Silencing the Beast of Bolivian Populism

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The risible tension between the tailored elitism of the Bolivian bourgeoisie and the restive pueblo of indigenous peasants was memorably captured in the 2005 film Our Brand Is Crisis. The documentary colorfully exposes the sleazy underbelly of American political influence. Yes, the very thing our wizened mandarins in Washington have been raising such a clamor over since the wrong candidate was elected by the dull, unseeing demos. Congressional luminaries like the walleyed Adam Schiff, presiding like a demented pontiff over his carnival of moral outrage, continually effect, with little effect, the most astonished reactions to claims of Russian meddling.

(As an aside, it should be noted that ‘meddling’ is the softer form of ‘interference’, which itself is the diminutive of ‘active measures.’ We are delusional by degrees. The meddler crowd have in them a trace of lost sanity. The active measures of adherents are simply lost. It is something like the difference between Tucker Carlson and John Brennan: one faintly aware of a bright reality, the other living wholly and adventurously in a world of windmills and apparitions.)

Schiff and his tentpole pals have evidently no awareness of America’s storied track record of international regime-change efforts. They’ve not watched Our Brand Is Crisis nor seen serpentine Clintonite James Carville teach amoral Bolivian careerists to massage the narrative against young Evo Morales. They succeed in planting an elite-groomed handmaiden of American capital in the presidency, leaving the riveting provocateur Morales to wait another couple of years. The cocalero with the sheaf of sable hair and the sun-warmed smile would soon be carried into power on the backs of rural campesinos. His 12-year reign atop the scrum pile of Bolivian politics led to hemispheric growth records, near eradication of deep poverty, and a shunning of the economic hitmen and finance jackals of extractive neoliberalism.

But that is all over now. Carville worked his fell magic once, but the sight of Morales winning a fourth term was too much for the beltway puppeteers to abide. And so, a coup d’état. But when one looks at the state of our corporate media and its recent coverage of Bolivia, it is understandable why asylum escapees like Schiff and Nancy Pelosi are so madly unmoored from the fact-based universe. Here are some of the particulars:

* In its celebrated fashion, the deeply reactionary New York Times delivered a raft of obfuscation to readers following the coup d’état in La Paz. It claimed the vanishment of Evo Morales from power signaled the ‘End of Tyranny.’ The merest familiarity with Bolivian politics would disabuse any reader of this cookie-cutter trope applied with utter failure of imagination by the soi disant ‘paper of record.’ A man, like Hugo Chavez, who won election after election by wide margins because he followed the will of his people, can hardly be characterized as a dictator. Unless of course, you live in a deconstructionist world of moral and material relativity.

* Likewise, the Times chirped its standard line that there was “mounting evidence of electoral fraud” and that the recent election was “widely seen as rigged”. Yet no evidence has actually surfaced of fraud, let alone fraud committed by Morales’ own party, the Movement Toward Socialist (MAS). Only the Washington-funded OAS raised ‘grave’ concerns about the election, rehearsing the standard beltway tactic of seeding doubt in the institutional integrity of foreign electoral processes. One tactic to that end was conducting early reporting of results before votes from rural strongholds of MAS support were counted.

* The Grey Lady also parrots the de rigeur step-plan from the regime-change playbook, which is for ‘reputable’ western institutions to clamor for ‘fresh elections’ even though the actual election just had was legitimate. It just produced the wrong result again. The EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy aped Hillary Clinton after the 2009 Honduran coup, calling for “new credible elections” that express the “democratic will” of Bolivians. As though this hadn’t just been done.

* This is exactly how it went down in Honduras in 2009 and what was attempted in Venezuela in the last two years. In fact, here’s a shortlist of Washington-backed coups in the last several decades. According to journalist Sarah Abdallah, this is the 20th Washington-backed coup d’état in Latin America and the Caribbean since 1954.

* Morales was said to “defy term limits” to run for a fourth term last month. However, the supreme court overturned the term-limit legislation long before the election. Like it or not, his campaign was strictly legal.

* Many of the objections to suspension of term limits come from supporters of ‘democracy’ who fundamentally misunderstand that socialists like those of the MAS are more interested in establishing a dictatorship of workers instead of a duopoly of elites. Because it is really one or the other. There is no mythical middle ground; the state serves one class or another. The so-called democracies of the western world feature the institutional trappings of the textbook democracy but have cleverly resided control of the economy in an autocracy of monopoly capital. This situation leaves the majority facing neoliberal outcomes including, as Medea Benjamin expertly put it, “…high rents, stagnant wages, cradle-to-grave debt, ever-rising economic inequality, privatized healthcare, a shredded social safety net, abysmal public transportation, systemic political corruption and endless war.”

* Meanwhile, US interference, from funding false polling to supporting the tiresome street theater of protest, to training all of the coup plotters, has been exposed as it is nearly everywhere a beltway-backed putsch occurs. It follows the same unimaginative script first laid out by Gene Sharp in his destabilization handbook From Dictatorship to Democracy. Create violent protests in the streets, make outsized demands including a change of government, and hope for government repression. Then let western media handle the rest. First, it will portray any government response as a ‘brutal crackdown’ and a shift toward ‘authoritarian measures’. It will also assume that protests, of whatever size, represent the collective will of the people. These protests implicitly replace elections as the true avatar of popular intent, particularly as doubt is cast upon ‘incorrect’ election results.

* None of the mainstream publications appeared to declare the coup to be a coup. The Times predictably substituted various terms to evade the damning ‘coup’ usage. Morales had “resigned” and “steps down” and “quit” and “lost his grip on power.” None bothered to mention he was forced out by the military with backing from the US. There were plenty of “accusations” and “allegations” being circulated about Morales and the election that were never validated. This is simply another way of saying that MSM supports coups.

* And, of course, lurking silently in the background is the ever-present bounty: unbeknownst to almost everyone, Bolivia has stupendous reserves of lithium, that lightest of metals so excellent for the electric cars of tomorrow.

* Evo Morales even offered to redo the elections to satisfy the histrionic outcries from Washington puppet protestors. He offered to bring all sides together in dialogue to plot a path forward. As the regime-change playbook prescribes, attempts at dialogue are to be ignored or brushed aside.

* Jeanine Anez, the legislator who appointed herself president of Bolivia in Morales’ absence, has been suitably whitewashed by the Times and lapdog mainstream media, which has avoided any discussion of her anti-indigenous racism and clear class prejudice against Morales’ Movement Toward Socialist (MAS).

* Anez may be legitimated once the Congress approves Morales removal. No doubt they will be given that the coup police are aggressively preventing leading MAS representatives from even entering the halls of power. President of the Senate Adriana Salvatierra was driven back by ferocious police when she tried to enter her rightful workplace. The visuals are conspicuous: On the one hand, unarmed popular representatives, looking like average civilians, harmlessly approaching their workplace. On the other, the designed-to-intimidate wardrobes of la policia, the neofascist all-blacks with their spit-polished boots, trusty truncheons, and smoked visors.

* Now, as was entirely predictable, right-wing police are rounding up indigenous members of the MAS, literally smoking them out of their dwellings, carting them off in rickety paddy wagons, like some Dickensian scene from Victorian London. It has all the hallmarks of a right-wing purge rooted in a centuries-old racist impulse of colonial power.

* It’s inspiring to see indigenous citizens, like a stout, brave matron wrapped in a hand-knitted shawl, lecturing the jack-boot neofascist brigades, lined up in stony silence. Reminds you that for all the official histories about our ‘postcolonial’ world, the usurpers are still suppressing the indigenous. Just with guns not swords.

* Fortunately, Morales has been sheltered in Mexico. One half expected to see him unearthed in a ditch by bloodthirsty regime-change fanatics wound tight by Washington propaganda and greenbacks, a la Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein. There’s a reason leaders like Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad fight so vociferously for their survival and those of their allies. They understand the personal brutality that awaits them should they relent.

Grim Alternatives

When you see one socialist project after another unraveled by the naked avarice of western capitalist vanguards, it makes you wonder what the alternatives are? Siege socialism is real and very poorly understood. As soon as a country like the USSR or China erect defenses against the siege of the imperial capital, such as capital controls or denying NGO status to various organizations, the western press cries, “Authoritarianism!” and issue calls for ‘free-market reforms’. Naive westerners, awash in commodities and comforts in the comparative calm of the metropole, post pious demands for freedoms for the distant oppressed nations, ignoring the unexampled crimes of their own nations–and their nation’s role in triggering foreign unrest. Few can truly articulate what freedoms violent Hong Kong mobs are missing as they clamor unwittingly for a return to some sort of proxy British colonialism. Nearly every form of western subversion of left-leaning governments is supported by the entire US establishment: the steady-state, both parties, and its media. Identity politics liberalism and the freedom of markets is the Janus-faced disguise that hides the reality of global class warfare.

Mass Deception

There is clearly no bottom to the guile and mendacity of the corporate media in preserving its hallowed neoliberal ideology. Here’s George Orwell on the complex relationship between serving as a purveyor of false historical narratives and believing one’s own lies:

The process [of mass-media deception] has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.

—George Orwell, 1984

In the film version of Our Brand Is Crisis, an uber-confident Sandra Bullock rolls into a conference room to declare her ingenious device for swinging the election from the populist to the strongman. As she warms into her oratory, the brilliance of which becalms everyone in the room, she argues that the candidate mustn’t change, only the narrative. The population must be made to fear the populist (i.e., champion of their cause) by stirring up notions of chaos and collapse. The narrative thus becomes “crisis” rather than “hope” and the strongman is duly elected to thwart a mythic national implosion. It may be nauseating to see how cavalierly the publicists shape their storylines, but plotlines of this sort are being massaged every day. How many refer to the Hong Kong terrorists and vandals as ‘pro-democracy protesters’? We all do, reflexively. They are anything but, just as the ‘voluntary resignation’ of Evo Morales was anything but a willful concession, and was rather a coup d’état designed to speed Bolivian wealth and power into the nervy grip of the neoliberal north.

Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry and author of The Sins of Empire and Imperial Fictions, essay collections from between 2012-2017. He lives in New York City and can be reached at