Bolivia’s Far-Right Coup

In Bolivia, the military, police and right-wing extremists have carried out a coup against the elected government. They intend to remain in power by violently suppressing the country's indigenous and poor.

Recent days have seen the tragic aftermath of the coup against Evo Morales and his government in Bolivia: protestors defending democracy in El Alto shot down, supporters of Morales’ Movement towards Socialism (MAS) party rounded up in their homes, public officials paraded on front of television cameras by masked police and the army sent onto the streets.

At the time of writing, right-wing provocateur Jeanine Áñez has declared herself the president of Bolivia. Áñez is a white supremacist who has tweeted of how she “dreams of a Bolivia free of indigenous satanic rites,” and how the capital city “is not for the Indians – [they] belong in the high plateau or el Chaco.” She was approved yesterday by a parliament without the majority of its elected representatives, meaning it failed to meet constitutional requirements in terms of a quorum. The line of succession was also ignored. But none of this really matters to the army, who now run Bolivia.

These manoeuvres show that, whatever those in the ‘liberal’ media are claiming, recent events in Bolivia amount to a coup. It was a seizure of power against democratic norms organised by a hard-right elite who have rejected any processes of dialogue or even Morales’ offer of a new election. This reality has been recognised by progressive forces across the Americas, from Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrardo to Argentina’s president-elect, the recently-released Lula in Brazil and American politician Ilhan Omar, who chose her words succinctly: “there’s a word for the President of a country being pushed out by the military. It’s called a coup.”

The Bolivian military’s forcing of Morales from office has followed a wave of opposition violence that has lashed out at supporters of Bolivia’s progressive government, and in particular at the country’s indigenous and peasant population. Strikingly, this has involved the ransacking of Morales’ presidential home and the burning down of his sister’s house. But it has also involved security forces working with right-wing gangs to arrest MAS supporters from poorer neighbourhoods of Bolivia’s cities.

A particularly shocking case was that of Patricia Arce, the mayor of Vinto in the MAS heartland of Cochabamba. Putchist mobs detained her, shaved her hair, doused her in red paint – the colour of the right-wing in Bolivia – and forced her to walk barefoot through Vinto, kneel down, and beg for forgiveness for supporting Morales. It is understood that she refused to apologise and was eventually rescued by pro-Morales demonstrators, but this could not stop Vinto town hall to be set alight. 

Meanwhile, police and military patrols have taken over the streets of La Paz, setting up barricades to block pro-Morales protesters marching into the city. Today, violent clashes between coup forces and indigenous protesters resulted in at least six citizens being shot and approximately 30 people injured. The Bolivian police have uploaded social media videos of themselves removing the indigenous Wiphala flag from their uniforms and public buildings, and videos show them standing together with armed far-right gangs issuing threats to MAS supporters across the country.

The coup was prompted by Bolivia’s right-wing losing the October 20th election, where MAS won 47.8% ahead of the right’s leading candidate, Carlos Mesa, who gained 36.5%. Additionally, MAS won majorities in both the Congress and Senate. The US-friendly Organisation of American States (OAS) claimed that vote contained irregularities – but the US-based CEPR think-tank has presented a detailed paper on the election which concludes that there is “no evidence that irregularities or fraud effected the official result that gave [Morales] a first-round victory.”

This situation is only likely to intensify in the coming days, and further illustrate both that this is a coup that is set to lead to a far-right government supported by a minority. What is more is that these developments have been welcomed by the Trump administration, whose administration has close ties to those leading the coup. America had been pressing for a coup in Bolivia for some time, backing extreme right-wing elements in the country, and has now welcomed the outcome as a victory for democracy.

On April 12th, the US Senate approved a resolution expressing “concern” over Morales’ bid to a fourth term to the presidency. They cited a referendum the president had narrowly lost in 2016 on changing the constitution – but ignored the decision of Bolivia’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE) in January 2019 decreeing Morales could stand. Amazingly on the same day, a group of 15 Bolivian right-wing opposition legislators published a letter to Donald Trump, asking the US “to intercede in Latin America and prevent Evo Morales from running again for the presidency of Bolivia.”

It is also increasingly clear that American corporations have designs on Bolivia’s lithium reserves, which are the largest held by any individual country. Morales had already signalled his plans to nationalise the lithium industry – which will become an even more serious market as electric cars begin to become more widely used – and compete on the international market rather than offer the resource up at bargain prices to multinationals.

Despite the forces arrayed against progressives in Bolivia, the fight is not over. Right now in La Paz, thousands of supporters of Evo Morales are being mobilising in rejection of the coup d’état’s violence and racism. Internationally, opposition to the coup is also building. Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Pablo Iglesias, among leaders of the European Left, have condemned the coup, with Britain’s potential future prime minister tweeting that he stands with the Bolivian people’s fight for “democracy, social justice and independence.” 

Here in Britain, we must offer solidarity to those resisting the coup in Bolivia by taking to the streets, joining rallies and demonstrations in support of Morales and the progressive and indigenous movements in Bolivia. But it is also time to elect a government that will break the so-called ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the Trump administration, which leads to British governments lending backing to reactionary wars and ‘regime change’ operations in Latin America and across the world.

Now a political refugee in Mexico, Evo Morales has sworn that he will return to Bolivia to confront the forces of authoritarianism. On his way to exile, he wrote that he is “very grateful to the solidarity of the people, brothers from Bolivia and the world who reach out with recommendations, suggestions and expressions of recognition that give us encouragement, strength and energy. They moved me to tears. They never abandoned me; I will never abandon them.”

Progressives across the world should watch developments in Bolivia closely as they escalate in the coming days. It is time to fight to ensure that there is no return to the dark days of the 1970s and ’80s in Latin America.