Racism and the Coup in Bolivia

Bolivian Protests courtesy of Paulo Fabre via Creative Commons/Wikimedia

Despite Bolivian president Evo Morales being constrained to resign on November 10, corporate media continues to suggest he did so voluntarily. Morales, his vice president Álvaro García, and many others were forced to step down under threat of brutality against them, members of the cabinet, congressional representatives, and their families.

Both the commander in chief of the military and head of the Bolivian Police demanded, in no uncertain terms, that Morales resign.

Bolivia’s Legislative Assembly has not accepted Morales’ resignation as required by Bolivia’s Constitution. Most of the corporate-driven press has given a predictably one-sided view of the situation in the resource-rich State with a population of 11.5 million — more than half of which are Indigenous. It is evident that this was a coup d’etat backed by the United States.

Right-wing circles around the world are celebrating the forceful takeover of an administration that has been a driving force for the advancement of Indigenous people, the environment, women’s rights, and worker’s rights throughout the region. Bolivia has boasted one of the most stable economic growth rates in the Western Hemisphere (between 4% and 5%) and decreased poverty for millions of Bolivians (from 59% to 39%).

On October 24th, Bolivia’s election panel declared Morales the victor with 47.1% of the vote and Carlos Mesa the runner up with 36.5% of the vote. The Center for Economic and Policy Research declared Morales the winner with a sufficient margin of victory. The Organization of the Americas (OAS) then stated that the election had irregularities and that the “auditing team could not validate the electoral results and were thus, recommending another election.”

Jennifer Cyr, associate professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona told me, “the answer is not as black and white as some might think. The military asked Evo Morales to step down. This kind of intervention on the part of the military looks, to many, as meddling at best or outright pressure at worse.” She continued, “but citizens had been protesting for weeks. Pressures for him to step down came from multiple places.”

“Presidents have been pushed out of office by the “politics of the street” in the past,” she said.

The opposition then began to fervently contest the election led by the far-right leader of the Santa Cruz Committee, Luis Fernando Camacho, who was involved in the continental corruption case known as the “Panama Papers”. Camacho is also linked with terrorist Branko Marinkovic, who is protected by the far-right presidency of extremist Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil.

Marinkovic is a landowner who increased his support for the far-right opposition after some of his land was nationalized by Morales’ government. As chairman of the Pro-Santa Cruz Committee, he oversaw the operations of the main engine of separatism in Bolivia. In a 2008 letter to Marinkovic, the International Federation for Human Rights denounced the committee as an “actor and promoter of racism and violence in Bolivia.”

The separatists in Santa Cruz tried to secede from Bolivia in 2008. Calls for autonomy, the burning of homes, and violent attacks seek to steal back the direction of the Bolivian state. Driven by classism, racism, and the limitless power seen throughout Bolivia’s history, the opposition is declaring victory over the more inclusive administration, is determined to reverse the advancements over the last decades, and buckling to U.S. corporate interests.

Responding to the concerns of the validity of the election, Morales invited the United Nations and the OAS to conduct an audit. The opposition rejected this idea and continued to demand Morales step down. Morales then responded to the OAS audit by calling for new elections and an overhaul of the electoral commission. Coup leaders again declined these concessions.

“In the chaos of the past few days, more radical opposition leaders have emerged to “save” Bolivia,” said Cyr. “Their rhetoric has been shown to be demonstrably racist and classist. This kind of leadership does not bode well for peace, stability, or democracy,” she said.

Opposition forces led by Camacho continue to target Movement for Socialism (MAS) activists, progressive social advocates, and Indigenous people. Contrary to what Carlos Mesa, Luis Camacho, and other pro-coup forces would have us believe, the violence is not just about Morales’ fourth term; this is about control over the future of Bolivia.

“My sin is I’m Indigenous and I’m a leftist.” — Evo Morales

The violence that began in Santa Cruz subsequently spilled over to other major cities where the lighter-skinned, wealthier sectors of separatists are disinterested in Bolivian unity. Those sectors represent the concentration of wealth as the byproduct of centuries of colonialism and extensive development, leaving the Indigenous people to fend for themselves.

The self-proclaimed president, Jeanine Áñez Chávez, also has a well-documented history of blatant racism towards the darker-skinned Indigenous people of Bolivia. She has referred to the spiritual traditions of the Indigenous people as “satanic rituals.”She has also gone on to say that she dreams of an Indigenous-free Bolivia while declaring that cities are “not for the Indians.”

The New York Times has gone through great lengths to provide cover for the right-wing coup in Bolivia. Going so far as to blame Morales for the racist attacks against Indigenous people at the hands of the Bolivian police and the military. While the police abandoned their posts and the military stood down in the initial unrest prior to Morales’ ouster, they are now actively attacking Indigenous people stoking the ongoing tensions all over the country.

To me, more troublesome than the “was it a coup or not” debate is the fact that, in the chaos of the past few days, more radical opposition leaders have emerged to “save” Bolivia. Their rhetoric has been shown to be demonstrably racist and classist. This kind of leadership does not bode well for peace, stability, or democracy.” — Jennifer Cyr

Bolivia’s extreme right is exploiting the power vacuum and stoking anti-Indigenous sentiments in major cities throughout the country. Áñez, who is married to a leader of a Colombian right-wing party with ties paramilitary groups, is utilizing her self-declared position to spread her brand of hate. Camacho, a far-right evangelical lawyer who has led the opposition over the last several weeks, continues to express non-stop violent xenophobic rhetoric and has been referred to as the Bolsonaro of Bolivia.

After Morales resigned, Camacho entered the government palace in La Paz and placed a Bible on the Bolivian flag with a pastor by his side declaring that the Pachamama (the Andean Goddess of mother earth) will “never return to Bolivia” and “Bolivia belongs to God.” The return of a right-wing government to Bolivia is bringing a resurgence of anti-Indigenous hate that has deep roots in Bolivia’s history.

With at least 19 dead since the election on October 20, Morales has called on the United Nations to intervene in Bolivia. In an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday, Morales said he wanted the UN envoy “to be a mediator, not just a facilitator, perhaps accompanied by the Catholic church.” He also stated that he is still the president of Bolivia since the country’s Legislative Assembly has not yet accepted his resignation.

The assembly has to reject or approve the resignation.“If they don’t approve or reject it, I can say that I am still president.” — Evo Morales

The coup has polarized Bolivian society and the difficulty in re-establishing the functioning of its institutions that have been undermined will prove to be difficult. Mobilizations against the coup and in support of Morales which are now on the rise, are being met in some areas with brutal repression by the police and the military.

Reliable video and testimonials show that police, who stayed in their barracks during the violence and destruction brought on by anti-government forces, are now using live ammunition on the Indigenous people in El Alto and elsewhere.

With evidence of U.S. involvement continuing to develop, supporting the classist and racist brutal attacks by opposition forces on Indigenous people is becoming less popular. The situation in Bolivia reeks of the same intervention we’ve seen in Latin America for over a century; to the benefit of U.S. corporate interests. It falls in line with the United States’ history of supporting brutal far-right dictatorships in the region.

Anti-racist activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. Support my work at patreon.com/ExtremeArturo

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