The coup in Bolivia: The military has the last word
Editor’s note: while many left-wing and socialist parties in Latin American have maintained critical evaluations of Evo Morales’ policies in office, especially with respect to concessions to Bolivian and international capitalist interests and his attempts to incorporate and bureaucratize Bolivia’s powerful indigenous, social, and trade union movements, this editorial by EsquerdaOnline is emblematic of the near universal condemnation of, and mobilization against, the coup in Bolivia across the region by left-wing forces. For instance, here and here in Argentina, in Mexico, and Brazil.
There can be no doubt that there was a coup against Evo Morales’s government. Its infrastructure was complex, but the outcome is familiar in Latin America: the military demands the president resign with the backing of the United States.
Bolivia’s conservative elites, represented mainly by former vice president Carlos Mesa, the far right, led by Luis Fernando Camacho (a businessman and chairman of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee), and the Bolivian military overthrew an elected president.
These three political actors represent the interests of the Bolivian bourgeoisie, historically known for its conservative, oligarchic, and racist character. Even though Evo had presided over economic stability during his thirteen years of rule, the ruling class did not hesitate to turn to violence to overthrow him when the opportunity arose.
The bourgeoisie has tried to force Evo’s government out several times: by referendum in July 2008; through a civic coup in September 2008; a plebiscite to approve the New Constitution in January 2009; presidential elections 2009 and 2014; a referendum in February 2016; and lastly, in the recent presidential elections on October 20, 2019.
Relying on popular forces aroused by revolutionary processes ignited at the turn of the twenty-first century – which defeated several neoliberal governments on the streets – Evo defeated the right by a wide margin in almost every electoral contest. But when the ruling class saw the possibility of toppling him, they did not hesitate. They were relentless.
The coup against Evo succeeded, among other reasons, because his government’s popularity with working class and social movements had declined. The favorable correlation of forces had changed. Evo made so many concessions to the bourgeoisie throughout the course of his governments, that he anesthetized both the Bolivian left and the leadership of the main working-class movements, that when the elite tried played for checkmate, the Bolivian Working Central (COB), accustomed to overthrowing anti-worker governments and confronting the military, actually joined the call for Evo’s resignation during the first week of November. This call was led by the ultra-reactionary Santa Cruz Civic Committee and the joint chief of the Armed Forces. The position of the COB, and similar positions taken by other workers ‘organizations, reflected the wear and tear suffered by many trade unions and social movements inflicted by Evo’s concessions to the elites and international capital over the years.
The role of imperialism, resistance, and the final checkmate
Even before the elections, the Civic Committees had decided to reject the election’s results if the outcome did not meet the technical requirements for a second round of voting. The tight result (47.07% for Evo and 36.52% for Mesa), which fell just short of requiring a second round, triggered the battle on the streets.
Twenty days of clashes between COB miners and peasants, who argued for recognition of vote, on the one hand, and right-wing and far-right opposition, on the other, who demanded a second round, rapidly evolved into the government’s resignation.
The presidents of Brazil and Argentina, Jair Bolsonaro and Maurício Macri, refused to recognize the electoral result and the Bolivian newspaper El Periódico revealed that meetings had occurred between the president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz and the foreign minister of the Brazilian government, Ernesto Araújo. For its part, the US-led Organization of American States proposed a second round of voting, even as it agreed to conduct an audit of the election.
As the electoral audit unfolded, and Evo called for dialogue with opponents, resistance on the streets faced the fascist arm of the Civic Committee and police repression. Racism and hatred exploded with the same speed as terrorist attacks from the far right.
In the 72 hours before Evo’s resignation, there were clear signs of a plan being drawn up in concert with the military, one enjoying critical support from Trump and Bolsonaro. In recent days police riots have spread rapidly. The media has broadcast live snipers firing on mobilizations, falsely claiming these gunmen to be Cubans and Venezuelans brought in by the government. The houses of MAS leaders and Evo’s sister were burned and some MAS officials’ family members were kidnapped and held prisoner until they resigned. In addition, Camacho demanded the entire government resign, including the Legislative Assembly, and members of Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, everyone except the Armed Forces high command.
Evo was checkmated within a matter of hours. After seventeen government officials resigned and the COB asked Evo to step down in order to avoid bloodshed, the government was trapped between the Civic Committee and military command.
The chief of the military publicly gave the order: “Evo, resign!” The government, who had made so many concessions to the bourgeoisie and had pacified Bolivia’s social movements, chose not to call for resistance on the streets.
The coup was so powerful that the Civic Committee, with the military by its side, was strong enough to call for a 48-hour ban on street protests, even before an interim government was established. The collapse of the institutional order at the hands of the military and imperialism was so evident that they are now debating the formation of a provisional government, which will supposedly call for new elections.
Events in Bolivia demonstrate that the Latin American ruling classes and U.S. imperialism are ready to resort to coups, including open military coups. This comes on the heels of the outbreak of social uprisings in Ecuador and Chile and the electoral defeat of the neoliberal right in Argentina. The extreme right in Latin America and the United States are exploring the means to launch a counteroffensive, and they are starting in Bolivia.
At this moment, mobilizations against the coup are decisive. On Monday (Nov. 11), in the cities of El Alto and La Paz, tens of thousands of Bolivians took to the streets against the coup. These actions show the way forward. The left and social and trade union movements around the world, and particularly in Latin America, must act in a unified and energetic manner to denounce what is happening in Bolivia. Demonstrations such as the one that took place in Buenos Aires this Monday must be duplicated across the continent. In Sao Paulo, a protest is scheduled for November 12 in front of the Bolivian consulate of Bolivia. Lastly, as Brazilians, we must especially denounce Bolsonaro’s role in the coup.
No to coup!
All solidarity with the Bolivian people in their fight against the coup!
Trump and Bolsonaro, hands off Bolivia!
November 12, 2019