Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Bolivia, Some Left Analyses to Help Understand the Tragedy.

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Pic: Marcelo Ebrard

Events in Bolivia are deeply saddening: Evo Morales has been offered and accepted asylum in Mexico

This Blog, having followed Morales’ government with sympathy for some time, relies on others close to events to clarify the situation.

These are some articles to help understand events in Bolivia.

What happened in Bolivia? Was there a coup?

 Pablo Solon, former Bolivian ambassador to the UN under Morales.

From Systemic Alternatives, “an initiative that aims to build an interactive dialogue to deepen the analysis and strengthen the alternatives that are being developed by grassroots movements and thinkers to overcome the capitalist system.”

This initiative is coordinated by Attac (in France), Fundación Solón (Bolivia) and Focus on the Global South (Asia).

version en español – version française]

  1. Evo Morales could have finished his third electoral mandate on the 22 January 2020 as a very popular president and the possibility of running for – and even winning – the 2024 elections, if he had not forced through his re-election for a fourth term. As the President of Bolivia, he a) did not recognise the 2016 referendum which voted NO to his re-election [1], b) pushed in 2017 for the Constitutional Tribunal to suspend the articles of the constitution that said that a person could only be re-elected one time, c) committed fraud in the elections on 20 October to avoid a second round and to impose a party majority in parliament.
  2. The government proclaimed itself winner of the elections despite serious irregularities: a) The rapid count was stopped inexplicably the day of the election b) the company in charge of the rapid count said that an order to do so came from the President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and that the electricity and internet were cut so they couldn’t continue their work[2], c) independent analysts[3] and the university of La Paz revealed various electoral illegalities, d) the company contracted by the electoral tribunal to supervise the elections declared that the process was “viciado de nulidad” (corrupted and nullified) for a number of reasons[4], and e) the election audit requested by Evo Morales’ government and carried out by the OEA determined in its report that “it could not validate the results of the present election”[5].
  3. The government tried to dismiss the indignation generated by the electoral fraud. To begin with, Evo Morales said they were small groups of young protestors bought off by money and better grades who did not know how to blockade and he even offered to give workshops on how to blockade[6]. Then as the strikes grew in all the cities, he resorted to the tactics of intimidation and gave the green light to his supporters to lay siege to cities to “see if they can last”[7]. The confrontations and violence provoked a number of deaths and hundreds of injuries. Far from ending the blockades and strikes in the cities, they grew more radical.
  4. The government has treated the mobilisation as a fascist and racist coup. It is true that the sectors of the reactionary right have celebrated the protests. In Santa Cruz, the main leader of the Civic Committee, Luis Fernando Camacho, comes from an ultra-right organisation called the Union of Cruceño Youth. However, in other cities, there have been quite different articulations by independent groups with politicians from right and left leading the protests. In Potosí, the opposition to the government radicalised before the elections due to the signing of a 70 year contract without  payment of royalties for the production of lithium hydroxide in the salt flats of Uyuni. In the case of La Paz, the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy counts among its main leaders two Ombudsman who served under the Evo Morales government and had denounced human rights violations such as the repression of the indigenous march of TIPNIS in 2011. For his part, Carlos Mesa, who was vice president during the neoliberal government of Sanchez de Lozada, and became the main electoral opponent of Evo Morales does not have a structured party base and was more a vehicle for opposition at the ballot box then a key organizer of the protests. The rebellion which Bolivia is experiencing is largely a spontaneous act led particularly by young people against the abuse of power.
  5. It is important to be clear that there are indigenous peoples and workers on both the government and opposition side. The government clearly has more support in rural areas, but the opposition also includes coca producers from the Yungas, peasant leaders, mining workers, health and education workers, and above all young students, both middle and working class. Contrary to what happened in previous conflicts, it was the government that exacerbated the racism, saying that the protests were trying to take away the rural indigenous vote made in support of the government. During the conflict, there have been racist attacks from both sides. The burning of the wiphala, the flag of the Aymaran and Quechuan peoples, is absolutely deplorable. However, it is also notable that on social media, there are many groups who are part of the protests who challenge these attacks and defend the wiphala.
  6. The police initially defended groups linked to the government who were attacking the blockades. The most emblematic case happened in Cochabamba, which witnessed fierce confrontations by youth against groups from MAS and the police. In order to guarantee their support, the government of Evo Morales during the conflict gave them a ‘loyalty bonus’ of 3000 Bolivianos (431 USD). After days and nights of permanent confrontation with the population, the police mutinied. This was not a decision made by the top-ranking police but the rank-and-file. The government tried to negotiate with the police, changing some of the police commanders most challenged by the rank-and-file, but the mutiny expanded to cover the majority of garrisons. The police stopped policing the youth protesters and this changed the balance of forces.
  7. The Military High Command has been on the side of Evo Morales as we have witnessed throughout the demonstrations, evident in the statements of its commander-in-chief[8]. The military in Bolivia are the only sector that receive pensions equivalent to 100% of their salary. During the Evo Morales government, they received many benefits, state enterprises and embassies. However, the military command’s political calculus was that deployment in the streets would have high risks that could later lead to trials and prison as occurred during a government-ordered massacre in October 2003 [under a previous government]. Therefore, the military decided not to confront the anti government protests, and after hearing the audit report from the OEA, ‘suggested’ to Evo Morales that he should resign. The military rather than taking power was trying to protect its own interests and its institution.
  8. The current situation in various cities across the country is one of extreme tension, violence and vandalism. Various houses of government and opposition figures have been ransacked and burnt. Television studios and broadcast towers have been attacked. On the night of the 10 November, groups of vandals and some of MAS also attacked various neighborhoods in different cities. Residents are organizing themselves to defend themselves against attacks and looting which affect businesses, factories, pharmacies and public transit.
  9. Evo Morales has only resigned verbally and not yet sent a written note to parliament. The president and members of TSE have been detained by the police when they tried to escape. In general, there is a tendency to resolve the vacuum of power by institutional means through the Legislative Assembly. Nevertheless, this strategy will not be easy as MAS controls more than two-thirds of the parliament and must accept Evo Morales’ resignation and elect a transitional president who convenes new elections in the shortest period possible. If the MAS parliamentarians do not smooth the way for an institutional exit to the crisis, the political vacuum could create more situations of vandalism, violence and revenge and become extremely dangerous.

La Paz, 11 November, 11am

[1] https://fundacionsolon.org/2019/10/23/carta-al-movimiento-antiglobalizador-sobre-la-situacion-en-bolivia/

[2] http://www.la-razon.com/nacional/informe-neotec-trep-elecciones_0_3249875031.html

[3] https://www.reduno.com.bo/nota/villegas-envia-pruebas-de-fraude-electoral-en-bolivia-ante-la-oea-201911724459

[4] https://www.scribd.com/document/434031751/EHC-REP-Consolidado-Resumen#from_embed

[5] http://www.oas.org/documents/spa/press/Informe-Auditoria-Bolivia-2019.pdf

[6]   https://www.lostiempos.com/actualidad/pais/20191025/morales-arremete-contra-mesa-se-burla-bloqueos-cochabamba

[7] https://www.eldeber.com.bo/154733_evo-amenaza-con-cercar-ciudades-que-estan-en-paro-y-descarta-negociacion-politica-para-salir-de-la-c

[8] https://eldeber.com.bo/130695_comandante-de-las-ffaa-manifiesta-su-apoyo-a-evo-morales-y-amenaza-a-los-opositores

While the gringo lefties (such as, inevitablyNoam Chomsky) are rushing to call it a “coup,” voices on the left in Bolivia and South America provide a more nuanced assessment.

The Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi warns of “A Popular Uprising Exploited by the Ultra-Right.” (In English here, and in Spanish here.) He notes that as well as the COB, another major trade union, the Syndical Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia  (FSTMB) had also Stated: “President Evo, you have done much for Bolivia, you have improved education, health, and brought diginity to many poor people. President, do not allow your people to burn, don’t allow more deaths to go on being president. All the people will value you for the position you must take; resignation is inevitable, compañero President. We must leave the national government in the hands of the people.”

He also notes Morales’ alienation of former indigenous allies now in the opposition, such as Rafael Quispe’s organization CONAMAQ. Zibechi concludes:

If there is anything left of ethics and dignity on the Latin American left, we should be reflecting on power, and the abuses committed in its exercise. As feminists and indigenous people have taught us, power is always oppressive, colonial and patriarchal. That is why they reject leaders [caudillos], and why communities rotate their leaders so that they don’t accumulate power.

We cannot forget that in this moment there is a serious danger that the racist, colonial and patriarchal right manages to take advantage of this situation to impose rule and provoke a bloodbath. The revanchist social and political desires of the dominant classes is as present, as it has been over the last five centuries, and must be stopped without any vacillation.

We will not enter into the game of war that both sides wish to impose.

Another analysis is offered by Pablo Solón of the Fundación Solón in La Paz, Morales’ former UN ambassador but today in the left opposition. (English here, Spanish here.) He asks flatly, “What happened in Bolivia? Was there a coup?” He also warns of right-wing exploitation of the crisis, but does not exculpate Morales of fraud, and calls him to task for serious errors.

First he notes that the company contracted by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal itself to review the election results found that the process was “nullified by corruption” [viciado de nulidad]. (An account in Argentina’s La Nación identifies the company as as the Panamanian firm Ethical Hacking, although, confusingly, another account on DW has the Tribunal pointing to the Ethical Hacking review as vindicating the results.)  Solón charges that the Morales government “minimized the indignation generated by the fraud. In the beginning, Evo Morales said the protests were small groups of youth tricked by money…

In an interview with Solón by Britain’s Political Economy Research Centre, he elaborates on the deeper long-term strategic errors by Morales and his party:

Originally, we conceived of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) as a political instrument of social organizations. The objective was not to construct a political party in the traditional sense, but rather for the social movements, and in particular the peasant and indigenous movements, to have a political arm with which to intervene in elections, but with the social movement always retaining decision-making power, not the party…

One of the mistakes that the government made, for which I am also responsible, was to involve too many leaders from social movement organizations in the administration of the government. We weakened the social organizations through the incorporation of their leaders into the state apparatus.

This was a grave error. We did not consider the importance of maintaining the independence of social organizations from the state. The error was to fail to recognize that within the state we were going to suffer through a process of transformation and that, therefore, there had to be a kind of capable counter-power – not only to exercise control over those of us who were in government, but also to transfer more areas of decision-making and action from the state toward this counter-power of social organizations.

We did precisely the opposite. We build an ever more important cult of personality around the figure of Evo Morales. This allowed him to win the second election overwhelmingly, but it laid the basis for the disaster that would come later.

Another neither/nor perspective is offered by Maria Galindo of La Paz feminist collective Mujeres Creando (in English here and Spanish here). First, she repudiates the version of events proffered by Morales and his supporters:

It tires me to have to repeat that the Movement to Socialism (MAS) is exporting to the world the idea that what is happening in Bolivia is a popular progressive bloc against an extreme and fundamentalist right. The government of Evo Morales was for many years responsible for dismantling of popular organizations by dividing them, corrupting them and imposing clientelist leadership, making pacts with the most conservative sectors of society including fundamentalist Christian sects…

But next she turns to right-opposition leader Fernando Camacho:

In the face of the delusional leadership of Evo, the Santa Cruz region produced another delusional, apparently antagonistic but at the same time complementary leader. A white man, entrepreneur, and president of a “civic” organization who uses religious fanaticism and an openly misogynist discourse…

Meanwhile, on the subject of the “game of war” warned of by Zibechi, frightening footage has emerged on social media (see herehere and here) of Morales’ most militant supporters, the Ponchos Rojos, running through the streets in El Alto with wiphala flags, setting off dynamite, and chanting “Now yes, civil war!” (it sort of rhymes in Spanish: ¡Ahora si, guerra civil!)  and “Rifle, machine-gun, El Alto will not fall!” or “El Alto will not be silent!” (The Spanish can be translated either way: ¡Fusil, metralla, El Alto no se calla!)

A largely favourable balance sheet of Morales  actions in Libération.

Bolivie : Evo Morales balayé, son bilan enraciné

Par François-Xavier Gomez 

In power for nearly fourteen years, the first indigenous leader elected to the head of the country has conducted an ambitious and effective policy of reducing inequalities. But dropped by the army, the head of state resigned Sunday, after three weeks of protests against his new mandate.

Already disputes about what has happened are taking place on the European Left.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2019 at 11:32 am

7 Responses

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  1. Thanks Paul: very interesting and important.

    Jim Denham

    November 12, 2019 at 3:27 pm

  2. Building a progressive movement is so difficult. Morales clearly created problems for himself by insisting on staying in power rather than promoting an ideologically similar replacement, but on the other hand looking at what happened in Ecuador and Brazil after Corea and Lula stepped down it’s easy to see why he’d think that would be too big a risk.

    Now the question is whether Bolivian democracy survives this incident. I doubt Evo will be allowed to run in any new elections, but will some other MAS candidate be able to? And if they are, will those elections be conducted remotely fairly given the reactionary crackdown that’s already getting started?

    Quite Likely

    November 12, 2019 at 5:09 pm

    • That is a good point.

      It does not look like this will have a progressive outcome for the majority of people in Bolivia.

      Andrew Coates

      November 12, 2019 at 5:55 pm

  3. 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.

    “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.”


    Andrew Coates

    November 12, 2019 at 7:11 pm

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