By Tim Young
In November 2019, a violent coup d’état meticulously planned by the Bolivian oligarchy, with support from the US and the Organisation of American States (OAS), drove elected President Evo Morales from office. The coup left thirty-five dead and eight hundred wounded, foreshadowing the repression to follow.
Under the racist coup-regime led by Jeanine Áñez, a wave of human rights abuses took place, targeting trade unionists, Indigenous activists and Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) supporters, with largescale violation of people’s rights and the loss of lives.
But heroic resistance against the regime, by a broad coalition of unions, indigenous movements, neighbourhood organisations and the MAS, led to elections being held and a decisive victory for the MAS in October 2020.
What have been the achievements the new elected government led by President Luis Arce over the past eighteen months, faced with an economic crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and an embittered Right?
To reactivate growth and rebuild social progress, one of President Arce’s first acts was the Bonus Against Hunger initiative. Targeted at over four million people, payments have helped to reduce the impact of the pandemic on Bolivia’s most vulnerable families in the country and reactivate the economy.
A new wealth tax introduced in December 2020 has collected twice as much as originally estimated. These and other measures to dismantle Áñez’s neoliberal policies helped the Bolivian economy to grow by 5.3% in the first four months of 2021, with growth still expected to be 3.8% in 2022.
The government has also set up a fund worth $214 million to finance initiatives focused on productive infrastructure and projects by municipal governments and Indigenous communities.
New import substitution policies have decreased imports substantially, while exports have risen. The MAS government has also set up the Bolivian Agricultural Production Company, to strengthen food sovereignty and boost agricultural production.
While collaborating with other lithium-producing Latin American states, a Lithium First Industrial Strategy is being developed, to prevent transnational companies exploiting Bolivia’s vast lithium reserves.
In tackling the pandemic, the Arce government faced a health emergency, exacerbated by the Áñez regime’s corruption and embezzlement scandals. The new government adopted a three-pronged strategy, involving widespread testing; coordination between departmental and municipal governments; and national provision of the necessary tests, supplies and staffing.
A vaccination programme has provided more than 60% of the country’s population over eighteen with a first dose, while 50% of the population have been double vaccinated.
In the search for justice for the crimes committed during the Áñez regime, the MAS government has been pursuing those responsible.
Days after her inauguration, Áñez relieved the security forces of legal responsibility for their actions, leading to the execution of twenty pro-Morales protesters and the deaths of over two dozen Indigenous people, with hundreds more injured, in massacres at Sacaba and Senkata.
Áñez is currently on trial for violating the constitution when she seized power in November 2019. Former military and police commanders are also on trial in relation to the massacres.
The government has also promised to implement all the recommendations of the report into the massacres by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), including the dismantling of para-police organisations and irregular repressive groups.
Regionally, the MAS government has begun to restore relationships with countries such as Venezuela and Cuba, and resume participation in the trade, dialogue and security organisations ALBA, CELAC, and UNASUR. Bolivia is also supporting the newly formed Andean Committee of Government Authorities on the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The government is also keen to strengthen the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the intergovernmental mechanism for promoting cooperation and strengthening cross-country ties, as an alternative to the OAS whose General Secretary Luis Almagro helped to legitimise the 2019 coup.
However, Bolivia’s traditional elites’ still want to see the Arce government overthrown. Last October opposition organisations, led by key figures in the 2019 coup such as Luis Camacho and Carlos Mesa, called for a ‘Civic Strike’ against the Arce government with a list of reactionary demands.
But hundreds of people in various parts of the country demonstrated their support for the government. So apart from lockouts in a few wealthy districts in Santa Cruz, the ‘Civic Strike’ came to nothing.
A ‘March for the Homeland’ from Caracollo to La Paz in November, joined by over a million people to defend democracy and to support the Arce’s government, reinforced the extent of opposition to these far-right destabilisation moves.
But the way forward will be by no means easy. As internationalists, we must give our support for the MAS, the social movements and the Arce government against any attempts by reactionary forces, inside and outside the country, to restore by force a right wing government intent on destroying MAS’s efforts to build a better society.
Tim Young is an activist with Friends of Bolivia
ONLINE EVENT: Solidarity with Bolivia – the People in Power.
With: Live links from Bolivia, including journalist Ollie Vargas.and – just announced – Diego Pary, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs & Bolivian Ambassador to the UN.
Plus: John McDonnell MP // Christine Blower, Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America // Miriam Amancay Colque, Bartolina Sisa Resistance // Tim Young, Friends of Bolivia // Francisco Dominguez & Juana Maldonado, Wiphalas Across the World.
Come & hear first hand accounts of the advance of democracy and social progress in Bolivia, showing a better world is possible!
Organised by Friends of Bolivia, and supported by Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America. Kindly streamed by Arise Festival.
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