Bolivia: A Coup By Any Other Name

By Mike Phipps

“Evo Morales has stepped down as Bolivia’s president after the military encouraged him to leave the post to ensure stability following weeks of protests against his disputed re-election,” reports Al Jazeera.

Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera is also resigning. Other ministers and leading parliamentarians have resigned after their families were threatened by opposition supporters.  Around 20 members of Bolivia’s executive and legislature are seeking political asylum at the capital’s Mexican residence.

Armed intruders broke into the President’s house in Cochabamba. Morales accused police of issuing an illegal warrant for his arrest. A section of the police force joining the rebellion seems to have been a key factor in the military deciding to pressurise Morales to quit.

The military said in a statement that it was launching air and land operations to “neutralise” groups acting unlawfully. Other Latin American governments, from Nicaragua to Argentina, were quick to label the weekend’s events as a coup. Recently released from jail, former Brazilian President Lula also called it a coup, as did Jermey Corbyn, who tweeted: “I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence.”

Earlier, President Morales had promised fresh election following allegations of electoral fraud in October 20th’s presidential poll. His defeated opponent Carlos Mesa had accepted this, but then demanded that Morales be barred from running.

But the current drive to oust Morales was led by rightwing Christian conservative Luis Fernando Camacho. The last weeks have seen street violence directed not only against Morales, but against his indigenous supporters, in actions that have been steeped in racism. “Indians out of the university” read graffiti in front of La Paz’s public university a week after the elections. A small town mayor from Morales’ party was physically attacked by opposition protesters who dragged her through the streets barefoot, covered her in red paint and forcibly cut her hair.

Morales was first elected in 2006 on a wave of popular enthusiasm. He presided over an economic boom – the highest growth rates in Latin America – that lifted many poorer Bolivians out of poverty. “Between 2005 and 2018, according to analyst Javier Tocachier, extreme poverty dropped from 39 percent to 15.2 percent, the minimum monthly salary rose from $54 to $305, mortality rates during the first five years of life fell 61 percent, the infant mortality rate fell 56 percent, and life expectancy at birth increased by nine years,” reported Counterpunch.  A universal health care system was introduced and a land reform enacted to help small farmers.

Morales has also been outspoken on climate change, saying: ““The world is being controlled by a global oligarchy, only a handful of billionaires define the political and economic destiny of humanity … The underlying problem lies in the model of production and consumerism, in the ownership of natural resources and in the unequal distribution of wealth. Let’s say it very clearly: the root of the problem is in the capitalist system.”

His enemies in the country’s traditional elites also prospered, but they never forgave him for encouraging greater self-confidence among the country’s popular classes, especially its indigenous peoples, who were given more power in a new constitution shaped by Morales. The reactionary elite has its eyes on Bolivia’s hydrocarbon reserves, worth an estimated $70 billion.

In the past, it toyed with political separatism as a way to monopolise the country’s resources. In 2008 there was an attempt on Morales’ life and the President expelled US Ambassador Philip Goldberg because “he is conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.”

This April the US Senate voted in favour of term limits for Bolivian presidents, an unwarranted interference in a sovereign state’s internal affairs, but a further sign of collusion between the US and Morales’ opponents at home.

A US President who has repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for human rights and the rule of law has emboldened a new wave of authoritarian conservatives, as elsewhere in Latin America, who will set the country on a backward path. We must be ready to offer practical solidarity to the ordinary people of Bolivia and their political organisations.