Bolivia // Coup d’état: context and events so far~ 9 min

By Duarte Guerreiro

Evo Morales resigned on November 10, after 13 years in power. During that period, poverty in Bolivia fell from 60% to 35%; extreme poverty fell from 37.7% to 15.2%. GDP per capita grew 50%.

This was the result of economic policies that defied the zombie neoliberal prescriptions that stubbornly refuse to die, no matter how many times they lead to tragedy. The country abandoned IMF “aid” at the beginning of Morales’ mandate – such aid had previously led to a GDP per capita contraction to below 1980 levels. National resources were nationalized, along with other strategic sectors of the economy. The State’s hydrocarbons revenue alone increased from 731 millions to 4.95 billions.

The proceedings from the new sources of income were invested into policies aimed at redistribution and reducing dependency on the dollar. Public and private investment increased, especially those focused on the internal market.

The country welcomed a new Constitution which granted more rights to the population and prohibited the presence of foreign military bases. Food sovereignty was also a priority, as was trying to develop internal production chains that might allow the country’s limited and fragile exports to diversify.

Battery production was especially prioritized, as Bolivia is home to 50% to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves, trapped under the salt flats of Salar de Uyuni. The exploitation of those reserves has been slow, as the Morales government wanted to keep them under state control instead of handing them over, as usual, to a Western corporation which would keep the majority of the profits and bring ruin to the local economy.

Despite the mistakes and challenges, it is undeniable that Evo Morales’ Bolivia saw many advances for the most poor and discriminated citizens of the country, especially among the indigenous community, which previously lived in de facto apartheid.

As was to be expected, this state of affairs was displeasing to Washington and its local henchmen, descendants of the colonizers. This last episode is far from being the first North-American interference.

Coup pretext

Morales was initially barred from running for a fourth presidential term. In 2016, a referendum on abolishing term limits was defeated 51-49. In 2017, the Supreme Court of Justice decrees that term limits are unconstitutional and they are abolished. New elections happen on October 20. Our current saga begins.

A few boring but important details, eloquently explained by CEPR‘s Kevin Cashman:

  • The electoral system for the Bolivian presidency works by rounds.
  • If a candidate obtains 50% of the votes, or 40% with a 10 point margin over the next candidate, they win and there won’t be a second round.
  • There are two vote counts: the quick and the official. This system was put into place with the incentive of the Organization of American States (or, as Fidel Castro nicknamed it, the Ministry of Colonies). 60% of OAS’s budget comes from the USA, and the organization has a history of meddling in elections, Haiti being the most flagrant example.
  • The quick count is used to obtain a preliminary result during the election night, but it rarely counts 100% of the votes (it usually stops at around 80%) due to the difficulty of obtaining rural votes in due time.
  • The official count is the only one that matters in deciding the election.

During the election night, Morales’ main adversary, Carlos Mesa of the Revolutionary Left Front (FRI), announced that his candidacy had made it to the second round based on the quick count, closed shortly after hitting 80% of the total number of votes, as usual.

Carlos Mesa had already been president between 2003-2005, before Morales. He came to the position from the vice-presidency, after the previous president renounced. During his term in power, he faced fierce street protests due to his resistance, under IMF and World Bank pressure, to nationalizing the country’s gas reserves, which eventually led to his resignation.

This time around, the quick count became unusually important when the OAS, Mesa and other figures of national politics began demanding that the quick count be carried out to the end, despite that being neither expectable nor practical (due to the aforementioned slowness in obtaining rural votes).

The press (mostly under oligarch control) began conflating the quick and the official counts, giving the impression that the government was manipulating the results. The quick count was restarted due to political pressure and, when it reached 95,63%, Morales had already obtained the 10 point distance from Mesa necessary to dispense a second round.

The rending of garments over fraud begins. OSA joins the party by declaring the results statistically impossible. The chorus of Twitter addicted US government imbeciles, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, sings along as well.

CEPR publishes a study demonstrating that the count divergence is not only possible, but probable; Morales’ support base is strongest in rural areas, and those votes are counted last. As if that wasn’t enough, the final results also line up with 5 of 6 pre-election polls.

White terror

During the following days, violent right-wing crowds spread terror against members of the government and the party of Evo Morales, the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), as well as against media outlets that dared report what was happening. The police refuse to act against right-wing demonstrators and then mutinies in their favor. The army also refuses to act, guaranteeing free rein to the right-wing terror. A sample of the events below:

November 6; the opposition kidnaps Vinto council president Patricia Arce, cuts her hair, paints her red and forces her to march barefoot. She is only rescued by police four hours later.

November 9; the opposition invades the installations of state broadcasters Bolivia TV and Radio Patria Nueva. Workers are detained, threatened and forced to change programming. The video shows the moment when they are allowed to leave. As of the writing of this text, the emission was still off the air.

November 10; The house of Morales’ sister is burned down.

November 10; right-wing protesters burn down the house of Oruro’s governor.

November 11; Evo Morales’ house is invaded and pillaged.

November 11; policemen cut the indigenous flag off their uniforms while cheering their “great institution”.

On November 10, the political events precipitate when the military command, through the mouth of William Kaliman, “suggest” that Evo Morales resign so that violence can cease.

The face of the coup, the lawyer and businessman close to the evangelical community, Luis Fernando Camacho, a native of the affluent Santa Cruz region and a sort of Bolivian Bolsonaro, enters the former presidential palace and kneels before a flag with a Bible on top, proclaiming “The Pachamama will never return to the Palace. Bolivia belongs to Christ” [Correction: this was actually said by one of his supporters].

He had previously promised to “Return God to the Quemado palace”. Camacho’s family had a monopoly on their region’s gas reserves before Morales arrival.

Evo Morales retreats via airplane to one of his party’s electoral strongholds, where he abdicates from his presidency, which was still in effect.

After the resignation, political persecution intensifies. Members of the electoral commission are arrested and the President and Vice-President of the Supreme Electoral Court are paraded like hunting trophies in front of the cameras by men with covered faces.

The situation remains fluid. As usual, the EU and the “international community” are covering themselves in ridicule by supporting whatever manner of coup the US decides to promote. Evo Morales and other MAS politicians asked for and received Mexican political asylum, motivated by the Bolivian political situation and the life threatening risk they’re under.

In the country’s two largest cities (adjacent to one another), La Paz and in El Alto in particular, a bastion of the working class and the indigenous population, many are recovering from the shock of the coup and proclaiming resistance with chants of “Mesa, Camacho, we want your heads!”

Due to the information blockade, the global picture isn’t clear, but deaths have already been reported in El Alto, caused by police repression.

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