Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Moment of Silence: For Bolivian Election Day

In the current polarized political climate, it is important to clarify: replacing one over-reaching leader with another is not a revolution—it’s a coup d’Ă©tat—especially when the new autocrat has even greater centralized authority. Likewise, when a problematic democratic is bested by an aspiring tyrant, it is not good for democracy, even if it is the result of the popular vote. Such was the case when Evo Morales came to power in Bolivia. Tomorrow, Bolivians go to the polls and our election is in less than three weeks (in case you missed intrusive barrage of PSA’s). That makes this the perfect time to watch Ferdinando Vicentini Orgnani’s A Moment of Silence (Un Minuto de Silencio), which recently released on VOD platforms.

Gonzalo “Goni” Sanchez de Lozada, the president whose administration was toppled by the movement Morales commandeered, actually did great things for Bolivia. He curbed hyper-inflation relatively quickly and coupled privatization with increased social welfare systems. Yet, he failed to understand the coordinated guerilla campaign orchestrated against him, until it was too late. Frankly, we can see echoes of our own recent national experiences in the way Bolivian Chavists provoked Goni’s government with a blockade of La Paz and an ambush of a fuel convoy’s military escort, subsequently exploiting the collateral damage from their response to stoke public outrage.

Nevertheless, many Bolivians had high hopes when Morales came to power, especially the indigenous population, but also including the urban middle class. Tragically for the nation, those hopes were dashed. True to the example of his mentor, Hugo Chavez, Morales soon started imprisoning opposition leaders. Vicentini Orgnani’s own camera captures one such dissenting politician as Morales’ soldiers take him into custody.

Eventually, many of Morales core constituencies turned against him when he decided to blaze an expressway through the TIPNIS state park and indigenous territory, to serve his real masters, the cocoa growers (Vicentini Orgnani’s talking heads telling point out throughout his terms in office, Morales also held the presidency of the Bolivian cocoa growers’ federation). The local, less politically indigenous peoples started a massive protest march that provoked a swift and violent response from Morales (who used Venezuelan troops to do his dirty work, according to one survivor).

is a level-headed, straight-forward chronicle of events in Bolivia (filmed over a six-year span) that is absolutely damning because it is so transparently unbiased. Vicentini Orgnani talks to partisans from all sides, but gets warmed over platitudes from Morales’ VP, but some hard truths from Sanchez de Lozada and veterans of his administrations, which do not always reflect well on them, but are even less flattering for Morales and his allies. Reportedly, Vicentini Orgnani started the project sympathetic towards Morales (or at least his stated values), but recognized his oppression as it developed (sometimes right in front of his lens).

Moment ends up greatly rehabilitating Sanchez de Lozada’s reputation, but that is the sort of solid historical analysis documentaries should do. There is no valid reason “Neo-liberal” should be a term of derision. Clearly, Goni was light years better than what followed him. What happened to him is an object lesson we should all take note of. A politician who makes modest promises, could very well fulfill them, whereas those who tantalize with grand utopian visions will inevitably disappoint (usually quite cruelly). A Moment of Silence is definitely a bracing dose of reality. Even though there is no narration, it also a lucid and comprehensive step-by-step account of the rise of Morales and the consequent decline of Bolivian civil society. Very highly recommended, A Moment of Silence is now available on VOD platforms.