Spotlight on Social Watch Bolivia

This month’s “Focus on…” section highlights the work of Social Watch (SW) Focal Point in Bolivia: the Labour and Agricultural Development Research Centre (CEDLA, in Spanish), which will be hosting the next regional training workshop for Latin America, to be held from 20 to 22 October 2010 in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

CEDLA has been a focal point for SW since 1997 and one of its principal researchers, Gustavo Luna, is currently a member of the Social Watch Coordinating Committee. The national coalition is composed of over 20 non-government organizations throughout the country. These organizations work in various different areas, such as human rights, child rights, labour rights, the indigenous peoples and peasant movement, development, territorial concerns and poverty reduction.

CEDLA is a research centre which contributes to strengthening the political action of workers, peasants and the indigenous peoples of Bolivia through knowledge, in order to overcome the social relations of subordination and domination.

CEDLA’s mission is particularly significant in view of the evident social inequality which exists in Bolivia, one of the least developed countries in South America. The wealthiest quintile of the population (20%) owns 58.5% of the total mass of income.

This organization, with headquarters in La Paz, has been working since 1985 to incorporate the concerns of labour and workers into public debate, linking the analysis of structure, policies, processes, subjectivity and collective action to the practice and achievement of their economic, social, political and cultural rights. When Evo Morales became President of Bolivia in 2005 – the first indigenous person to do so – a series of changes occurred at the level of public debate, since this new leftist leader assumed the presidency with a political platform which promoted the rights of indigenous peoples and peasants, the reduction of the social divide and the nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry (the country’s main source of wealth).

On the basis of these changes, CEDLA has been carrying out research into how the economic model of domination persists, despite the reforms introduced by Morales’s government. The labour conditions of workers and the right of peasants to the land are being investigated, amongst other concerns.

Another subject which has been the object of careful study is the effect on the national economy of the manner in which the hydrocarbon industry has been handled. The extractive economic model determines that profit continues to be concentrated in the large transnational companies, thus perpetuating the workers’ situation.

The organization has also devoted itself to monitoring policies to combat poverty in the country. The modification of the per capita income level means that in the eyes of international cooperation, Bolivia is no longer a low-income country and has become a middle-income country. However, growth has only benefited a few. Most people continue to be employed in low-quality jobs, whilst public policies are ineffective in confronting the unequal distribution of income.

CEDLA has had a leading role in promoting the network throughout Latin America. It has participated in several Social Watch training workshops and in international meetings, and will organize jointly, and host, the next Social Watch regional training workshop for Latin America. This is an occasion which seeks to strengthen the capabilities of national Social Watch coalitions, as well as foster more solid relations between member organizations in Latin America, in order to build a common political influence agenda in the region.