Tim Young previews an important meeting on how the coup in Bolivia was defeated and a historic election victory won
Six months ago, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) won a historic election victory in Bolivia’s Presidential election, kicking out the military-led coup regime that had ousted President Evo Morales in November 2019.
The coup followed the electoral defeat suffered in October 2019 by the right wing in the Presidential election.
Anticipating the final result would hand Morales a first-round victory as votes from rural, indigenous-populated and Morales-supporting areas were counted, the right wing opposition launched violent protests.
Their attacks included burning down vote counting centres, vandalising Morales’ party headquarters and assaulting Indigenous supporters of Morales and the MAS.
The US-dominated Organisation of American States (OAS) played a key role in encouraging the coup mongers and legitimising the coup by rushing out a statement querying the election results and hinting at electoral fraud.
Although Mark Weisbrot of the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research pointed out that the OAS statement “provides absolutely no evidence — no statistics, numbers, or facts of any kind — to support this idea”, it became the dominant narrative in the Western media.
Faced with the Army’s demand for his resignation, Morales stood down in the hope of averting further bloodshed and flew into exile. Installed in his place as self-proclaimed ‘interim President’, in clear violation of the constitution, was deputy Senate speaker Jeanine Áñez, a Christian supremacist politician. Her party’s electoral alliance secured only 4% in October’s election.
Two days after seizing power, Áñez secretly signed a decree granting immunity from criminal prosecution to the security forces when dealing with protestors. The regime unleashed savage repression against those opposing the coup dictatorship, making clear its racist intent.by directing its aim primarily at Bolivia’s Indigenous majority.
Left wing organisations’ leaders were hounded from national political life, with homes attacked, lives threatened and militants jailed. Amid the wave of violence unleashed on the country’s indigenous and campesino populations, trade unionists and MAS supporters, protestors were massacred at Sacaba and Senkata by military and police forces.
The coup regime wasted little time in starting to overturn Morales’s strategy of reversing neoliberal policies and retaking control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations.
Confirming Morales’s assertion that corporate capitalism’s desire for the country’s vast lithium resources was the driving factor for the coup, the regime tore up plans to ensure the proceeds of increased lithium production flow to the Bolivian people rather than multi-national corporations. The Ministry of Mining quickly organised an international lithium seminar for 300 officials from the global extractives sector, with the help, among others, of the UK Embassy in Bolivia.
Throughout its 11 months’ duration, Añez’s coup regime was characterised by widespread repression, corruption and incompetence.
Critically, it failed to develop a coherent strategy to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate the accompanying economic downturn. 400,000 jobs were lost during 2020 and income from remittances went down by almost half. Poverty and inequality soared as savage austerity measures took effect.
It further badly mishandled the economy, increasing foreign debt to $11.2 billion, including a $300 million loan from the IMF. State-owned companies were put up for privatisation or handed over corruptly to coup supporters.
The directors of Bolivia’s airline, BoA, for example, were replaced by close associates of Fernando Camacho, the right wing opposition leader in the Santa Cruz region who facilitated the coup by urging the police as well as the military to join the protests against Morales.
Añez’s trusted supporters, Herland Soliz and Elio Montes, embezzled large sums from Bolivia’s largest oil and gas company (YPFB) and Bolivian Telecommunications (Entel).
But despite savage repression, heroic resistance against the regime continued, buoyed by international solidarity challenging the narrative that this was not a coup and protesting against the regime’s human rights abuses.
It is a tribute to the power of a people refusing to be beaten and cowed into submission by a racist elite that the regime could not consolidate its hold on power. Despite its delaying tactics to postpone the election for as long as possible and its sustained persecution of the Movement for Socialism, trade unions and social movements, MAS in the end won a landslide victory in the October 2020 presidential election.
The new MAS government led by President Luis Arce has begun to make good on his inauguration promise to rebuild Bolivia, kick-starting the economy by increasing people’s spending power and public investment.
A three-pronged strategy is also in place to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, with widespread testing to be carried out by municipalities, coordination between departmental and municipal governments, with national provision of the necessary tests, medical supplies and staffing; and purchase of vaccines.
On the international stage Bolivia has begun rebuilding links with allies and partners dismantled by the coup regime. The government has renewed its support for regional integration in Latin America by resuming its participation in three of the most important regional organisations for trade, dialogue and security, ALBA, CELAC, and UNASUR. Diplomatic relations have been restored with Venezuela and a wide-ranging agreement signed with Mexico.
At home, given the degree of military support for the coup and the coup regime, President Arce has moved quickly to make top-level changes in the armed forces to reduce the likelihood of their again siding with reactionary moves against the elected government.
‘Interim president’ Jeanine Añez has also been captured and charged with terrorism, sedition and conspiracy for her actions during the coup. These include corruption, the systematic violation of human rights and the impunity decree for the police and army which underpinned the Senkata and Sacaba massacres.
The victory for the Movement for Socialism and all its supporters offers both lessons for how reactionary regimes can be resisted, undermined and overturned, and hope for how the objectives of democracy, equality and social justice can be pursued in the direst circumstances.
As internationalists, we must show our support for the MAS, the social movements and the Arce government against any attempts by reactionary forces, inside and outside the country, to turn the clock back and restore by force a right wing regime intent on destroying MAS’s work to advance democracy, human rights, equality and social progress in Bolivia.
Friends of Bolivia are holding an event, Bolivia – People Power, Hope & Solidarity, marking six months since the Left’s historic election victory & defeat of the coup in Bolivia, on Monday April 19, 18.30.
Supported by Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America & a range of solidarity + labour movement groups.
With: Eyewitness speakers from Bolivia including journalist Ollie Vargas
Plus: Jeremy Corbyn MP, Miriam Colque (Bolivian activist in London), Alex Main (US based Director of International Policy at the Center for Economic & Policy Research), Claudia Tuberg-Defor (Wiphalas Across the World.)
Chair: Christine Blower (Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.)