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The Calling Cards of a Rightwing Coup

Photograph Source: EneasMx – CC BY-SA 4.0

The coup d’etat in Bolivia has divided not only that country but the world.

The mainstream press, the Trump administration, the Washington-compliant Organization of American States, and right-wing governments have hailed the ousting of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

That’s to be expected. The U.S. has long plotted regime change for a government that not only openly espoused socialism, but set a terrible example — in the logic of the still-present Cold War — by succeeding in improving the living conditions of its population and attaining the highest growth rates in the region.

What’s unexpected is the defense of the coup from parts of the left that have refused to call it a coup, and instead insist that the actions of the Morales government led to its own downfall.

The events and the aftermath tell a clear story: There was a coup in Bolivia, which has installed a virulently racist and fundamentalist, anti-women regime, with the full support and planning from the U.S. government and the OAS.

This new regime has no intention of returning to constitutional order (despite claims to carry out elections under its terms), has eliminated separation of church and state, and has already launched multiple murderous attacks on its opponents. Security forces have murdered scores of protesters, mostly indigenous people, as the regime grows increasingly desperate and repressive.

The international community — and progressives — must join quickly in condemning the illegal act before more people are killed and thrown in prison.

Here are the classic traits of a coup:

First, there’s the role of the armed forces. On November 10, military commander Williams Kaliman “suggested” that president Evo Morales, who had just been proclaimed the winner of the 2019 elections — and who had two months remaining on his previous term besides — resign immediately. Hours later, Morales presented a letter of resignation “to avoid these violent events and return to social peace.”

Now, armed forces do not “suggest” that their commander-in-chief resign — their statements were a public threat to the MAS president’s life and that of his cabinet and their families. This threat was backed up by the burning and raiding of the homes of government officials, and physical attacks and threats against MAS party members and their families.

Second, there’s the fact of prior planning. Regime change in Bolivia was long planned by the right and the U.S. government. Years ago, the conservative “civic committees” based in the white, wealthy area of Santa Cruz began a strategy of separating from the nation ruled by a very popular indigenous, leftist president. The U.S. embassy supported the civic committee of Santa Cruz and other opposition groups, betting on the balkanization of the country.

When that strategy failed, they began to develop a plan to foment conditions for a military coup. A November 2007 Wikileaks cable from the U.S. embassy in Bolivia noted encouragingly: “There are strong indications that the military is split and could be quite reticent to follow orders.”

As for General Kaliman, he was trained at the infamous School of the Americas. The police chief who betrayed the government the day before also received training in Washington. Luis Fernando Camacho, leader of the Santa Cruz civic committee and the emerging leader of the 2019 coup, has also received direct funding and support from the U.S. government.

Trump’s instant recognition of the coup regime was openly celebratory even as violence gripped the country. He stated triumphantly:

“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. These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”

In the Cold War that never ended, what matters is maintaining U.S. hegemony, not democracy and legality.

Third, there’s the effort to legitimize the coup using supranational institutions. In this case, the Organization of American States played a conscious, biased, and blatant role.

Its first act was to issue a statement questioning the vote just hours after the polls closed, with the obvious intention of delegitimizing the elections. This is an unacceptable act for a responsible electoral mission. The preliminary OAS report shows a lack of professionalism in its statistical analysis, as experts from the Center for Economic and Political Research have pointed out. It does not distinguish between the non-binding rapid count system and the official binding count.

Yet the report was key in detonating the political crisis. The OAS now has blood on its hands, and the international community must demand a full investigation into its responsibility for causing illegal acts, violence, and conflict — the opposite of its mandate in the region.

Meanwhile, the national and international press carried images of Bolivians celebrating the coup and the president’s departure. The majority who voted for Morales and who demonstrate against the coup disappeared almost completely from its pages. Police repression against them did not exist, despite the mounting dead. Only in recent days, with Amnesty International and other human rights groups issuing strong statements against the regime’s violent repression and imprisonment of opposition members, has the repress begun to report on the crackdown on protests.

Fourth, there’s everything that’s happened since the overthrow itself, which point to stark authoritarian tendencies. President Morales offered new elections when the protests broke out, eliminating all political justification for his ouster. But the opposition, already smelling blood, decided to go in for the kill. In control of the security forces and with the Trump administration at its back, it rejected any offer of dialogue.

Democracy does not exist when an individual from a party that has never won more than 5 percent of the vote, who is fifth in the line of constitutional succession, takes power in a country where the army is in the streets. Yet this is Jeanine Añez, the figure who has proclaimed herself president.

The Cold War Lurches On

It is ironic that the crisis in Bolivia coincided with the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. The event proved that fall of the wall ended the Cold War, but not the Cold War mentality.

The patriarchal us vs. them, insider and outsider, virtue against evil dualisms that blind clear analysis still dictate politics, not to mention the communist vs. capitalist dichotomy that has entered a new phase. In social media, many celebrated the coup with the phrase “one less!”, as if the anti-communist dominoes game continued and human rights and democracy didn’t matter.

Finally, there’s the rampant justification of violence in the name of “the people.” Bolivia has shown us that the defense of democracy must be consistent, and no one has the right to invoke the name of “the people” to justify violence on any side. This has been common on both the right and anti-Evo left. Analysts speak of the people as if it were a sanctification of their point of view.

No one can speak on behalf of the “Bolivian people”, much less “indigenous people.” Bolivia is divided. A majority can be measured by the poll results where Evo Morales won by what would be considered a landslide, with only the difference between 9 percent and 10 percent of his lead disputed. La Paz is filled with his mostly indigenous supporters protesting the coup.

No doubt, Morales made serious mistakes — at this point it is clear that the decision to seek a third re-election after losing a reform referendum had a very high political cost. But in no way does that justify a coup, and in particular a racist and vengeful right-wing coup that will strip away all the progress Morales’s government made.

The future of Bolivia under a movement aligned with coup leader “macho Camacho,” with his ties to neo-fascist paramilitary groups, would be a tragedy.

More articles by:

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program in Mexico City and advisor to Just Associates (JASS) .

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