Carlos Mesa, the writer who wants to be president again in Bolivia

The former president bets on a continuistic line but the division in the opposition ranks plays against him


Carlos Mesa Gisbert (La Paz, 1953) is the main opposition candidate for the presidency of Bolivia. The one who was president for two years at the beginning of the 2000s has serious possibilities, according to the polls, to take Evo Morales for the first time to second round since he came to power 13 years ago.

“The people of Bolivia are going to make history facing the most powerful, most arbitrary, most authoritarian political machinery that has been built. We will win because we believe in democracy and we are going to teach the leader who thinks he is irreplaceable a lesson in democracy “, he defended at a recent rally in Sucre.

Carlos Mesa, the writer who wants to be president again in Bolivia
Carlos Mesa, the writer who wants to be president again in Bolivia

Mesa, who ruled the country between 2003 and 2005, is, above all, a man of letters. It is family inheritance. His parents, José and Teresa, were known art historians. The presidential candidate completed high school in Madrid, where he also studied Political Science, before completing his studies graduating in Literature, in 1978, at the Bolivian Universidad Mayor de San Andrés.

Since then he has written about twenty books, including novels, historical essays, and football stories. His passion for football – those who know him say he knows by heart the historical classifications of local competition and foreign leagues – led him to be one of the key figures, 23 years ago, in his country's successful resource against FIFA, which allowed Bolivia to play at the El Alto stadium, at 4,090 meters.

But, more than for his books, Mesa is popular in Bolivia because of his work as a journalist. He recorded 539 chapters of the popular political talk show 'De Cerca', reaching fame.

Later, he entered politics, becoming in 2002 the presidential binomial of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada (1993-1997 and 2002-2003). It was not a simple vice presidency. Sánchez de Lozada faced a great social movement from a very early age, in which a coca grower unionist named Evo Morales began to stand out.

The 'Gas War' exploded in 2003. Those protesting in the streets demanded the nationalization of hydrocarbons. The protests knocked down Sanchez de Lozada, who resigned and left the country, after the repression left at least 60 dead in October 2003.


The then Vice President Mesa went on to lead Bolivia. He immediately moved away from his predecessor's policies regarding gas and proposed a referendum on hydrocarbons, which opened the way to nationalization of the sector, as the former president himself admits, and contributed to lowering the tension.

He had notable success in macroeconomic figures, with a program based on austerity. It reduced the public deficit by six points, and the country left the recession behind, growing 3.5 percent.

Mesa maintained an average popularity of over 60 percent, but new protests calling for public ownership of hydrocarbon production, as well as the lack of support in Congress, led to his resignation in June 2005.

Morales won the elections for the first time a few months later, leaving the traditional parties very touched, who had shown great disunity during the presidency of Mesa. The old policy has not yet recovered from that coup.

“The victory of Morales meant the collapse of the historical party system. The president agglutinated most of the discontent with the operation of the State, with the economic situation and with corruption, collapsing to traditional politics. And the leaders of before self-exiled or they take refuge in the regions and in the departmental Governments, “says Mario Torrico, a Bolivian analyst at FLACSO de México.

“There has been no renewal of opposition leaders,” adds the expert, stressing, in addition, that parties opposed to Morales have suffered too much the elimination, in 2008, of public funding to political formations.


Mesa is again accusing that opposition division around his figure. In fact, part of the center-left Revolutionary Front of the Left (FRI), an important member of his movement, known as the Citizen Community (CC), has recently withdrawn support.

“The opposition does not give clear signs of unity. Primacy the caudillista interest before the programmatic convergence. The Evo factor in a possible second round will be the one that produces and founded the unit,” says Ludwig Valverde, president of the College of Political Scientists of La Paz .

Mesa has been criticized, from various sectors, for presenting a continuist program, at least economically, with Morales' policies. The former president does not plan to reduce social bonds – he proposes, in fact, to raise old age – and does not propose any privatization, nor to defrost the exchange rate, as the most liberal groups claim.

This position is not strange in the opposition candidates. “All candidates propose, in general terms, to improve what has been done so far or to deepen it. No force has proposed replacing any current public policy with another,” says Valverde, who accuses him of Morales's “hyper presidentialism” and doubts about possible changes of policies.

Mesa is also pointed out, from the Government and part of the opposition, for wanting to reach the electorate through the intelligentsia, not the claw, something that could harm him, his detractors believe, in the field.

“The electoral campaign and the negative war deployed by the Government and opposition parties have been responsible for exposing the weak flanks of the figure of Mesa, an alleged lack of character that would lead him to flee conflict. But without resources, and with almost everything against it, it seems that it will take Evo to a second electoral round, something that months ago seemed impossible, “says analyst Carlos Cordero.

Mesa, which wants to reduce the public deficit by optimizing investment in large works, overcoming the 'extractivist' model in force in Bolivia, and “abandoning the pendulum between statism and liberalism,” has been placed about ten points from Morales in recent polls.

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