Over the past month, violence and unrest have engulfed Bolivia. According to corporate media, these are the result of a popular ousting of an anti-democratic dictator. But is it democratic when the “popular ousting” comes from the military forcing the president to step down, and backing an unelected interim president? In plain terms, this is a coup, but major U.S. media outlets have declared this as a victory for democracy. In the following days, violence has erupted across Bolivia, as pro-Morales indigenous people and leftists mobilized to defend themselves.
In response, right wing Bolivian military and police forces sided with violent opposition forces in committing racist atrocities, including beating and cutting the hair of a socialist mayor, burning the indigenous Wiphala flag, and the rounding up of leftists in La Paz. These attacks have a clear political intent, to suppress and intimidate the indigenous majority and solidify a right-wing Christian unelected government. On October 16th at least nine people were killed in the Cochabamba Massacre, where “military weapons” were used against anti-coup protesters. President Morales has been forced to flee due to threats against him and his party members and is currently taking refuge in Mexico.
In light of the recent violence, the legislative leader of the opposition Jeanine Áñez appointed herself interim president in front of the senate. Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party was not in attendance, citing threats of violence from the military and police. Áñez is a fascist Christian, and has called the indigenous people of Bolivia “satanic.” Upon seizing office, she announced, “The Bible has returned to the palace” and has sided with the police and military against poor and indigenous people of the nation. Over the month, political power has been transferred from a socialist and indigenous leader who received a plurality of the vote and had the highest favorability rating of any major politician in the country, to a reactionary party whose presidential candidate was a part of the neoliberal government that Morales replaced in 2006.
All of this was brought about by the controversy surrounding the presidential election on October 20th of this year. The 2019 Bolivian elections have been fraught with allegations of electoral fraud. These allegations have came from the opposition: Carlos Mesa’s Civic Community party and Chi Hyun Chung’s Christian Democratic Party. The United States, European Union, and Organization of American States (OAS), also supported opposition calls for a runoff election. These calls stem from a pause in live results counting late in the election. According to official Bolivian sources this pause was due to the laborious and time intensive task of counting rural votes, a necessity in mountainous Bolivia.
The election results were similar to opinion polls before the election had predicted. Before the pause in election reporting, Morales had already won a clear plurality of the vote. Nevertheless, the OAS investigation released preliminary results that pointed to electoral fraud. The organization called for a redo election, with the support of U.S. State Department. These findings were disputed by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which stated that the OAS report included, “no evidence — no statistics, numbers, or facts of any kind.” The OAS was created by the United States to oppose communist and socialist movements in Latin America and is based in Washington, DC. Since the end of the Cold War, the OAS has supported neoliberal regimes across the region and receives 60% of its funding from the United States. This organization is hardly a neutral arbiter of truth. The OAS remains an instrument of U.S. neocolonialism in support of American multinational corporations, and unanimously opposes socialist and indigenous movements which attempt to improve the conditions of the marginalized people in Latin America.
Since he first took office in 2006, Morales oversaw an incredible transformation of the quality of life in Bolivia. In 2006, nearly half of Bolivia’s population survived on under $5.50 per day; now, it is less than a quarter of the population. Under his presidency, the percentage of households with access to electricity has increased from 76% to 92%. He is Latin America’s first and only indigenous head of state, and has opposed foreign capital for the entirety of his presidency. Bolivia’s elections were observed by the Carter Center in 2009, which found them to be highly democratic. Morales has also led the effort to nationalize the Bolivian extraction industry, including the highly lucrative lithium mines in the country; sidelining the influence of multinational corporations by bringing control of resources to the Bolivian people.
Morales is far from perfect, and has faced criticism within his own party for seeking a fourth term in office with the support of the courts, which overturned a 2016 referendum which had barred him from seeking reelection. This has affected his base of support and has strengthened the rhetoric of the Bolivian elite who attempt to portray him as a dictator and a “strongman.” But in contrast to this characterization, Morales and MAS did not follow the authoritarian method of securing strong ties to the military that Maduro did in Venezuela. This strengthened their democratic mandate, but unfortunately left MAS weak in the event of a coup. These actions left the socialist movement in Bolivia in a precarious situation; their supporters were divided on reelection of their long-time president, and the reactionary military and police force who supported the opposition and would not defend the democratically elected government. It is crucial to be critical of the mistakes made by MAS, while at the same time supporting their efforts to defend the working class and indigenous population.
The 2019 Bolivian Coup is far from an anomaly in the long history of Latin America, it is simply a continuation of U.S. policy in Latin America that began in the 1820s with the Monroe Doctrine. Multinational capital has seized the opportunity presented by a highly contested election and used their influence in the military and opposition in order to remove a popularly elected president — who received a greater share of the vote than the two major opposition candidates combined — under threat of military action, and install an unelected reactionary and anti-indigenous interim president. U.S. meddling in Latin America has not ended with the Cold War. It has continued through support of right-wing authoritarians in Brazil and Columbia, the State Department's legitimization of Juan Guaidó’s attempted coup in Venezuela, and via tacit support for the military government that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras in 2009. The interests of powerful corporations have infiltrated the foreign policy of our country, and have caused immeasurable harm across Latin America and the world.