US Sponsored Coup in Bolivia
R Arun Kumar
EVO Morales, elected president of Bolivia, was overthrown in a coup carried out by the opposition oligarchic forces, aided and abetted by the US. With grave threats to his life, Morales was forced to seek asylum in Mexico. Bolivia now joins the long list of countries where the US had intervened and aided the overthrow of progressive, Left leaning presidents in Latin America. Morales was forced by the army to resign, though he had clearly won the elections by attaining 10 per cent votes more than his nearest opponent, Carlos Mesa. The unsubstantiated allegations of the opposition can be better understood by the fact that Mesa won as vice president in 2003 against Movement to Socialism (MAS), with a difference of just 42,242 votes, while in these elections, MAS has won by over 6,40,000 votes.
Trying to step into the forced constitutional vacuum resulting from the resignation of president, vice president and the speakers of both the house of deputies and senate, opposition senator Jeanine Anez declared herself president of Bolivia. This proclamation was made in the presence of very few deputies, all from the opposition, in violation of the constitutional requirements. The parliament did not have a quorum due to the absence of MAS deputies, who are in a majority and could not attend the session due to a lack of guarantees for their security.
Democracy for the US and opposition forces in Bolivia has different yardsticks – a clear victor in the elections is forced to resign, while the violator of constitutional principles is allowed to become the president!
The opposition, along with the Organisation of American States (OAS) had alleged electoral fraud and initially demanded vote recount, then re-election and when Morales had agreed to both these demands, they put forth a new demand – Morales should resign and not contest elections. For the record, when Evo Morales has challenged the opposition to give evidence of fraud, none had come forward to present any piece of evidence. Clearly their purpose is not to establish fraud or ensure fairness.
Opposition candidate, Carlos Mesa announced vote counting fraud even before the conclusion of counting. At the time of his allegation, almost one million votes out of about 7.3 million were yet to be counted and the lead between both the candidates was less than 10 per cent. Overwhelming number of these uncounted votes were from the countryside and outside the country, including immigrant workers. It is an accepted fact that Morales commands immense support among the countryside and also among the immigrant workers. This was established when it was found that 82 per cent of the nearly 1,00,000 Bolivians living in Argentina voted for MAS and Morales.
Contrary to claims, official vote count was never halted, but what was stopped was the rapid count, called the Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results (TREP). A prior agreement reached between various parties and the electoral commission was that TREP would be used to count only 80 per cent of the vote. But when the opposition candidate, Mesa found out that the difference between him and Morales after the counting of 83.85 per cent of the votes through TREP, was only 4 per cent, he demanded a 100 per cent count through TREP. After prolonged discussions that delayed the vote count, Mesa’s demand was accepted and when 95.63 per cent of the entire vote was counted through TREP, it was established that Morales had gained the necessary 10 per cent lead to be declared the winner. Immediately on learning this, Mesa did an about turn and alleged that TREP was a fraud and started demanding re-elections.
The initial belief of Mesa on the TREP machines was not without a reason. As some recent reports reveal, in a private meeting between US officials of the State Department accredited in Bolivia and the leaders of opposition that took place in July, it was was agreed to acquire ‘machines for fast vote-counting for the coming presidential elections’. It was reported: “These machines would altogether have a cost of $300,000. The US Embassy and the representation of the European Union in the country would contribute to financing the purchase, which they would provide through the Jubileo Foundation and the Evangelical Church. With that specific aim, they have already managed to gather more than $800,000, from which the payment to the people participating in the fast count of votes would also come out”. Clearly, these transactions for TREP machines were intended to manipulate the elections and that is the reason why Mesa was relying on 100 per cent count of TREP.
To coerce the government into accepting their demands, opposition forces unleashed widespread violence. Their motto was: “We want things to get out of control. This is the only way to overthrow this president, once and for all”. Even before rural votes representing one-seventh of the electorate could be counted, violence had started. The Radio Education Network of Bolivia (Erbol) has recently released 16 audio tapes of talks between US officials, Bolivian opposition leaders and former military personnel. In them, they were heard saying: “We’ll launch the coup d’etat if Evo wins”. Some youth attempting to transport explosives were caught at an airport in Bolivia and they had confessed that more than 100 youth have been trained by the opposition leader to instigate riots.
Luis Fernando Camacho, one of the main opposition leaders responsible for the racial attacks and vandalism, has publicly accepted that he had paid 200 bolivianos ($29) per day to the road blockers and 1,200 bolivianos ($174) to a Cruceñista Youth Union member to burn the Electoral Tribunal in Santa Cruz on October 23. He openly claimed that he funds all kinds of demonstrations against the current government, including attacks on the offices of MAS across Santa Cruz. Apart from bribing youth with drugs and money, university students are coerced into participation in opposition rallies by professors who use their control over students’ grades. La Paz public university was used to store arms, explosives and lodging youth trained in paramilitary techniques, thanks to the ‘services’ rendered by its rector.
Opposition violence is unleashed on clear class and racial lines. Flags and symbols of indigenous people are burned and desecrated. Women street vendors belonging to Aymara and Quechua communities are attacked in public plazas. For more than 20 days, they had continued with their attacks and blockaded roads. Armed with bats, sticks, explosives, homemade bazookas and nails embedded sticks, youth launched their vicious attacks on working-class neighbourhoods. Houses of MAS governors, their children and women of the household were targeted. Women wearing indigenous dress were kidnapped. Women workers of MAS at the grassroots are pointing out that it is their sons who are being paid to join the shock brigades and attack their own mothers!
In a widely reported incident, MAS mayor Patricia Arce was beaten, dragged through the dirt, doused with red paint and paraded around the town for many hours. In spite of this attack, she stood by the party and her ideas: “I’m not going to shut up and if they want to kill me, they kill me. I’m not afraid to tell my truth. I’m in a free country. As I’ve said before, for the process of change, I will give my life”. This is an example of the courageous resistance building up against the violent attacks.
In almost all the opposition rallies, the slogans, apart from abusing Morales are: ‘No more Cubans, get out Cubans! No more Russians, get out, Russians! No more Chinese, get out Chinese’! Rumours are also spread stating that “Vladimir Putin has already sent his men to kill everybody in Bolivia”. This clearly reveals that the ‘hidden agenda’ behind the allegations of voter fraud is an attempt to align the country once again with the interests of the US. It is for this reason that the Organisation of American States (OAS), which demanded Morales to call new elections, did not condemn the violent events – for them, violence is valid when it serves the interests of the right.
Morales condemned right-wing opposition leaders Carlos Mesa and Luis Camacho for the coup and the ensuring violence in the country. “Mesa and Camacho, discriminators and conspirators, will go down in history as racists and coup plotters”, Morales tweeted.
After the coup, hundreds of thousands of people mobilised to reject it and in support of President Morales. Many unions and social movements have come together denouncing the coup stating that they refuse to recognise Morales’ resignation as it was forced on him by the military.
Armed forces that were soft towards violent opposition demonstrations, attacked anti-coup demonstrators with rubber bullets, leaving several wounded and at least two people killed. This clearly shows the bias of the armed forces. Despite these threats from opposition parties and attacks from security forces, people are rallying in support of Morales, democracy and in defence of the gains they had made during the last 14 years.
Bolivia is a country that provides universal and free health care, universal and free education, and universal retirement benefits. Over half of Bolivians receive state bonds based on need, and these have kept children in school, eased the hardships of elders, and cut infant mortality by half. The State subsidises cooking gas, electricity, internet, piped water, and provides housing for those in need at low interest rates. Poverty has been cut by more than half and Bolivia enjoys the healthiest economy in South America. These measures were possible because of the nationalisation of natural resources and strategic companies and investing profits from these expropriated companies to serve the needs of the poor majority. In these thirteen years since coming to power, MAS has transformed Bolivia from one of the hemisphere’s poorest nations, to one among the top five countries in the region with the most egalitarian distribution of income.
Opposition parties are opposed to these kind of State programmes and want to take back the country on the path of dreaded neoliberal policies that had ruined the country. In fact, Carlos Mesa was the vice president of Gonzalo Sanchez Lozada, the president who ordered police firing in 2003 that killed 67 working-class protesters, protesting against the sale of Bolivia’s gas to foreigners. This memory is still fresh in the minds of the people of Bolivia, who are aware of the perils of placing such people again in the seats of power. They are gearing up to resist and defeat the coup at all costs.
As expected, Donald Trump has used the successful coup in Bolivia to issue fresh threats against the governments of Venezuela and Nicaragua. On the other hand, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Russia, Syria and China condemned the coup. Fernandez, president elect of Argentina denounced the coup, along with Ecuador’s former president, Correa. Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, UK and Bernie Sanders, of the Democratic Party, US also joined these saner voices.
Clearly the divisions between right-wing authoritarian forces representing the interests of the ruling classes and the Left standing for the interests of the working class and other toiling sections are sharpening. What is happening in Latin America is a form of maturing class struggle. As internationalists, it is our duty to stand in support of all the fighting people of Latin America, particularly now in Bolivia.`