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Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition

There is an inherent bestiality in the politics of the Americas that signals coup, assassination and disruption. No state is ever allowed to go through what is weakly called a transition, except over corpses, tortures and morgues. When a social experiment is conducted, rulers must ensure their wills are well inked ahead of time. Opponents, often funded and sponsored by external powers with an umbilical chord to Washington, lie in wait, hoping for an unequal status quo.

Evo Morales is no winged angel and much can be said about him getting drunk with power over the course of 14 years. He lost a February 2016 referendum on the subject of indefinite presidential re-elections by a slight majority. It took the October 20 election result, dismissed by his opponents as fraudulent, to galvanise the movement against him. The Organization of American States (OAS) decided to weigh in on the subject, claiming in its audit that the result could not be deemed accurate.

During his time in office, he did a certain bit of enlightening that cannot go past the economists and demographers. Even Time magazine had to concede that, as the country’s first indigenous head-of-state, “he oversaw an economic boom, a massive reduction in poverty and strides in social equality, earning him high approval ratings and three consecutive election wins.” But the social changers are always bound for the chop, their heads placed upon some platform for removal by those with deep pockets, corporate sponsorship and the tutored thugs from the School of the Americas.

The Morales exit would be described as a coup in most languages. Generals appearing on television demanding the removal of a civilian head of state would suggest as much. On Sunday, the calls were becoming particularly loud. In a short time, Morales was on a plane to Cochabamba, adding his name to the chocked bibliography of coups that South America is renown for. (The last was the military ousting in 2009 of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya.)

But he who manufactures the press releases and opinion columns manufactures reality. As Alan Macleod in Jacobin points out, various US outlets had little interest, nor stomach, for the term. Morales had “resigned” according to the ABC. The New York Times drew attention to an “infuriated population” incensed by his efforts at “undermining democracy” while also noting the term resignation. Both Morales and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera “admitted no wrongdoing and instead insisted that they were victims of a coup.”

Any legitimacy on the part of Morales’s position in office was dismissed by the acceptance on the part of such networks as CNN that there were “accusations of election fraud”. CBS News accepted it as a point of record. This particular tendency repeats instances of coverage in other elections – take the re-election of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro in 2018 as a case in point. Former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez expressed little doubt about the credibility of that result as did dozens of foreign electoral observers. “It is an advanced automatic voting system.” But why bother about international observers when removing an irritating leftist leader is so much more fun?

Other states also showed various shades of enthusiasm for the removal. Brazil’s government, despite taking heart at the forced departure of the Bolivian leader, played the no coup card. Given that Brazil was to host the governments of Russia, India, China and South Africa, it paid to be a bit cautious. The foreign minister Ernesto Araújo wanted to get his opinions out of the way prior to the arrival of any Evo enthusiasts, suggesting that Morales had engaged in “massive electoral fraud”. It followed that, “There was no coup in Bolivia.”

Corporate America, soundly and boisterously perched at the Wall Street Journal, suggested a “democratic breakout in Bolivia”, a truly risible proposition given that corporations are distinctly anti-democratic by nature. But there was concern: “Eva Morales resigns but he’ll use the Cuba-Chávez playbook to return.” The key to ensure the country’s “immediate future” depended, in no small part, “on its ability to hold new elections and reinstate a legitimate government.”

US policy wonks and officials were merry. “These events,” went a statement from the White House, “send strong signals to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail.” Even, it would seem, at the end of a gun barrel sported by the officer class. As ever, the concept of “the people” lacks meaning in such pronouncements, given the innumerable attempts on the part of Washington to destroy that very will throughout Latin America.

A dark note is struck in the linking of both people and the military, with the uniformed gatekeepers praised for their calm in protecting that fetish long revered in US circles. “The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.” All efforts at social reform, improving literacy and uplifting programs become the stuff of a deluded maniac who, for 14 years, ignored the “will of the people” and usurped legal strictures.

The Bolivian order was always going to be vulnerable. But as with other states strangled by the policies of austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the savage dogma of privatisation, the mania with the balanced budget at the expense of poverty eradication, and a distinct lack of interest in social improvement, Bolivia found, for a time, efforts to improve its lot. Across the Americas, a trend of reversal is in evidence, and the departure of Morales is its testament.

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Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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