Bolivia’s hopeful vote

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a press conference at the government palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Bolivians voted for change last Sunday, and in so doing may well have joined a growing movement of Latin Americans rejecting protectionist, populist leaders in favor of freer markets and stronger economies.

President Evo Morales, who first came to power in 2006, lost a constitutional referendum vote that would have allowed him to run for a fourth term in 2019. He accepted defeat on Wednesday after the Bolivian Election Commission released the final vote tally.

It’s perhaps too early to call it a political revolution. Mr. Morales still has plenty of time left in office and it is yet to be seen who will be elected to succeed him.

But it is a hopeful sign for a country that remains South Americas poorest by some measures and which has suffered sluggish growth even as Morales was able to alleviate some of the nation’s most extreme poverty.

Across the board, Latin America’s socialist-leaning populist movements are fast losing steam after decades in power.

In November, Argentinians replaced a scandal-ridden leftist president with a center-right champion of free markets and international trade who has already put the country back on track to economic solvency.

Venezuela’s socialist party lost control of the National Assembly in December in a landslide loss that gave opposition candidates the majority in the legislature for the first time in nearly two decades. The gradual fall of far-left politics in the region can be attributed at least in part to the dramatic success stories of those countries that have embraced more open economies.

Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico — even when run by politics that can hardly be considered conservative — have all enjoyed rising quality of life and growing middle classes in recent years, largely thanks to openness to foreign investment and free trade.

Prosperous residents just across the border — in Colombia next to Venezuela or Brazil across from Argentina, for example — send a powerful message to people searching for better lives.

Mr. Morales, however, has kept Bolivia largely closed off from the rest of the world — particularly the United States, with which he has had a perpetually contentious relationship.

Shortly after coming to power, he nationalized several key industries including oil and gas. Revenue from those industries allowed him to reduce poverty to an extent, but Bolivia has struggled to perform on the same level as nearby Latin American economic success stories. It seems Bolivians have awakened to the root of that problem.

That is an encouraging message across Latin America and here in the United States, given our proximity as Western Hemisphere neighbors.

A more prosperous Bolivia benefits not just Bolivians but all of us in the Americas.