IV Online magazine : IVP375 - February 2006
"A government of the poor, for the poor"
Exclusive interview with Juan Ramon Quintana
Juan Ramon Quintana had hardly had time to settle into his new job as
Minister of the Presidency (which is what the Prime Minister is called in
Bolivia) when he welcomed our Bolivian correspondent to his office in the
Government Palace and gave him the interview that follows. He took the occasion
to discuss the composition of the new government, which has a radical profile,
as well as the tasks facing Evo Morales and his ministers. The interview was
first published in the February 2nd issue of Rouge, weekly paper of the LCR
(French section of the Fourth International.
Rouge: The governmental cabinet
does not come across as one that will bring tranquillity to the markets and to
the United States. Is this a political signal that Evo Morales wanted to
Juan Ramon Quintana - I
think that this cabinet brings together the aspirations for change in Bolivian
political life, insofar as it is made up of personalities who are close to the
people, close to ordinary people. The ministers are people who have worked with
the social movements, who have fought against the neo-liberal order, and they,
more than anyone else, illustrate the virtues of resistance. They have the
opportunity to learn how to govern.
They have been chosen according to several criteria:
this is a constellation that is representative of Bolivian society. There are
four women, which is a first in Bolivian history. It is also a cabinet that
reflects the participation of social movements. There is also a regional
representation, there are intellectuals and university professors, as well as
businessmen. In other words, we have managed to find a democratic, plural and
coherent formula that illustrates this desire for change.
The appointment of Andres Soliz
Rada also comes over as a strong signal to the oil companies, insofar as he has
always defended the nationalization of gas, without making any concessions to
Andres Soliz is a great fighter, who has always
fought for the state to have sovereignty over its natural resources. He
expresses an ideological struggle against the forms of imperialist domination of
the United States, whether or not they are explicit. It is the continuity of the
frustrated desire of nationalism that has existed since the 1930s. He is the
heir of this current. He is not only an intellectual, but also someone who has
taken part in social struggles.
We were surprised by the
appointment of Casimira Rodriguez to head the Ministry of Justice. It is an
incredibly strong signal to appoint a cleaning woman to this post!
It is the historic demand of a big majority of
cleaning women who have always been marginalized, who are invisible to society,
mistreated and excluded, treated like animals in our society. These women do not
occupy a domestic space, but suffer every form of violence. Casimira Rodriguez
illustrates the struggle against this centuries-long injustice against women of
whom the majority do not have social security, citizenship, sometimes not even
an identity card.
As concerns the military general
staff, will there also be surprises?
I think that we are above all going to insist on the
line laid down by the president, with criteria of selection based on respect for
institutions, on respect for moral and ethical conduct, and lastly on a moral
and patriotic reserve to defend the nation. These are the criteria that will
guide our choice in this domain.
You have previously stated that
the police and the army will no longer be an appendage of the Drug Enforcement
Agency (DEA), which coordinates the anti-drug struggle in Bolivia and in Latin
America. Do you maintain this attitude?
Yes. A chapter of the political history of Bolivia,
these last twenty years, has been the lending out of soldiers and police, who
have been subordinated to foreign governments. Our government is going to
restore sovereignty, by regaining it at the heart of the state, with the army
and the police.
Are we also entering into anew
cycle of relations with Chile?
Yes, we think so, we are optimistic on this subject.
Two new presidents are together entering a new epoch for Latin America. There is
a sincere leadership on the part of the Socialist Party in Chile. Chile is
showing signs of breaking with the traditional conservatism that has
characterized its relations with Bolivia. Our president has the strongest
historical legitimacy to be able to resolve the dispute that has separated us
from this country for such a long time.
Is the appointment of Soliz Rada
also the sign that the relations between Bolivia and its neighbours on the
energy question are going to change?
Yes, because the changes in the organization of the
executive power are going to illustrate the profound transformations of the
state, first of all on the economic level. We are going towards a mixed economy,
no longer a 100 per cent market economy. An economy where the state will be a
central actor of the productive sector, where it will be the organiser of the
economy, on a national level and abroad, for example in the energy domain.
The time has also come to put in place a government
of the poor by the poor, with a presence of indigenous people that is no longer
the caricature that was offered by Sanchez de Lozada from 1993 to 1997. We also
need the presence of women. But this government is showing signs of being
effective in terms of public investments, of the fight against corruption,
discrimination and impunity.
These will be the axes of transformation of the
state. Corruption was the weapon of state functionaries. Exclusion was the sign
of racism. All that is going to change with this government.
One of the balance sheets we can
draw from the inauguration of Evo Morales seems to be the symbolic affirmation
of a rapprochement with Cuba and Venezuela, within what is being called “the
axis of good”. Do you share this perception?
I think that the relations between Bolivia, Havana
and Caracas are taking on a new dimension on the level of cooperation in the
fields of education, health, technique, etc. That is also reinforcing the
nationalist line of our government on the energy question. There is a
convergence with certain policies of Cuba and Venezuela. This axis is going to
have to all intents and purposes the same status, in terms of its relevance, as
the Buenos Aires, Brasilia, Montevideo, Asuncion axis has for Bolivia.
In the region, our insertion must be based on
energy, while our cooperation with the Caribbean has more to do with social
cooperation. These two axes are an equation for the unity of Latin America.
There is no supremacy of one of the two axes over the other. They are
complementary axes, which enable us to maintain an equilibrium in the region and
to be less vulnerable to external instability.
It is a virtuous equilibrium where, for the first
time in its history, Bolivia has an incredibly important weight for exercising
an indigenous leadership. We are going to export our specific leadership in the
Are you going to develop a “coca
diplomacy”, in favour of its depenalisation?
Yes, we are going to insist in Europe, in Asia and
elsewhere, on this policy which the president has called “zero drug traffic, but
not zero cocalero”. What Evo Morales means is that we have to revalorise coca
through its many possible uses, not only commercial but also and especially
medical, for the health of humanity.
We have to give the coca leaf a humanitarian
connotation. That obliges us to extend our markets for legal consumption of
coca, in the first place with our neighbours. Because of the criminalisation of
the coca leaf in recent years, we cannot make visible what could be called the
other frontiers of the coca leaf. They have tarred us with this question, to the
point of making our people doubt its own beliefs concerning this leaf and its
importance in our culture.
Despite the important post you
hold, you remain a personality who is not well known, even in Bolivia. Could you
introduce yourself to our readers in a few words?
I have had a rather strange personal trajectory.
When I was small, I wanted to be a priest, and I finally ended up in the army.
Once I was in the army, I wanted to become a lawyer in order to defend those who
were poorest and who were mistreated in the army, and that is how I became a
sociologist. As a sociologist I wanted to work on the sociology of violence, and
I ended up by becoming involved in politics. Now that I am a politician, I am
wondering how my engagement as a soldier in the service of the people will
Quintana is the Minister of the Presidency (prime minister) in