Evo Morales, Climate Change, and the Restrictions of Colonization

Colonization was not an inevitable process, rather an important historical process that shaped the global order. The intersectional relationships between colonization, economic power, and socio-political framework, created an institutional foundation of social inequalities against Indigenous peoples. Colonization set off a continuing process of human derogation targeting native communities by denying them human rights. In this section, I will demonstrate the long-lasting effects of colonization in Bolivia, particularly in concern to the state’s economic constraints, social stagnation, and environmental debate.

The ideology of indigeneity is an open-ended historical process, inevitably marked by past and present colonialism, but continually evolving due to social and political transformations. Evo Morales’ election as Bolivia’s first indigenous President was nothing short of a political revolution. However, the election in 2005 demonstrated the clear limitations and tragedy of a state disrupted by colonialism and deeply corrupted by modern capitalism.

The Movimineto al Socialismo

Bolivia's President Evo Morales
Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president, wears ceremonial clothes as he participates in an Andean ceremony in Tiahuanaco, some 70 km from La Paz, in this January 21, 2015.

Bolivia’s indigenous population has endured centuries of oppression and exploitation, beginning with the country’s colonization by the Spanish in the 1500’s. The colonized state was built on neoliberalist ideals; the constitution was written to exclude the indigenous majority from cultural and political participation in state affairs. Evo Morales’s election as Bolivia’s first indigenous president in 2005 followed a mass social movement led by indigenous people and peasants struggling with unattainable rights and unending poverty. Morales and his Movimineto al Socialismo (MAS) party introduced a framework for social change that would “address indigenous rights, their citizenship, and their rights to seek recognition and resources from the state.”

Morales’ plan to decolonize Bolivia

Evo Morales’ agenda promoted a shift in Bolivia’s political ideals, ending the previously corporate civil society that took rights away from the native people. The term “neoliberal multiculturalism” was termed in an effort to create a form of citizenship for indigenous people. The new, decentralized government would form through a reconstruction of the state and market by rewriting the constitution of Bolivia. This revised construction would claim Bolivia as a decolonized state and be an organized community for the benefit of the indigenous workers and their rights. The central conflict of Morales’s government emerged from underlying tensions between liberalism and capitalism, making social change difficult. Bolivia, in its attempt to overcome centuries of a radicalized government, ultimately found conflicts between indigeneity, decolonization, and a new state-centered government.

Agriculture in Bolivia
Since Bolivia gained independence from Spanish rule in 1825, the country has undergone several shifts in political power with long-term effects on economic stability. Similarly, the agriculture industry in Bolivia has experienced considerable changes, sometimes resulting in difficulty for farmers.

Stage 1

The early stages of the MAS government had to devise a plan to ease the conflicts between previous conceptions of indigeneity, decolonization, and the MAS government agenda. The most prominent question that had to be considered was whether the MAS could transform the previous rule of law that excluded indigenous people, and overcome the political, social, and economic dominance that persisted throughout Bolivia’s history.

In his political campaign, Morales represented the Bolivian people, who were mostly poor and indigenous. He wanted indigenous people to benefit from a non-neoliberal government, promoting “a national sovereignty free from strictures US imperialism and neoliberal capitalism imposed”.  Conflicts in Morales’ presidency emerged due to Bolivia’s economic restrictions. Avoiding external imperialism is difficult for countries to obtain if their economy relies on the selling of their natural resources. Morales’ agenda was limited due to this dependency.

A mural in Bolivia representing community.
Under the Morales administration, Indigenous healthcare beliefs and practices stepped out from long shadows cast by colonialism and racism. A mural in La Paz photographed in 2017 depicts plurinationalism in Bolivia.

Reimagining the state and market

The original Bolivian republic had been created by a white-mestizo oligarchy, originally dividing the nation into classes, making  true social reform difficult due to a lack of political and social unification. The neo-liberal laws excluded the poor and indigenous population from the state, engraining a solidified state of prejudice and social divide. Morales’ primary goals were to reinvent the relationship between state and market, to make the state the primary factor in economic development and reintroduce a new social class. MAS wanted to create a direct democracy where the constitution would be re-written to recognize indigenous people as part of the population, and reintroduce their cultures, languages, and customs.

The non-progressive plan

A image Neo-extractivism, higlighting the class system.
Neo-extractivism, as depicted in the above political cartoon, exploits ecological, economic and social progress.

Morales’ original agenda to reconstruct the state and market relationship by making the state the primary voice in economic development, was simply a failure. In his attempt, Morales utilized a process called progressive neo-extractivism.

Neo-extractivism, defined by the social ecology researcher, Edurado Gudynas, is “an emerging national development model of progressive governments based upon the exploitation of natural resources and the export of primary materials”. This model of neo-extractivism is “progressive” because some profits from the extracted resources are distributed to the population. However, this process only works to continue the cycle of international dependence on trade. The cycle will only continue due to supply and demand.

The Shift of MAS

Jeffery Webber, a Marxist analyst, characterized the Morales development model as disappointingly reformist. Webber argued that it reinforces existing class and capitalist structures through a neo-structuralist development model. This model “favors transnational corporations, the agricultural elite, and fiscal security over real structural change benefiting the poor”.

Morales’ term saw a shift from his passionate “live better” and in environmental harmony, to a continuation of state- controlled economy. The political framework of indigeneity and decolonization shifted from a strong passion for a traditionally native mindset, where Mother Earth was more important than development, to a model that could not fully disconnect from countries’ previous neoliberal, capitalistic model.

Cochabama Conference

The Global Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth was held in Cochabama, Bolivia, in April 2010. The conference was an urgent reaction to the effects of climate change in Bolivia; disasters included floods, limited drinking water, and disappearing glaciers. Morales addressed the issue by arguing that rich and developed countries should pay for their climate effects because poor countries, like Bolivia, suffer the environmental consequences that capitalist countries have created. Morales insisted that humans need mother earth and that global warming must decrease. He claimed that the underlying cause of climate change is mass consumerism and capitalism, and the solution to over development is a sustainable model based on the indigenous value of living well.

Cochabamba Climate Change Conference Gives Voice to World’s Social Movements and Indigenous Peoples.
Cochabamba, the site of the conference, is a historic site of a people’s victory against corporations. The goal of the Cochabamba conference was to bring together individuals, organizations, and governments that care about our current climate issues and develop solutions.

The Failed Development Model

Morale’s development model was attractive, as a symbolism for saving the earth and a symbol of the human environment. Internationally, Morale’s reputation increased, while his reputation in Bolivia was controversial due to ongoing government projects exploiting natural resources. Bolivia valued international trade for its income, relying on natural resources to stabilize the economy and benefit the poor. The MAS government decolonized Bolivia’s resources by altering its resource exploitation to benefit the poor. However, the government still had full power over natural resource extraction. Thus, Morales’ efforts to give back to the poor contradicted his urgency to limit the use of resources and decrease environmental disruption.


The highway mega project was rejected and resisted by community members.
Indigenous groups from the lowlands of Bolivia have been marching since August 15, 2011 to protest the construction of a highway through protected territories.

Instead of attempting to fix the relationship between international trade and indigenous poverty,  MAS perused “megaprojects”, exploiting local populations. The benefits of economic gain continued to be valued over the consequences of the indigenous people still living off their local ecosystems. These megaprojects only reinforced Bolivia’s economic position by acknowledging that the primary source of state income is exploiting natural resources and continuing to do so for political advantage. These projects caused major environmental costs and serious consequences for the local communities living near extraction projects.

Capitalism over Community

The perspective of decolonizing for the sake of the earth and its native people was ignored by Morales and his government. Morales had built an international reputation defending mother earth and preaching that human life cannot exist without the planet. His sustainable development model, although originally based on indigenous values, was a capitalist model where indigenous communities were (negatively) affected the most.


The Indigenous march for life in 2011.
Indigenous peoples in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia held a 600-km march to Bolivia’s capital city to protest plans for a new trans-oceanic highway that would cut through the Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park.

The Indigenous March for Life in 2011 was a strong indicator of public backlash against the recent government decisions and a response to the continuation of a neo-liberal government. Morales planned to build a highway that he claimed would promote trade to lowland people. However, the road ran directly through a National Park and forest preserve of indigenous land. The originally proposed state- ruled- market was ignored during the highway project. The government had begun the highway project without carrying out any consultation with the local indigenous organizations, and then, when challenged, took an intransigent stance. Morales proclaimed that the consultations were not binding and that whether the indigenous organizations liked it or not, this road would be built. The highway is one example, out of the many resource extraction projects, that Morales and his government disregarded indigenous rights for capitalist advantage.

Stage 2; A New Agenda

In July 2015, Morales gave a speech at the Global Meeting of Social Movements; Morales’s message varied from his previous speeches at the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Affairs and Cochabama Summit. His primary focus had always been promoting indigenous values for the sake of Mother Earth, but his later speeches focused on economic development as the solution to Bolivia’s poverty. This discourse may have an attractive motive overall. However, indigenous communities continue to be heavily affected by the constant disruption of land, giving them a far greater disadvantage than the economic benefits from the state.

The Impact of MAS

Bolivia, reaching for a post-liberal revolution, found itself in a new system of development,  based on resource extraction and therefore a continuation of industrialization and capitalistic aggression. The indigenous natives loosely benefited from Bolivia’s economic exports, energy and food. The results of Morales’ modern capitalist project  contributed to deforestation, exploited protected indigenous territories, and increased agriculture that was non-beneficial to local communities due to its mass exports. The indigenous mindset for saving Mother Earth has been rejected, including the poor indigenous people that continue to have their land destroyed.

Monoculture in Bolivia has stripped the natural rain forest.
Bolivia continues to be one of the countries with the highest deforestation per capita in the world, which causes alarm among environmentalists. The burning to enable land for livestock and agriculture are the reasons that accelerate the loss of forests.

Indigenous people in the lowlands still rely on subsistence agriculture and continue to be concerned about the use of natural resources and its effects on the Earth. The misconception of decolonization comes from the understanding that it is shifting colonial legacies; decolonization is ensuring the fair distribution of national development to the indigenous people. The indigenous natives loosely benefit from Bolivia’s economic exports, energy and food due to the redistribution of government profits. Indigenous communities in urban areas were able to benefit from the growing economy. Morales’s social and political movement was therefore able to benefit a section of the indigenous population, but the environmental cost was dramatic.


Colonized peoples inevitably have had to confront the ongoing frameworks of colonialism and its disruption. Their issues continue to be an intersectional, wicked problem of social inequality, economic capital, and political gain. Indigenous peoples within a modern attitude are deprived of experiences and connection as native community members. Their alienation and cultural well-being have been diminished over centuries. Resurgence and decolonization are current attempts for communities to find a stronger connection with their land, cultures, and communities that have suffered systematic annihilation. This resistance includes rejecting the power of rights and recognition by the state, and instead embracing a daily existence conditioned by place-based cultural practices. How one engages in daily processes of truth-telling and resistance to colonial encroachments is just as important as the overall outcome of these struggles to reclaim, restore, and regenerate homeland relationships.

Ecological and Economical Damage

Agriculture in Bolivia.
Indigenous agricultural workers continue to be strained by the rapid changing planet, droughts, and monoculture.

Colonialism disrupted the individual and community relationships between natives and their natural worlds by demanding resource extraction for economic development. Existing colonial institutions and policies have dominated the free market economy, encompassing the trade of natural resources, and creating a depleting subsistence economy for indigenous communities. The global economy is experiencing an increasing ecological catastrophe through global climate change and depleting resources. Agribusiness dominates subsistence farmers in Bolivia and elsehwhere. These local farmers are primarily the poor native farmers that are heavily impacted the most by inconsistent weather and irregular crop production.The global economic agenda is not focused on the spiritual or emotional connection that native communities have towards their natural environments, their economic incentives continue to be more powerful than the local voice.

The Impact of Greed on Humanity

The historical and therefore modern implications of colonialism are powerfully demonstrated in Evo Morales’ timeline of power. His intentions of bringing a broken state together were overpowered by the same sin that has historically corrupted all nations, greed. The importance of his presidency is a clear indicator that the capitalist, colonial interests and indigenous- environmental problems are incredibly intersectional and directly responsible for the future of our planet. The basis of colonization was to divide humans and their resources into hierarchical systems. These systems are still dramatically engrained in our culture, economy, political systems, and overall human- environmental relationship.If we could come together as one and finally recognize that division ultimately hurts everyone involved, maybe we could heal ourselves and our dying environment.

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