No Mistake About It: What Happened In Bolivia Was A Coup

Emmanuel Rosado
Nov 13, 2019 · 8 min read
Evo Morales for PIFAL (by Arturo Espinosa)

With the following words, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, closed a chapter that had for the last three weeks divided the nation: “I resign from my position as president so that (Carlos) Mesa and (Luis Fernando) Camacho do not continue to persecute social leaders...” The reader can hear from afar the fear and despair that the now-former president of Bolivia experienced for the last three days. Almost all of the media outlets, including The New York Times, BBC, El País, reported this piece of history as the “resignation” or “stepped-down” of Evo Morales from power in Bolivia. For the casual reader, it might seem like the factual heading. But, the reality is immensely different, when you count the pressure that the Bolivian military and the police inflicted to the government this past weekend. Make no mistake about it, what we saw in Bolivia was a Coup d’état by the military and the police.

The basis of the anti-government protests against Evo Morales was his victory in the presidential elections some weeks back (October 20). The election featured a 24-hour halt of the election results and the surge of Morales in the votes when the news came back on. The media exploited the polemic victory and were already referring to the elections as “rigged”. For Morales, it included widespread protests in the country, especially in the cities. The consensus was the following: Morales had established an anti-democratic attitude when he attempted (and fail) to change the constitution in 2016 (he wanted to run for a fourth term). Morales' ignorance of the referendum that emphatically proved that the citizens of Bolivia denied such rights and the reliance on the Supreme Court’s decision to favor him on running again, created the perception that the president was acting like a dictator.

With Morales victory, the Bolivian right, and outside forces began to regroup their strategy. As a political figure, Morales was massively popular. He lifted people out of poverty, improved the economy, and made social integration in his government a priority since he came to power in 2006. But still, his anti-democratic practice with the constitution in 2016, hydrocarbon nationalization and damage to the environment proved to be good enough reasons for some form of the toppling.

The first signals of such toppling where shown by the magazine The Nation before this weekend even started. Mark Weisbrot reported:

On October 20, Bolivians went to the polls to choose their president and congress. Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president in a country with the largest proportion of indigenous people in Latin America, was on the ballot for reelection. His main opponent, former president Carlos Mesa, is vastly preferred by the Trump administration. Since Morales was elected in 2005, the US government has been hostile, and Bolivia has not had ambassadorial relations with the United States since 2009. Morales is one of the last remaining members of a cohort of independent, left presidents who have been opposed, and in some cases removed with the help of, the United States.

Weisbrot goes on, in describing how the opposition, even before the elections had ended, was already crying foul. The opposition then concentrated its efforts with the Organización de Estados Americanos (OEA or OAS in English), which was already investigating the possibility of fraud in the elections. The later days proved to be decisive in the strategy of the opposition:

Long before the votes were counted, Mesa had already indicated he would not accept the decision of the electoral authorities if Morales were to win. What is more surprising, and disturbing, was the press statement from the OAS the day after the election. It expressed ‘deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results after the closing of the polls.’ But it did not present any evidence for its questioning of the election results.

As the reader might already suspect, the report that was being prepared by the OEA was the firm catalyst the made Bolivia burned for the last three days. The mere intent on investigating the accusations that the opposition was making — the blackout and sudden rise of Morales after the power came back on — ignited the right-wing apparatus to distort the news and start the massive anti-government protests. As Weisbrot reports in his astonishing article, the opposition and the anti-government protesters ignored various facts:

For those who bothered to look at the data (the 34,000 tally sheets, signed by observers, are on the Web), it was clear that the increase in the share of Morales’s votes in later returns was simply a result of geography. In other words, Morales’s support is much stronger among rural and poorer populations, whose votes came in later. Such a geographically driven change in vote margins is not that uncommon in elections — as anyone who has watched election returns on television in the United States knows. And this change wasn’t even that big of a shift. The official data show a gradual change in the margin between the candidates as the mix of returns changed over time.

The OAS mission pointed to a pause in the “quick count” as though it was cause for suspicion. This is an argument that no election observer should ever make. The quick count is not an official count, and does not have the same safeguards. It has never been promised nor intended to give a complete result. It is done by contractors who take photos of the tally sheets once they’ve been publicly certified by local electoral jurists, and upload the results via a mobile application so as to get partial results out faster.

Still, chaos ensued, and the protests were massive. The police abandoned the government and joined the citizens. By Sunday, only the military, who Morales tried to bring to his side (remembering the long tradition in Latin American of the military fulfilling coups), was standing alongside him. Bolivia became polarized in mere days, with the opposition attacking those who favored the government and Morales. The OEA confirmed that there were irregularities in the votes and that the results should be annulled; another election must be done. Morales, trying to appease the opposition and looking for a democratic exit in this decision, decided to celebrate another election in some unconfirmed date.

But the opposition wasn’t satisfied. By Sunday, the main candidate that opposed Morales in the elections, Carlos Mesa, was asking for his resignation. For the right-wing and others involved in this ousting, Morales was too popular to hold another election. The pleadings for Morales’ resignation grew in social media, while the incineration of the country continued. Various members of the president’s cabinet resigned. While opposition mobs burned the houses of governors and even Evo Morales’ sister, Esther Morales. Some sources claimed that $50,000 dollars were offered to the personal guard of the president “if they turn him over.” (This is not to say that members of Evo Morales’ Movimiento Al Socialismo haven’t done any wrongdoing. There were reports of MAS members destroying TV Stations and other properties.)

Protests in La Paz, Bolivia. (by Joel Alvarez)

The final blow to Morales' reign came from the military. Williams Kaliman, head of the armed forces asked: “After analyzing the internal conflict situation, we suggest the president of the State to renounce to his presidential mandate, allowing the pacification and maintenance of stability for the good of our Bolivia.” With the military turning its back against him, with right-wing mobs causing chaos in several sectors; plus, the head-on conflict between anti-government and pro-government protesters, the decision of the president was clear.

What ensued later has been already widely reported. A power-vacuum now reigns in Bolivia, and the only ones to get a hold of it are right-wing sectors in the government and some might call fascist-like militant groups. For many in the media, the word “coup” seems illogical, for the past assures us that coups were the ones in Chile in 1973 or in Argentina in 1976. The past coups were orchestrated by the military wing of South American countries, taking power by force and establishing a reign of terror. The memories of Pinochet, Videla, and the formation of “Operación Cóndor” seem foreign to the press and to those who witnessed the resignation of Morales on Sunday.

The reality, sadly, is other. It was indeed a classic case of coup d’état, with the US backing the counter-government forces, the media playing possum with the facts right in front of them and the military delivering the final blow. The military coup on Sunday varied in some distinct aspects; the military didn’t look like a last resort, who takes power by force. On the contrary, they stayed beside Morales, until the last moment. The media, with its obsession with Russia, didn’t take into consideration the US meddling in this conflict and the possibility of some backed insurgency against Morales. It is clear that Morales was — and is — afraid for his life and those close to him — by the various violent episodes that have been taking place in the country. These are the facts that make the media and some sectors of the population confuse Sunday’s coup with a “resignation”.

But, on the passing moments of this glaring Monday, Veteran’s Day, the news keeps coming in, and horrors of the anti-government forces keep pouring into social media. After the Morales resignation, the former president was alerted of an “illegal” order for arrest. Even when the former leader had resigned, the right-wing forces wanted his head. Videos of several arrests have surfaced, the message is clear: those who worked favoring Morales are destined for imprisonment and torture. The “Whipala” flag, a symbol of indigenous resistance has been burned (There’s a video of the police stripping away that same flag from their uniform and proclaiming that the sole Bolivian flag is the real Republic of Bolivia). In other instances, a bible, by the religious fanatics of the opposition, has been placed over the flag. That last fact is not surprising if you consider the profile of one of the main opposition to the government, Luis Fernando Camacho. He fills all the blanks of an authoritarian leader with religious fetishes (the BBC proclaimed him as the Bolsonaro of Bolivia). Keep in mind all of these emerging facts when any news outlet wants to call this episode a “resignation” by the president. The supposed solution that those who clamor for democracy in Bolivia involves the backing of a violent, militant, and religious force, who has all the aspects of old-school Latin American dictatorship.

Dialogue & Discourse

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Emmanuel Rosado

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IG: emmanuelfr15 Writer 🤼‍♂️ Neuroscience 🧠

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