uniforms whipala, the flag of the native Andean peoples, are today, a year and a half after a new victory of the MAS at the polls, under the command of their captain general, President Luis Arce. A short transition that tests his loyalty. Nela Prada has a hard time saying that she doesn’t trust them. She ponders the answer a lot because it is a sensitive subject. “Trust has been broken between the people and the forces of order,” she admits, “we are in a process of rebuilding.” They haven’t finished, she understands herself. “We are children of democracy”, she continues, “but it cannot be taken for granted, there can always be setbacks”.
And it is here where the political history of Bolivia is presented again in the story of Nela Prada. Paradoxes of her life, the minister evokes the Bolivian poet and singer Nilo Soruco, persecuted by the Bánzer dictatorship and exiled in Venezuela at the end of the seventies. President Arce used one of his songs in his rallies: the Caracas, an anthem of resistance. As quoted by Nela Prada, it said in one of the stanzas: “Evil never lasted a hundred years nor was there a body that resisted.”
In much less time, former president Áñez has been tried and sentenced in the Bolivian courts. She faces a sentence of 10 years in prison for “resolutions contrary to the Constitution” and “breach of duties.” The European Union, the UN and the United States have criticized the trial for “not respecting due process rights.” However, according to Nela Prada, her government will appeal the sentence, insufficient in her opinion – the maximum sentence by the courts would be 15 years. “To reconstitute a social fabric, it has to be done on the basis of memory, truth and justice”, explains the Bolivian minister, “the past cannot be left behind as if the lives of the people did not matter, the lives of all people matter” .
Be it for this or for that other leg of the reconciliation process, that of the truth, the minister traveled to Madrid with a triptych in which the conviction of Áñez appears very clearly.
Nela Prada tells during the conversation that she maintains a daily dialogue with the president of the party in which she is a member, Evo Morales. In recent weeks, the local press has aired criticism from the former Bolivian president to the current Minister of the Interior, Eduardo del Castillo, also from Santa Cruz and a MAS militant, for his management in the fight against drug trafficking. The Minister of the Presidency defends the harmony between Morales and the Government of Arce.
― The opposition has wanted to install a narrative that our president was going to be a puppet of Evo Morales. This has always recognized the support for our Government. I communicate permanently with him and there has never been an instruction from him. As president of MAS, he can express opinions, but the opposition wants him to go into silence mode, to disappear and not express any opinion. How does the fascist right seek to annul the leftist government? They have operators generating division within the popular movement, seeking implosion within the movement.
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