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Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Bolivia: Chronicle of a coup foretold

The real story behind the departure of Bolivia’s President Evo Morales is depressingly familiar to those who study transnational Western imperialism backed by corporate interests, writes Faiza Rady

Faiza Rady, Tuesday 19 Nov 2019
 Bolivia: Chronicle of a coup foretold
A coca leaf producer kneels holding a bible with his arms outspread asking police to open the way so a march by backers of former President Evo Morales may continue to Cochabamba (photo: AP)
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On 10 November, Bolivia’s indigenous progressive President Evo Morales was forced by the military to resign his post after a 13-year-long presidency. “A coup took place on 10 November,” commented Nino Pagliccia in Counterpunch. “The fact that the president of the country resigned does not contradict the fact that a coup has taken place. He was forced to resign.” Telesur quoted Foreign Minister Diego Pary as saying on the same day, “The National Armed Forces and the National Police had ‘suggested’ for Evo to resign, at a time when the country was facing a wave of street violence, spearheaded by the opposition.”

US President Donald Trump was quick to cheer for the coup, noting the Bolivian president’s overthrow “sends a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail”.

The events marked by “democracy and the will of the people” — to use Trump’s words — unfolded in the aftermath of allegations of voter fraud by the president’s powerful opponent, former president and opposition leader Carlos Mesa. Since then, street clashes erupted between Morales’s indigenous and working-class base, and right-wing supporters of the financial elite backed by the army and the police. “The centre of La Paz has been transformed into a scenario of barricades, halted transport, neighbours at corners crossed by barbed wires and zinc sheets. Police contingents hover and ask for reinforcement from the National Armed Forces,” reported Marco Teruggi in an article posted in the US alternative paper Workers World.

The death and injury tolls keep rising by the day. “Twenty-three people have died since the coup. They have killed our brothers as if they were animals,” Teresa Zubieta, of La Paz Ombudsman’s Office, told Telesur 15 November. The International news agency EFP reported that street clashes resulted in 18 deaths and more than 500 injured since the 20 October elections. Even the president’s home was assaulted by right-wing mobs. “The rule of law has been broken and that has opened the doors to absolute impunity for those who are able to exercise power,” wrote Teruggi.

After Morales’s resignation, the Juan Guaido scenario — of a self-proclaimed president in Venezuela — promptly unfolded in Bolivia. On 12 November, Jeanine Anez, the second vice-president of the Senate, representing the right-wing Democratic Unity Party, addressed a nearly empty Senate hall to proclaim herself “president of the country according to the constitution”. Her timing was almost perfect. The majority of senators who represent the government party, Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS), were absent. The hitch is that the Bolivian Constitution requires a quorum for the vote to take place. What’s more, Anez anointed herself “president” in the absence of the MAS president and vice president of the Senate, the legal presidential successors according to the constitution. “To invalidate even more this absurd unconstitutional scenario, when the legitimate president of the Senate, Adriana Salvatierra, representing the MAS, attempted to enter the Senate to claim to be the president of Bolivia in line with the constitution, she was not even allowed to enter,” reported Pagliccia.

Regardless, in a replay of US recognition of Guiado’s self-appointment to the Venezuelan presidency, the UK faithfully followed the US lead and hailed Anez as Bolivia’s rightful new president.

The grounds for the US/UK chorus was duly prepared by US and European media, according to FAIR, a media watchdog. Corporate media outlets have euphemistically labelled Anez as “conservative” (The Guardian, The New York Times, Reuters) eliding any mention of her far-right, virulently anti-indigenous politics. She has been sympathetically described as a “qualified lawyer” (BBC), while Reuters called her the “Bolivian interim president”.

But let us look at Carlos Mesa’s tale of voter fraud in the first election round. The constitution stipulates that the candidate who garners 50 per cent of the vote is considered the frontrunner of the round. An alternative option to qualify would be to get 40 per cent of the vote, and lead her or his closest opponent by more than 10 points. As the vote was ongoing, figures from an unofficial preliminary estimate showed that Morales had failed to reach the 10-point score qualifying him as the presidential frontrunner, reported Elise Swain in The Intercept. Mesa “alleged fraud when, after a tense delay, the newly released official count showed Morales with just over a 10-point lead, easily securing a victory.”

In the wake of virulent protests by the anti-Morales coalition, the president allowed the Organisation of American States (OAS) to investigate. While the OAS expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary result… it offered little in the way of concrete evidence of fraud,” wrote Swain.

Led by the US, Brazil and Argentina, it is probable that the OAS fell into line by supporting the coup advocated by rich and powerful nations.

What motivates the US to strive for regime change in Bolivia, as it did in Venezuela, Cuba and Ecuador, among other countries the superpower views as being part of its own “back yard”? It is a successful path to socialism, barring huge profits extracted by multinational corporations pillaging the continent’s resources. If the US tried to effect regime change in Venezuela to freely exploit its major oil reserves, Bolivian lithium amounting to 70 per cent of the world’s reserves may seem equally — if not more — alluring. Lithium is an essential ingredient in the batteries that power electric vehicles, smart phones, e-bikes, solar panels, etc.

Because Evo Morales impeded the free flow of transnational capital to the North by nationalising major foreign industries, he had to be ousted from the presidency. The case of lithium is a telling example. Morales made a deal with China — as equal partners — to mine lithium in cooperation with Bolivia’s national mining company, Comibol and Litio Bolivianos, its national lithium company. US and Canadian transnationals also attempted to reach an agreement with Morales, but rejected the equal partnership requirement. “Morales himself was a direct impediment to the takeover of the lithium fields by the non-Chinese transnationals. He had to go,” explained Vijay Prashad in Counterpunch.

Morales’ resignation constitutes an undeniable loss to native Bolivians and the working class. Since Evo Morales assumed the presidency on 22 January 2006, Bolivia moved from being the poorest country in Central America, with the highest level of income disparity, to the category of “medium human development” on the 2017 UN Human Development Index, with an exponentially growing middle class. From a total of 189 countries, Bolivia ranked 118, and it sports the region’s highest economic growth rate.

During his presidency, Morales made good on his promise to the Bolivian poor to assume control of the nation’s resources and invest them in his people.

 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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