“The Good Life” Fights Poverty in Bolivia

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LA PAZ, Bolivia — El vivir bien, or “the good life,” in Bolivia is sociopolitically framed around Aymara cultures (in Aymara: suma qamaña). It signifies a human being’s search for a life of harmony with Mother Nature. Under President Evo Morales, el vivir bien functions as a tool to combat and eradicate poverty and other areas of life that create profoundly negative effects on the human conscience.

Currently, Bolivia stands as the poorest country in South America. When the president took office, the government drastically changed to the socialist policies based on the principles of the Movement toward Socialism Party, also known as MAS. President Morales’ ideologies were founded in the desire to rid the state of racism and discrimination towards the indigenous peoples and Afro-Bolivians. Part of this institutional racism was structurally strengthened through these groups living in extreme poverty.

More recently, in 2013, the government established the Patriotic Agenda. The first pillar in this agenda is the eradication of poverty. Approximately 59 percent of the population lives in poverty as of 2013. Nevertheless, in 2013, Bolivia’s GDP growth rate was 6.8 percent. This is the highest growth rate it has experienced in 40 years. Despite the mass disapproval from the IMF and World Bank of Bolivia’s nationalization of the oil and gas industries, it has clearly proven a success in Bolivia’s case.

Bolivia individualized its economic concerns and made their economic policies relevant to the needs of the country. While these figures are from 2013 and figures from 2014 are still under finalization processes, there is enough evidence to prove that the current economy in Bolivia is in the process of supporting its population better than it has in decades.

From 2006 to 2013, Bolivia’s early childhood education budget rose from 2.6 percent to 4.3 percent of the total budget for education. In 2005, poverty level was at 59.6 percent of the population. In 2011, this figure decreased to 45 percent. The amount of extreme poverty was 36.7 percent of the population and reduced to 20.9 percent in 2011. Between 2006 and 2014, the annual minimum salary increased from 500 bolivianos (73 USD) to 1440 bolivianos (209 USD). The salary increase is due to the government’s decision in spring 2014 to increase the salary by 20 percent due to its economic growth.

President Morales has received criticism for implementing what is called “social extractivism,” which is taking the taxes directly from extractive manufacturers to social services. This criticism lies in environmental concerns. Despite the immediate growth in the state, there will need to be more of a governmental focus on the environment.

While Bolivia still has much growth to make, it is implementing the right strides. As a state, its duty is to support the people and uplift them from poverty. It is clear that this has been a priority under President Morales’ Patriotic Agenda through el vivir bien. President Morales was re-elected in October 2014 for a third-term, which stirred controversy. However, given the grand developments under his administration, it is clear that some Bolivians do benefit from the successes.

Courteney Leinonen

Sources: BBC, The Center for Economic and Policy Research, INE, NACLA, The New York Times, UNESCO
Photo: Cowichan Conversations

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