On the 9th of November this year, Evo Morales returned to Bolivia after spending a year in exile in both Mexico and Argentina. Upon his return, he embarked upon an extended road trip passing through towns and villages where he was enthusiastically greeted by thousands of his supporters. This triumphant return was the culmination of a year filled with tragedy and uncertainty in Bolivia. On the 10th of November, 2019, Morales, who was the first indigenous president in a country that has a majority indigenous population, was overthrown in what can only be called a coup after the military asked him to resign following weeks of protest in the aftermath of Morales’ electoral victory. The coup was triggered by allegations of electoral fraud promoted by the Organisation of American States. However, these allegations have been discredited by several studies, including one at MIT, which the New York Times reported on. The evidence points to Morales being overthrown based on false premises.
Morales, who was the President from 2006 to 2019, enjoyed massive support among the poor and indigenous, because he gave them political representation and political power, which these groups have historically been denied access to. Poverty was halved under Morales, and key industries like oil and gas were nationalised with the goal of profits remaining in the hands of the Bolivian people. The Wiphala, which is the indigenous flag, became one of the country’s official flags and the indigenous Andean concept of Buen Vivir, which emphasises community and harmony with the natural world over extractivist economic development, became enshrined in the constitution.
Following the coup, Jeanine Añez took over as the interim president of Bolivia, and her record as a racist, right-wing Christian fundamentalist speaks for itself. She has tweeted, “I dream of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites”, and that the city of La Paz is “no place for Indians”. Upon taking office, she brought a bible into the government headquarters, and declared the return of Christianity to Bolivia. Luis Fernando Camacho, another coup leader, declared that Pachamama (Mother Earth in the indigenous belief systems of the Andes mountains) will never return to the palace.
As one of its first acts, the coup government passed Decree 4078, which exempted members of the armed forces from criminal responsibility in their efforts to re-establish order and security in the country. The result was disastrous. On November 15, only five days after the coup, at least 11 civilians were killed and 120 were injured by Bolivian security forces, who opened fire on demonstrators in the town of Sacaba. All of them were indigenous Bolivians. 4 days later in the town of Senkata, another 11 civilians were killed, and many more injured. Around 35 civilians in total were killed by the government led by Añez, which marks the deadliest acts of state repression in Bolivia since 2003.
Things changed this October when Evo Morales’ political party Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) won the presidential elections with a new candidate, Luis Arce. While Morales is not a part of the new government, he is still the leader of his political party. Since Arce took over, the new government has charged coup president Añez and several ministers with murder and genocide for their role in the massacres of last November.
One cannot ignore the role of the US in this coup. The US was quick to offer support to the Bolivian coup government and recognise Añez as the legitimate leader of the country. Bolivia is very rich in natural resources, and with Morales having nationalised many of them, the US was most definitely happy to see him go, and potentially have an opportunity to reap the profits of those resources through a US-friendly government. In addition, many of the top Bolivian coup plotters were trained by the notorious School of the Americas program, which has trained Latin American military leaders in counterinsurgency using manuals created by the CIA that advocate torture, assassination and other means of repression. The School of the Americas has played a crucial role in the history of US regime change in countries like Guatemala, Chile, and El Salvador, just to name a few. Therefore, the consequences of the Añez regime, which was heavily endorsed by the US, raises suspicions about the legitimacy of other governments backed by the United States.
The victory of the Bolivian people in removing the Añez government cannot be underestimated either. It demonstrates the necessity of popular grassroots movements in staving off fascism, as well as the power of offering a platform with vision which represents a viable alternative to right wing politics. This is what the MAS party stood for, and why it was able to secure another electoral victory just one year after being ousted from power. It is also a huge victory for the Latin American left and shows that defeating the powerful US empire is possible. The future of Bolivian resources was in danger of being consumed by foreign corporations, but this victory has assured that Bolivians will stay in control of those resources. This is the opposite of what usually happens in countries where the US successfully backs a right-wing coup. Look at Guatemala and Chile, where US-backed coups led to decades of brutality, repression and instability, and where full recovery has still not been made. Bolivia avoided this fate and the importance of this must be appreciated. All the credit goes to the Bolivian people who refused, even for one day, to accept the racist and fascist Añez regime, and maintained their faith in politics of inclusion and representation for those who generally have been excluded from politics until the Morales presidency. Just a few months ago, the existence of political rights for indigenous people in Bolivia was threatened. Now, the new president has already created a new position in government called Minister of Cultures, De-Patriarchalization, and Decolonization, and has appointed an indigenous woman to lead it. How amazing is that?
[ Adrian von Bonsdorff – He/Him (Twitter – @adrian_vonb) ]
[Photo Credit: Carlos Surubi]