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The Far-Right Coup in Bolivia

In Bolivia, the military, police, and right-wing extremists have carried out a coup against the elected government. They intend to remain in power by violently suppressing the country's indigenous and poor.

Interim president of Bolivia Jeanine Áñez talks during a conference at the presidential palace on November 13, 2019 in La Paz, Bolivia. Javier Mamani / Getty Images

Recent days have seen the tragic aftermath of the coup against Evo Morales and his government in Bolivia: protestors defending democracy in El Alto shot down, supporters of Morales’s Movement for Socialism (MAS) party rounded up in their homes, public officials paraded in front of television cameras by masked police, and the army sent onto the streets.

At the time of writing, right-wing provocateur Jeanine Áñez has declared herself the president of Bolivia. Áñez is a white supremacist who has tweeted of how she “dreams of a Bolivia free of indigenous satanic rites,” and how the capital city “is not for the Indians — [they] belong in the high plateau or el Chaco.” She was approved yesterday by a parliament without the majority of its elected representatives, meaning it failed to meet constitutional requirements in terms of a quorum. The line of succession was also ignored. But none of this really matters to the army, which now runs Bolivia.

These maneuvers show that, whatever those in the “liberal” media are claiming, recent events in Bolivia amount to a coup. It was a seizure of power against democratic norms organized by a hard-right elite who have rejected any processes of dialogue or even Morales’s offer of a new election. This reality has been recognized by progressive forces across the Western hemisphere, from Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard to Argentina’s president-elect, Alberto Fernández, from the recently released Lula in Brazil to American politician Ilhan Omar, who chose her words succinctly: “There’s a word for the President of a country being pushed out by the military. It’s called a coup.”

The Bolivian military’s forcing of Morales from office has followed a wave of opposition violence that has lashed out at supporters of Bolivia’s progressive government, and in particular at the country’s indigenous and peasant population. Strikingly, this has involved the ransacking of Morales’s presidential home and the burning down of his sister’s house. But it has also involved security forces working with right-wing gangs to arrest MAS supporters from the poorer neighborhoods of Bolivia’s cities.

A particularly shocking case was that of Patricia Arce, the mayor of Vinto, in the MAS heartland of Cochabamba. Putchist mobs detained her, shaved her hair, doused her in red paint ‚ the color of the right wing in Bolivia — and forced her to walk barefoot through Vinto, kneel down, and beg for forgiveness for supporting Morales. It is understood that she refused to apologize and was eventually rescued by pro-Morales demonstrators, but this could not stop Vinto town hall from being set alight. 

Meanwhile, police and military patrols have taken over the streets of La Paz, setting up barricades to block pro-Morales protesters marching into the city. Today, violent clashes between coup forces and indigenous protesters resulted in at least six citizens being shot and approximately thirty people injured. The Bolivian police have uploaded social media videos of themselves removing the indigenous Wiphala flag from their uniforms and public buildings, and videos show them standing together with armed far-right gangs issuing threats to MAS supporters across the country.

The coup was prompted by Bolivia’s right wing losing the October 20 election, where MAS won 47.8 percent, ahead of the Right’s leading candidate, Carlos Mesa, who gained 36.5 percent. Additionally, MAS won majorities in both the Congress and Senate. The US-friendly Organization of American States (OAS) claimed that vote contained irregularities — but the US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) think tank has presented a detailed paper on the election that concludes there is “no evidence that irregularities or fraud effected the official result that gave [Morales] a first-round victory.”

This situation is only likely to intensify in the coming days, and to further illustrate that this is a coup that is set to lead to a far-right government supported by a minority. What’s more is that these developments have been welcomed by the Trump administration, which has close ties to those leading the coup. The United States had been pushing for a coup in Bolivia for some time, backing extreme right-wing elements in the country, and it has now welcomed the outcome as a victory for democracy.

On April 12, the US Senate approved a resolution expressing “concern” over Morales’s bid for a fourth term to the presidency. They cited a referendum the president had narrowly lost in 2016 on changing the constitution — but ignored the decision of Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in January 2019 decreeing Morales could stand. Amazingly, on the same day, a group of fifteen Bolivian right-wing opposition legislators published a letter to Donald Trump, asking the United States “to intercede in Latin America and prevent Evo Morales from running again for the presidency of Bolivia.”

It is increasingly clear that American corporations have designs on Bolivia’s lithium reserves, which are the largest held by any individual country. Morales had already signaled his plans to nationalize the lithium industry — which will become an even more serious market as electric cars begin to become more widely used — and compete on the international market rather than offer the resource up at bargain prices to multinational corporations.

Despite the forces arrayed against progressives in Bolivia, the fight is not over. Right now, in La Paz, thousands of supporters of Evo Morales are mobilizing in rejection of the coup d’état’s violence and racism. Internationally, opposition to the coup is also building. Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, and Pablo Iglesias, among leaders of the European left, have condemned the coup, with Britain’s potential future prime minister tweeting that he stands with the Bolivian people’s fight for “democracy, social justice and independence.” 

We must offer solidarity to those resisting the coup in Bolivia by taking to the streets and joining rallies and demonstrations in support of Morales and the progressive and indigenous movements in Bolivia. Now a political refugee in Mexico, Evo Morales has sworn that he will return to Bolivia to confront the forces of authoritarianism. On his way to exile, he wrote that he is “very grateful to the solidarity of the people, brothers from Bolivia and the world who reach out with recommendations, suggestions and expressions of recognition that give us encouragement, strength and energy. They moved me to tears. They never abandoned me; I will never abandon them.”

Progressives across the world should watch developments in Bolivia closely as they escalate in the coming days. It is time to fight to ensure that there is no return to the dark days of the 1970s and ’80s in Latin America.