The Bolivian Chessboard: Beyond the Coup
A Euro-US apparatus is trying to force a scenario without Morales
QUITO: The history of Bolivia relates to conflict and social mobilisation since the end of the 18th century with the revolts of Túpac Katari and Túpac Amaru against colonial powers. But these revolts were also conflicts between rural and urban areas over access to natural resources, rights and policies. These problems have not been resolved, so there are different approaches that invite us to reflect further on the dichotomy between inherited colonial times and problems during the republican period, as these explain indigenous revolts along Bolivian history.
During the 20th century, the defeat in the Chaco war (1932-35) describes and explains how the country has been evolving to recover from its previous defeat in the Pacific war (1879-84), when Bolivia lost access to the sea in Arica on the western coast. The defeat represented a lack of vision from Bolivian elites —a historical problem pointed out by Bolivian intellectuals such as René Zavaleta— as Bolivian elites were rural and did not relate to national values, only depleting natural resources for their own interests.
These problems are still visible nowadays. Citizens from el Alto (Bolivia’s second largest city) and peasants from Cochabamba, Oruro and other regions in el Altiplano (the high plains) support Evo Morales. In the country’s eastern side, in Santa Cruz where economic resources and infrastructures are concentrated, political groups are opposing them with violence to restore a democratic solution led by the actions of the fascist Fernando Camacho.
These revolts, as well as the past ones, were all about equal access to resources, policies against land grabbing, and rights. The Bolivian elites want to recover the predominant position they had in the old times, and they express their anger by burning the indigenous flag or reading from the Bible in public. The Santa Cruz elites intervened first through social mobilisation, putting themselves next to the traditional social movements in Bolivia, and later through military intervention with different goals.
They could not do this on their own, as they needed support from international institutions worldwide. This apparatus is pushing to force a scenario without Evo Morales.
Many believe the MAS government (Morales’ party, the Movement for Socialism) was doing things right. However, those successes made by an indigenous leader could not be accepted by the racist Bolivian elites, nor the US ones.
After the Elections
Even now, with Morales in Cuba, we do not know much about the implications and who is in the plot across the political and military spectrum in Bolivia. Amid the coup, three different groups of opinion have emerged in the Andean country.
We make a difference between unconditional rural and urban supporters of Evo’s ideas dying in the streets, the urban middle class who participated in the late Summer protest who are opposed to the coup, and, somehow, also to Evo Morales, and the long-time Criollo elites (those who claim unmixed Spanish ancestry) capitalising on the plot.
The first group has been committed to stopping the distribution of goods in the country by closing roads and strategic points like the YPFB gas plant in Senkata as a form of protest against November 20 when the military shot 19 people dead. They are asking for Morales’ return and the ousting of interim president Jeanine Añez.
The urban middle, anti-Evo and anti-Coup, have focused on trying to explain the coup as a process that happened at the same time as the protests.
The last group, supporters of the coup, a racist and fascist elite from Santa Cruz is ruling the country through an unconstitutional transfer of power after the president’s exile, and ruling the streets through the influence of the fascist leader Fernando Camacho, a businessman and lawyer who is currently head of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz.
The Democrat Social Movement party is actually ruling Bolivia by decree, with the collaboration of the army. The party only obtained four deputies to the Congress and another senator, Añez, who declared herself interim president of the Bolivian republic after Morales’ resignation.
However, surrounding events are much more complex than these sides pretend, even those saying the situation is complicated. As the history develops, it includes different national and international actors, changing sides, which exceed the influence that the massive protests or plotters could have in the overthrow of Evo Morales.
In this way, the unions, police, urban middle class social movements and the military turned against the MAS government at the right moments to proceed to the endpoint of 13 years of rule.
The context of the coup overruns national politics, and points to a coalition of countries willing to control the future of Bolivia in various ways.
Jeanine Añez Chavez
The Uses of Poverty
Last February the Spanish embassy backed a TEDx talk by Bolivian human rights activist Jhanisse Vaca Daza. Vaca Daza is an active member of the Bolivian Human Rights organisation (BHR) and co-founder of Rios de Pie. The previous head of BHR, Hugo Acha, had to flee to the USA after being investigated for the attempted murder of Evo Morales in 2009 by Eduardo Rózsa Flores.
Vaca Daza started a movement last August to implicate Evo Morales in the fires in the Amazon, instead of blaming Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro, as part of her environmental and feminist commitment to a non-violent mobilisation in Bolivia.
Later, in May 2019, the Bolivian think-tank CEDLA (Centre for Studies of Agrarian and Labour Development) published a book financed by the Swedish government under the “strategy for Sweden’s global development cooperation in the areas of environmental sustainability, sustainable climate and oceans, and sustainable use of natural resources 2018–2022”.
This strategy seeks to create opportunities for better living conditions “for people living in poverty and under oppression”, with a USD 676 million budget. Entitled ‘Inequalities and Poverty in Bolivia: A Multidimensional Study’, the study concluded that Bolivia has a multidimensional poverty rate much higher than the official data published by the country’s National Statistics Institute (INE).
The study data also differs from the multidimensional poverty data published by the United Nations Development Program three months after CEDLA published its own work. The UN data says only 15.7% of the Bolivian population are vulnerable to multidimensional poverty, much less than the 27% presented in CEDLA’s study.
Before the protest, the CEDLA study was used by opposition leader and former president Carlos Mesa, who was later involved in the coup, to attack the Morales government and the credibility of the official data published by the INE.
Whatever the reason behind CEDLA’s multidimensional poverty index model mistakes, it had a side effect on Bolivian politics: it cemented the path of distrust in official data presented by the youth, students and social movements protesting later on. More significantly, it attacked the greatest achievements in Bolivia’s economic history.
Bolivia is extremely rich in natural resources, both minerals and gas. Lithium is one of the most attractive: the investment contracts sealed on 6 February 2019 for the exploitation and industrialisation of lithium and other products extracted from two salt flats between the publicly owned Bolivian Lithium Deposit (YLB) and a Chinese consortium of firms, the Xinjiang Tbea Group and Boacheng, for USD 2.3 billion, shows the level of engagement.
The agreement included the production of lithium ion batteries in China with YLB participation. In addition to the contracts executed in Oruro to take advantage of Bolivian huge lithium reserves, lithium contracts amount to USD 4 billion for the next five years.
The project involved the preliminary exploitation of two salt flats in Coipasa and Pastos Grandes, which will be turned in four or five years into a chain of factories assembling potassium sulphate, hydroxide and lithium carbonate, boric acid, sodium bromide and metallic lithium.
This could explain the current unstable scenario in the country. These lithium contracts with China are key to understanding the international interests behind the coup d’état. As this mineral is crucial for the development of electric car batteries, China could take a leading position in this industry, affecting Euro-US interests in the long term. It is expected that by 2025 China will need 800,000 tonnes of lithium.
Midsummer last, fires spread across the Chiquitano forest in the department of Santa Cruz, resulting in 4 million hectares of woodland being burnt across the country, 3 million hectares in the Chiquitanía region alone.
Ecologists and indigenous groups from Amazonia felt ignored in the state’s response. As matter of fact, Morales did not manage the fires correctly. The government delayed its response to the fires, giving reasons of sovereignty and national security.
Since the first fire on July 13 to the creation of the emergency cabinet on August 21, the fires spread from Santa Cruz to the protected land of Tucabaca, consuming more than 46% of Santa Cruz’s landscape.
The deaths of three firefighters and the tragic ecocide were used by the far-right movement in Santa Cruz to mobilise the opposition until Morales would resign.
The principal demand of this transversal ecological movement was that the government declare a state of emergency, so that foreign aid could enter the country. We do not know why Morales did not ask for foreign aid to stop the fires early on. But he knew that the US tried to infiltrate rebels into Venezuela during the deployment of humanitarian aid last February.
On September 2 the Bolivian president met with members of the World Bank, the UN, the European Union and the ambassadors of the UK and USA. UK ambassador Chris Gannon declared, “Those who say this government was irresponsible are totally wrong,” so giving public support to the legitimate government in an official meeting.
The Chiquitanía forest on fire
A Disputed Election
The fires were controlled after the rains in October and the electoral campaign began in Bolivia. At just the same time, student protesters emerged in the country’s urban areas, especially in the south of la Paz, where the city’s middle and high classes live.
After the election on October 20, the protesters demanded an audit of the elections, then a second-round runoff, and, before the exile, Evo Morales’ resignation.
The student movement protests were confronted with big marches by Evo supporters across the Bolivian countryside. Disputes over electoral fraud were the link between every social movement in the country that opposed the MAS government.
This fraud idea was stoked even more by the dubious actions of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, when election-related transmissions were suddenly stopped on the night of the elections. On October 23, Morales declared in la Paz that a coup d'état was in the making against his government supported by foreign countries.
As we all know, the Bolivian president accepted the Organisation of American States’ offer to conduct an audit of the elections.
On November 10, Morales agreed to hold new elections. He and Vice-President Alvaro García Linera resigned the same day and Añez became interim President of Bolivia.
From the point of view of an interim president, many analysts have compared the figure of Añez with Juan Guaidó in Venezuela. However, the plot in Bolivia shares more in common with the plot against Manuel Zelaya in the Honduras. There the de facto government headed by Roberto Micheletti masked the coup as an electoral democratic process, while Zelaya took refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa in 2009.
The day after the OAS audit was presented, military generals suggested that Evo Morales resign. On the night of November 12 the president flew to Mexico seeking asylum.
The same day, a group of feminists gathered in the city of la Paz at an event called the Women’s Parliament. This parliament called by Mujeres Creando (Women Creating, an anarcha-feminist collective) was supposed to be for women who, in the middle of the conflict, wanted to speak openly and express their anger against a patriarchal society.
Articles published in the Euro-US media around the event highlighted the presence of feminist activists from all over Bolivia, opening in this way the Bolivian doors to Freedom.
As a matter of fact, the event included politicians from right-wing parties like Paola Barriga, a Christian Democracy party deputy, who introduced herself as a lawyer activist against feminicide. However, later in her speech, she used her time to explain why what was happening in Bolivia wasn’t a coup but electoral fraud.
Another very important Bolivian feminist present at the event, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, used her turn in the parliament to say, “The hypothesis of a coup d’état is criminal, it presupposes the legitimacy of the Morales government.”
María Galindo, a Bolivian anarchist queer activist who is behind Mujeres Creando as well as the Women’s Parliament, gave an interview to the Spanish media channel Carne Cruda Radio, reflecting the double standards we could hear at the Women’s Parliament.
As the interview progressed the Spanish broadcaster asked Galindo about the leader of the coup, Fernando Camacho, describing him as an activist. Nonetheless, María Galindo depicted Morales’ government as a neoliberal one. We don’t know the reasons but this double standard, for and against the coup at the same time, were useful for the coup.
When a state tries to make a regime change, an asymmetrical war scenario emerges. The first wall the foreign state behind the coup needs to bypass is public opinion in its own territory. Here in the coup’s first days we could read a massive amount of articles in Europe and the US attacking Morales for his ‘machismo’.
In reality the inclusion of Bolivian women in politics is one of the highest in the world. The proportion of women representatives in the Bolivian Congress was 54% in 2015.
We can also see from interim president Añez’s remarks in an interview with the BBC that she is using continuously the rhetoric of feminism and has also introduced a part of the feminists’ demands into her speeches.
Leaked audio emerged early in November to show that the Bolivian opposition was in contact with US senators such as Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, showing that there was a US role in the coup. Opposition members were also in contact with the secretary of former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.
There was also the emergence of bots sending messages on social media all using the same phrasing, that in Bolivia there was no coup. Some of them were removed by the senders but 4,320 such tweets still remain. According to experts the first such message appeared on Facebook, but there were similar ones also on Reddit and 4Chan.
As Zoe Schiffer pointed out on November 18 in The Verge:
‘On November 10th at 6:27PM, a Bolivian college student posted the original version of the message on Facebook. “Friends from everywhere, in Bolivia there was no coup,” she wrote in English. “There was a peaceful movement of the Bolivian people to recover the respect to our vote, democracy and our constitution…
‘When the message spread from Facebook to Twitter, however, activity started to shift from real people concerned with the Bolivian uprising to bots looking to capitalize on the confusion. Many of the automated tweets were directed at verified users, including Rigoberta Menchú and Greta Thunberg, to make the activity less suspicious…
‘Experts say the pattern of at-tweeting is a common indication of inauthentic activity. “The way 90% of bot farms are built today is they look for verified accounts (blue checkmarks) to follow so they can trick Facebook/ Twitter into thinking they are legitimate accounts before they start interacting with other accounts,” explained Dovetale founder Michael Schmidt, who studies inauthentic activity on social media.’
Former US presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio
A Movement by Any Other Name
Therefore, behind the coup d’état in Bolivia and increasing instability in other countries of the region, there is a bigger project of social engineering through non-violent movements, which finally turn violent as they lack the requisite social support, and need to use extreme violence to impose their ideas.
At the time of writing the death toll in Bolivia is 41, with hundreds of citizens arrested by the repression.
The initial use of post-consumerist demands (environmental and feminist) masks the intention of stealing natural resources and imposing a new neoliberal order worldwide. This does not mean that these claims are not important to defend, but we should be meticulous about studying the appropriation of activist language and demands, by other actors to push their hidden agendas.
The real ecological and feminist movement for the 99% cannot defend neoliberal and capitalist values, so it is an anti-capitalist movement.
The fact that the Evo Morales government had to depend on natural resource exploitation, such as at Tipnis, is not acceptable, but it responds to a social division of labour. This division of labour and labourers is related to the organisation of the world since the 16th century, of novis orbis mundi or the new winner of the world. It casts central and peripheral regions of the world for geographical imperial performance, something that has sped up especially since the 1990s.
In this sense, there should be broader discussion about the limitations and constraints on operating at the national level while embedded in global capitalist natural resource exploitation. However, figures and numbers do support the achievements made during the Evo period.
The opposition accused Evo of changing the constitution in 2016, after losing the referendum to remain in power, so he would be able to remain a presidential candidate in future. The fact that Evo won all the elections is not refuted even by the OAS, so the main problem was that Evo could not be defeated democratically, nor by non-violent social mobilisation from the urban middle classes. So the next step was a police and military coup.
Morales in Mexico City
The statement by Federica Mogerini, EU representative for External Affairs, defending the operation to destabilise the region shows the lack of the EU’s capacity to have an international role outside the US position, and more worryingly its inability to resolve problems by peaceful means. It points to the increasing decline of the EU as a globally relevant political actor.
On November 26, CELAG (the Centro Estratégico Latinoamericano de Geopolítica or Latin American Geopolitical Strategic Centre) published a tweet with a letter from Gerardo de Icaza, OAS Director of the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation, responding to the demand about the final elections report.
That letter confirms that the OAS final electoral report was a fiction. They used it to accuse the MAS government of electoral fraud during the October elections, before the coup. This means that Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the OAS, has his hands painted in blood.
Antonio Chamorro has a doctorate in Andean history from FLACSO Ecuador. Roberto Garcia-Patron is a political science graduate from Universidad Complutense, Madrid.
Also read Evo’s End - Behind the ‘Coup’ in Bolivia, by Fabio Luis and Pabel Lopez.