Bolivia: Practical Solidarity is Essential

By Mike Phipps

Evo Morales, the popular President of Bolivia, who had brought stability and growth to one of Latin America’s poorest countries and was forced out by a military coup earlier this month, has called for a truth commission into the role of the Organisation of American States in October’s presidential election. The OAS, which receives 60% of its funding from the US, had cast doubt on the preliminary election results, in what  Bolivia’s Vice President now claims was the start of an orchestrated coup. But a more detailed study by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research found no evidence of irregularities or fraud. 

In the immediate aftermath of the coup, President Morales’ house was attacked by armed intruders and he was forced to flee the country. Vice President Álvaro Marcelo García Linera and other ministers resigned after their families were threatened by opposition supporters.  

Since the coup, violence has been directed against Morales’ supporters. Two dozen Bolivians have died and hundreds wounded in clashes. In one incident, eight farmers were massacred by state security forces as they protested peacefully in Cochabamba. The police fired from helicopters into a fleeing crowd.  Massive daily protests in La Paz have invariably ended with the police tear-gassing protestors, including children. A sign at a rally in La Paz read: “When the rich march, the policy mutiny. When the poor march, they shoot bullets.”

The new government has granted the military immunity from prosecution if they use force in ‘legitimate defence’. It assumed power after conservative religious opposition leader and second vice president of the Senate, Jeanine Añez, appointed herself unconstitutionally to the Presidency in a near-empty inquorate legislative chamber. 

“To the extent that Áñez, whose party received 4 percent of the Oct. 20 vote, has any mandate, it is only to schedule new elections,” opined the Washington Post. 

“She has pledged to do so, but has taken no concrete steps. Meanwhile, she has replaced Bolivia’s top military brass, cabinet ministers and the heads of state-owned companies…She has also fundamentally reoriented Bolivia’s foreign policy, breaking relations with Venezuela and leaving the Union of South American Nations and Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas….Áñez has stated that MAS members may not be allowed to run in future elections. Her minister of government, Arturo Murillo, called an ex-minister of Evo Morales ‘an animal’ whom he would ‘hunt down.’ And, on Nov. 13, the police roughed up MAS senators and prevented them from entering the legislative chamber.”

The new government is also expected to open Bolivia up to multinationals and accelerate the extraction of its natural resources. As well as sitting on hydrocarbon reserves worth an estimated $70 billion, Bolivia also has over half the world’s lithium reserves, a key ingredient of batteries. Global demand for the mineral is set to double by 2025. The coup came just days after President Morales cancelled an agreement with a German company to extract lithium following weeks of local protests. The new government is almost certain to reinstate the deal. 

Equally worrying is the revenge of the traditional middle class. “They mount their motorcycles and saddle up in their SUVs, band together with their buddies from the fraternities and private universities, and set off hunting for the rebellious indios who dared snatch power from their hands… In Cochabamba, they organize convoys to enforce their racial supremacy in the south of the city, home to the poorer classes,” writes former Vice President Álvaro Marcelo García Linera.

Explaining the racial nature of Bolivia’s counter-revolution, he criticises a privileged elite unused to having to compete on la level playing field with the rest of society: “In just one decade, the percentage of people in the so-called ‘middle class,’ as measured by income, increased from 35 to 60 percent of the population. Most of this rise came from the popular and indigenous sectors…Previously, the traditional middle classes’ surnames, their monopoly over legitimate professional, academic, and political knowledge, and their family ties had allowed them access to positions in the public administration, to credit, and to jobs and scholarships. However, today, the number of people fighting for the same positions or opportunities has doubled — reducing by half the possibilities for the old middle classes to access these goods.” 

Their aim is crudely simple: to intimidate the indigenous people out of the universities and professions and back into poverty.

Immediately after the coup, a well attended meeting in London expressed solidarity with Bolivia’s plight. Speakers were keen to emphasise a pattern of behaviour across the continent –most notably in Venezuela, where the Trump Administration still conspires to bring down the government. Mobilising for the demonstration against Trump when he visits on December 3rd is an obvious focus.

But we should not lose sight of the brutal attack on the human rights of indigenous Bolivians amid a general analysis of US imperialism in the continent. This coup is unleashing a wave of racist violence in the country and threatens to engulf Bolivia in civil war. Practical solidarity is essential.