By Alan Macleod
Bolivian President Evo Morales “resigned” at gunpoint Sunday, after army generals publicly demanded his resignation, despite convincingly winning re-election just three weeks ago.
The preceding 21 days were filled with fractious demonstrations and counter-protests from Morales’ supporters and opponents. On October 20, Morales had secured enough votes to win the election outright in the first round without the need for a run-off against his closest challenger, Carlos Mesa. However, Mesa cried fraud, citing supposed irregularities in the vote-counting procedure, claiming Morales did not receive the requisite vote share to ensure his victory. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the U.S. government repeated this claim, although neither group provided evidence of fraud. Morales invited the OAS to audit the election as he was confident of its veracity. Indeed, a report by the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research found that the vote totals were “consistent” with those announced, finding no irregularities whatsoever. Despite this, the local U.S.-backed opposition went on the attack.
On Saturday, veteran political scientists Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad warned that “a coup is brewing against the elected government” of Bolivia, expressing their concern at the “fascistic” violence percolating throughout the country. In Santa Cruz, a stronghold of the wealthy white elite who oppose Morales, the office of the electoral authority was burned down. Meanwhile, in Vinto, opposition groups kidnapped local mayor Patricia Arce, cut her hair off and painted her body red, publicly dragging her through the streets and abusing her, forcing her to commit to leaving office.
— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) November 7, 2019
Victor Borda, President of Bolivia’s Chamber of Deputies, was also forced to resign after coup forces attacked his house and kidnapped his brother.
The squalid US-backed fanatics of the Bolivian right ransack the house of the country’s elected president, Evo Morales. And the havoc is just beginning. Let no one call them “pro-democracy.” pic.twitter.com/rwwvOSAEaA
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) November 11, 2019
As soon as Morales stepped down, the police, who had refused to serve his government, ordered his arrest and vandals ransacked his house. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition joyously burned the flag of Bolivia’s indigenous people (a majority of the country’s population), in the clear hopes that the coup would mark a return to rule by the white elite who had been in power since the time of the Conquistadors.
— Patricia Villegas Marin (@pvillegas_tlSUR) November 11, 2019
The United States Applauds the Coup
The Trump administration released an official communication Monday, not just endorsing the coup, but all but stating “we did it.” “The resignation yesterday of Bolivian President Evo Morales is a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere,” it read, claiming the events constituted the “preservation of democracy.” It also sent a clear threat that more regime change operations were to come, and they already knew who the targets were:
“These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also welcomed the events, claiming that Bolivia could now be “ensured free and fair elections.” Michael McFaul, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, was even more pleased. “Morales has fled. Excellent!” he exclaimed on Twitter. The U.S. government has long opposed Morales and his Movement for Socialism party’s agenda of nationalizing Bolivia’s resources to help its people. However, it inadvertently helped him get elected in the first place. Shortly before the 2006 election, the U.S. embassy in La Paz put out a public statement saying it could, under no circumstances, accept a Morales presidency. This enormous election meddling backfired, however, as his polling numbers surged as a result.
While the Trump administration intimates that this will not be the last, the Bolivia case is merely the latest in a long line of U.S.-backed coups in the region. Historian and former State Department employee William Blum calculated that the U.S. has overthrown over 50 governments since 1945, many of them in the region it considers its “backyard.” For example, in 2009, the U.S. supported a coup against the leftist government of Manuel Zelaya, blocking any regional or international response. Hillary Clinton later boasted that, in her role as Secretary of State, she had “rendered the question of Zelaya moot.” Since 2009 the country has been ruled by a right-wing military dictatorship that brutalizes its population, leading to a mass exodus of refugees northward, one of the principal (but unspoken) drivers of the so-called refugee caravan crisis on the U.S./Mexico border.
In 2002, the U.S. sponsored and took part in a briefly successful coup against Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, only for it to be reversed by a massive display of collective solidarity from Venezuela’s people who refused to accept the situation and inspired loyal units to retake the presidential palace and rescue Chavez.
Haiti was not so lucky. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, leader of a grassroots people’s movement, was overthrown in U.S.-backed coups in 1991 and 2004, leaving the nation with a corrupt puppet government that turned the country into the huge, impoverished sweatshop for Western corporations it is today.
This continual interference gave rise to the wry comment in Latin America that the safest place in the world is the U.S. because it is the only nation without an American embassy.
In 13 years in office, the Movement for Socialism has revolutionized Bolivia, nationalizing the country’s key resources and putting the proceeds towards social programs tackling the population’s most pressing concerns. Poverty was reduced by 42%, and extreme poverty by 60%, with unemployment halving. School enrollment and the provision of electricity has greatly increased, and the government has built over 150,000 social houses and has instituted a free state pension for all those over 60 years old.
However, Morales courted controversy when he lost a national referendum that proposed to end term limits. Despite the result, the Supreme Court ruled that he could stand anyway. He had also drawn criticism from environmentalists for continuing Bolivia’s extractive economic model.
Corporate Media Obscuring Reality
There is a perfect word in the English language for when army generals appear on television demanding the resignation of an elected head of state while their allies detain and torture government officials. Yet corporate media are steadfastly refusing to frame events as a coup, instead uniformly describing Morales as “resigning.” Many did not even mention the actions of the army generals. CBS News, for example, claimed that Morales was “resigning” due to “election fraud and protests.” The New York Times asserted he “stepped down” amid “weeks of mass protests by an infuriated population that accused him of undermining democracy.” It expressed relief that his “grip on power” had finally been weakened, giving space to one commenter to claim that this marked “the end of tyranny.” Thus, the media presented the military overthrow of a democratically-elected leader as the welcome demise of a “full-blown dictatorship” and the “restoration of democracy,” rather than just the opposite, highlighting their remarkable skill with language.
Denunciations of the Coup
On the other hand, there has been a forthright rejection of the events from much of the Western left. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), for example, who recently expressed her pride in endorsing Bernie Sanders, who, she said, promises to fight Western imperialism, stated via Twitter:
There’s a word for the President of a country being pushed out by the military. It’s called a coup.
We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 11, 2019
Sanders himself was “very concerned” about the coup against the leader who he met at the Vatican and who had praised him deeply. UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was more forthright, claiming he was “appalled” by what happened:
To see @evoespueblo who, along with a powerful movement, has brought so much social progress forced from office by the military is appalling.
I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence. #ElMundoConEvo
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 10, 2019
Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad described what they saw as another U.S.-backed Latin American coup.
The coup is driven by the Bolivian oligarchy, who are angered by the fourth election loss by their parties to the Movement for Socialism. The oligarchy is fully supported by the United States government, which has long been eager to remove Morales and his movement from power. For over a decade, the US embassy’s Center of Operations in La Paz has articulated the fact that it has two plans – Plan A, the coup; Plan B, assassination of Morales. This is a serious breach of the UN Charter and of all international obligations. We stand against the coup, and with the Bolivian people.
Morales has been offered asylum by the Mexican government. It is far from clear whether the Bolivian people will accept the new events, but what is clear is that the Trump administration is pursuing a much more aggressive line than Obama with regards to regime change. Those who follow Latin America will hope this is not a return to the days of the dark days of dirty wars and coups d’etat.
Feature photo | Bolivia’s President Evo Morales waves a flag before supporters as he celebrates his reelection in El Alto, Bolivia, Oct. 28, 2019. Juan Karita | AP