By Ron Ridenour
Did a coup d´état take place in Bolivia with the removal of President Evo Morales? Certainly, an internal coup was a major cause, along with a rebellion calling for Morales’ resignation. When the commander of the armed forces, backed by many generals, publically calls for the president to abdicate, that is an internal coup. Did the US orchestrate this coup? Well, it would be nothing new.
The 1823 “Monroe Doctrine” asserted that Latin America belonged in the US’s backyard. After World War II, and 9/11, Manifest Destiny extended that claim to the entire globe. Of the thousands of times that military forces have been deployed by the US, many countries have been subjected several times. Cuba was attacked 12 times since 1814; Nicaragua 12 times since 1853; Panama on 13 occasions since 1856.
The US stole half of Mexico in 1848. Between 1869 and 1897, the U.S. sent war ships to intervene in Latin America 5,980 times—one ship every two days over three decades. These landings resulted in the murders of striking local workers and insurgents opposing repressive local governments. William Blum (Anti-Empire Reports) showed us that just since WWII the US has tried to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them Latin American—most recently in Honduras, Paraguay, and Venezuela
While there is evidence that President Donald Trump and major US senators wanted Morales regime-changed, their role may have been minimal and advisory. This I will address after I introduce an overall picture of Morales and his policies, and some of the conflicts within the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS). Some of these policy errors offered the US Military Empire the “human rights” trump card it likes to employ these days when invading or regime changing annoying leaders who do not heel when ordered.
COP 15 Climate Summit in Copenhagen
I immediately took to President Morales upon meeting him in December 2009. I was a PR worker for the Bolivian embassy in Denmark, and one of two press secretaries for Bolivia at the climate summit. I had planned a dozen individual interviews with media. Morales took the first three then walked away while journalists looked at me: what about our interview? I rushed after the president and reminded him of our agreement about the interviews. Morales looked at his ambassador to Denmark and indicated that they needed to talk outside my hearing. I assured journalists that he would return, and he did. He was unhappy with my brashness, but the ambassador and UN ambassador, Pablo Solon, told him I was only doing my job for the benefit of the nation.
Morales accepted this as he did when I introduced indigenous leaders to a press conference the next day, because Morales and Hugo Chavez were late arriving. Use the “dead” time, my experience told me. I translated for two leaders of social movements. They said this very act of taking the podium before their president’s arrival illustrated how democratic the new Plurinational State of Bolivia actually is. Social movements work hand in glove with the government and their president, they said. Then in walked presidents Morales and Chavez followed by the Cuban, Ecuadorian and Nicaraguan leaders. The activists and I calmly walked off the stage and the state leaders took our seats as we nodded to one another.
In those hectic days, I viewed President Morales as a man of his people, and his people at the summit clearly viewed him as their president and one who listens to them. I, too, continue to listen to and follow him regarding his “live-well-not-better” thesis: “Ten Commandments Against Capitalism, For Life and Humanity” https://climateandcapitalism.com/2013/01/15/evo-morales-ten-commandments-against-capitalism-for-life-and-humanity/
Following Evo Morales initial election victory in October 2005, he initiated a new constitution (2009), which granted important rights to the indigenous and also equal gender rights. It also limited consecutive terms of political office, including the presidency, to two consecutive five-year terms. This opens the way for fresh faces, greater public participation in decision-making, less reliance on personal power. Yet power hangs heavy on the shoulders of leaders of all stripes.
Living Standards Improved
During Morales’ terms in office, great accomplishments were achieved for most people.
Poverty 2006=60%; 2018=34%; Extreme poverty=2006=38%; 2018=15%
Life expectancy=2006=62; 2015=69; Infant mortality=2006=46 per 1000 live births; 2018=28.8
Bolivia’s economy has undergone structural transformation with nationalization of major resources. GDP= 5% to 5.5% annual growth for the last several years. Real (inflation-adjusted) per capita GDP grew by more than 50 percent over 13 years, twice the rate of growth for the Latin American and Caribbean region. http://cepr.net/images/stories/reports/bolivia-macro-2019-10.pdf
Gender equality—in 2006, there were 4% women in municipal assembly posts; in 2015, there were 50%, while the parliament was 53% women.
During Morales presidency, all persons 60 years old+ get state pensions, and hundreds of thousands of affordable social housing units have been built. Nevertheless, Morales made serious mistakes that alienated many followers. He focused power around his personality, reneged on promises, and made contradictory accommodations with some elite interests. These errors immersed the country in political crises, some avoidable.
Much of the international “real left”, as opposed to liberal/progressive left catering to capitalism, ignores left-wing government errors and corruptions—not just those of Comrade Stalin and Chairman Mao, but also of the new 21st century socialist-oriented governments, including in the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) countries.
I believe that we must put an end to patriarchal patterns of top-down leadership. Those of us living in countries where there is no current hope of electing people-oriented governments, and who support revolutions or major progressive shifts of power elsewhere, need to stop glorifying everything they do. To be truly solidarity workers, to be true comrades, we need to point out major errors and “sins” where they exist. In that way, we offer real solidarity, and we prevent delusion amongst ourselves and those we wish to encourage and support.
In those countries where it is possible to gain a real left coalition electoral victory, strong alliances between governments, social movements and grassroots projects are needed. This could gradually change the infrastructure towards ending capitalist dominance and beginning forms of socialism run by the working people and their chosen leaders, periodically rotated.
Morales should have accepted the February 2016 referendum defeat (51.3% no; 48.7% yes),which if passed would have modified the constitution so that he could run indefinitely. Morales first accepted the loss, but next year he got the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal (electoral organ, fourth estate of government) to allow elected officials unlimited time in office if re-elected. This gave him the green light to run again, but it led many to distrust him and the tribunal.
This hang-on-to-personal-power attitude is the same grave error that socialist and communist governments have made for a century. Nelson Mandela is the only exception I know of.
“Several of the social movements that had once backed Morales defected. Meanwhile, social organizations that remained loyal to Morales and the MAS begun receiving injections of government funds, reflecting deepening clientelism. Several scandals the government, the most damaging of them involving theft from the Indigenous Fund, created under the Morales government to increase investment in Indigenous communities. The 2015 scandal involved dozens of MAS insiders of indigenous origin, including government ministers.” (NACLA, December 15, 2017, https://nacla.org/news/2017/12/20/bolivia-says-goodbye-term-limits)
Solon left his ambassador post in 2011 to care for his ill mother. While the ambassador criticized Morales for failing to keep promises, they remained close until the president pushed Sonon for TIPNIS, the construction of a highway through indigenous territory and a national park.
“Once he had obtained an absolute majority [in Congress], he did not deepen the original program that we had, but instead sought out pacts with sectors of the opposition, based on serious concessions, and in particular with the agribusiness sector of the eastern lowlands, which had sabotaged his government during his first term. These concessions included everything from allowing genetically modified organisms to promoting biofuels, promoting the export of meat, and not following through on the regulation [of land]…which allowed large landowners to preserve their ownership of land.,” said Solon. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/evo-morales-la-ca%C3%ADda-del-h%C3%A9roe-de-la-transformaci%C3%B3n-boliviana-en/
Now, Bolivian opposition to MAS includes agribusiness elites and disaffected leftists, student groups, Christian conservatives, environmental NGOs, neoliberals, grassroots social movements and neo-fascists. The hard-core right-wing controls the opposition and the central government.
Election October 20
According to the country’s electoral system rules, in order to avoid a second round runofff in presidential elections the leading candidate must secure 51% or alternatively more than 40% with a lead of 10% over the second-place candidate.
With 83.8 per cent of the quick-count votes verified, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s (TSE) website indicated that Morales was leading with 45.3% with Carlos Mesa (president just before Morales) of Citizen Community in second place with 38.2%. It appeared there would be a second round. TSE inexplicably shut down live transmission of the quick-count tabulation of ballots for 24 hours. Its website then had at that point counted 95% of the votes and indicated the distance between them had grown to 10.12%. Later, the TSE official figure gave Morales a lead of 10.5%. No run-off needed.
Most international observers in La Paz monitoring Bolivia’s general elections praised the legitimacy and transparency of the process. Later on, some changed their minds.
MAS supporters took to the streets in celebration. The opposition rioted, torching several electoral tribunal departmental offices, and beating people.
Carlos Mesa cried fraud. The Organization of American States (OAS) and the US government repeated the claim, although neither group provided evidence of fraud. Morales invited the OAS to audit the election.
An OAS Electoral Observation Mission was sent—92 observers of 16 nationalities were deployed to observe the process in all of its stages and throughout the country. http://www.oas.org/documents/spa/press/Informe-Auditoria-Bolivia-2019.pdf
OAS concluded that it was statistically unlikely that Morales had secured the required 10-percentage-point margin of victory needed to win without a run-off election. They offered no concrete evidence of intentional fraud but pointed out “clear manipulations” in some voting places, such as those where Morales had allegedly obtained 100% of the votes.
The Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research, however, found that vote totals were “consistent” with those announced. Yet Solon told Democracy Now, on November 13, that there was some fraud. While the “national right-wing and imperialist US” will certainly benefit from Morales’ removal, Solon didn’t think it was an outright coup, at least not sponsored by the US. He called it a “popular rebellion” from many political perspectives.
“Morales should have accepted the results of the 2016 referendum. He would have left office after the third term as the best and most popular president,” he said. Morales could in that case have run again after a five-year absence from the presidency.
Rampant fraud is not easy to pull off since each polling station has six electoral jurors and each must sign off on the tally sheet. 207,322 citizens were randomly selected to be jurors and trained a month before the elections. Representatives of political parties may also be present at polling stations and request to review and approve tally sheets.
Within days and hours before Morales resigned, family members of some politicians were kidnapped and held hostage until they resigned for fear of their families safety—mining minister Cesar Navarro and chamber of deputies president Victor Borda wee among them. Juan Carlos Huarachi, leader of the Bolivian Workers’ Center, a powerful pro-government union, said Morales should stand down if that would help end recent violence.
On Nov. 10:,Morales announced he would hold new elections to comply with OAS doubts and opposition wishes. The opposition refused that offer.
Hours later, General Williams Kaliman Romero, the armed forces commander Morales had appointed just last December, told reporters: “We suggest the President of the State renounce his presidential mandate, allowing peace to be restored and stability maintained for the good of our Bolivia.”
Hours later, Morales said, “I am resigning” adding it was his “obligation as indigenous president and president of all Bolivians to seek peace.” Vice President Álvaro García Linera also resigned.
Shortly thereafter, Luis Fernando Camacho, who had become a symbol of the opposition, said, “Today we won a battle.” He then entered the government palace with a Catholic priest to “return God to the burned palace”. Camacho is a multi-millionaire businessman who had “spent years leading an overtly fascist separatist organization called the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista”. Here are some clips that Grayzone journalists posted on the site’s social media accounts”: https://thegrayzone.com/2019/11/11/bolivia-coup-fascist-foreign-support-fernando-camacho/
As soon as Morales stepped down, police ordered his arrest. Vandals ransacked his house. Right-wingers happily burned the banner of Bolivia’s indigenous people, showing them that the white elite intended to put them back in their place.
On Nov. 11 came a statement from President Donald J. Trump: “The resignation yesterday of Bolivian President Evo Morales is a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere…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.”
On November 12, Jeanine Áñez, a right-wing senator, 2nd vice-president and 5th in line of succession under the constitution, offered herself and her bible as interim president. She got all opposition votes in parliament, which was only one-third the total members. The majority party, MAS, did not participate, nor did the chairman of the senate, Adriana Salvatierra, who was actually next in line for the presidency. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ9XShhIhvo
On November 13 journalist Jeb Sprague reported, “Commanders of Bolivia’s military and police helped plot the coup and guaranteed its success. They were previously educated for insurrection in the US government’s notorious School of the Americas and FBI training programs.” https://thegrayzone.com/2019/11/13/bolivian-coup-plotters-school-of-the-americas-fbi-police-programs/
General Kaliman, Sprague wrote, sat at the top of the military and police command structure that had earlier been cultivated by the US through WHINSEC, previously named School of the Americas, a military training school in Georgia known for instructing torture methods and coup techniques. Kaliman had taken a course, “Comando y Estado Mayor” at SOA, in 2003.
Sprague obtained access to 16 audio recordings of coup plotters speaking about support for a coup within armed forces, the US embassy in Bolivia, and several US Spanish speaking US senators.
“The leaked audio recordings show that former Cochabamba mayor and former presidential candidate Manfred Reyes Villa played a central role in the plot. Reyes happens to be an alumnus of WHINSEC [now residing in the US]. The other four who are introduced or introduce themselves by name in the leaked audio are General Remberto Siles Vasquez (audio 12); Colonel Julio César Maldonado Leoni (audio 8 and 9); Colonel Oscar Pacello Aguirre (audio 14), and Colonel Teobaldo Cardozo Guevara (audio 10). All four of these ex-military officials attended the SOA.”
“In the recently leaked audio recordings, coup plotters discuss plans to set ablaze government buildings, get pro-business unions in the country to carry out strikes, as well as other tactics – all straight out of the CIA playbook.”
Chilean José Miguel Insulza, former secretary general of OAS said: “When you dismiss a government leader before the end of the current parliamentary term (Morales’ current term would have ended on January 22, 2020), it is a coup d´état.” The Argentine senate, and the governments of Uruguay, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico and many Caribbean island countries condemned the coup.
Also on Nov. 13, Áñez appointed her cabinet. There is no indigenous person included in it. Upon appointing a new military leadership and naming Army General Sergio Carlos Orellana commander of the Armed Forces to head it, she warned Morales’ supporters to stop street protests. “From now on, we won’t allow anyone to put obstacles before us.”
On November 15, police opened fire at a march in Sacaba near Cochabamba killing nine and injuring dozens. Protestors at that event wanted Morales returned to power. As of November 16, 21 people had been killed. https://twitter.com/redfishstream/status/1194241731811794952?s=20
RON RIDENOUR, a US expatriate journalist living in Denmark, contributed this article to ThisCantBeHappening.net. Ron’s latest book ‘Winding Brook Stories’ is available at Amazon and Lulu. His other work can be found at ronridenour.com