Bolivia has made strong social and economic gains in the past two decades; in fact, it has been South America’s strongest-growing economy in that time. Yet the nation stands at a political crossroads, with President Evo Morales resigning in 2019 and subsequent elections delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a member of the Aymara indigenous majority and with a background in a coca growers’ union, President Evo Morales was elected in 2005 on a platform of reform, workers’ rights, and advocacy for the poor and marginalised.
He renationalised the oil and gas industries and used the subsequent income to invest in social programs, lifting millions of people out of poverty. Between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of Bolivians living on less than US$3.20/day fell from 42 per cent to 12.9 per cent, and the number living in extreme poverty (less than US$1.90/day) improved even more dramatically.
In 2019, he stepped down following weeks of unrest over disputed election results. Jeanine Anez, a conservative senator, assumed the presidency on an interim basis. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the situation and delayed elections scheduled for 2020.
Meanwhile, many children still live in poverty. Bolivia still struggles with the issue of child labour; many children of school age have traded the classroom for the workplace, often doing low-paid, difficult and dangerous work. It’s a move born of desperation, and while it may mean a slight increase in a family’s income, working children are at a long-term disadvantage when it comes to education and opportunities for stable employment.
Yet local churches are working hard to reach the most vulnerable families with the love of Jesus and a hope more powerful than poverty.