The Coup in Bolivia: Who is Responsible? 

Image Source: Kingsif – CC BY-SA 4.0

Brighter days were ahead for Bolivia in early 2006. Elected overwhelmingly, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, took office in company with Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linare. They’d been candidates of the Movement toward Socialism party and would build a political revolution with socialist characteristics. It ended abruptly on November 10 with their forced removal. It was a coup, and the U.S. government was in charge.

The Morales government had nationalized key industries and oil and gas production, carried out land reform, provided constitutional rights for indigenous peoples, and extended education, health care, and old-age security. Women would end up holding more than half the public offices; 68 percent of them were indigenous. Illiteracy has almost disappeared.

GDP per capita doubled. The economy expanded by 400 percent over the years – the highest rate in Latin America.  The government built “more than 15,500 miles of highways, 134 hospitals, 7.191 sport centers, 1.100 schools. The minimum salary increased 1000 percent.” Poverty dropped from 60.6 percent in 2005 to 36.4 percent in 2018, extreme poverty from 38.2 percent to 15.2 percent.

Signs of trouble surfaced early: separatist agitation, attacks on indigenous people, and a failed assassination attempt against Morales in 2008. Anti-Morales agitation has been strongest in the eastern departments of Pando, Beni, Tarija, and particularly Santa Cruz. This is the region where Bolivia’s production of oil, natural gas, and soy and its wealth are concentrated.

Power brokers there used their so-called Civic Committees to oppose the government and carry out racist attacks. They still do. The Bolivian government accused U.S. embassy officials of conspiring with the Civic Committees. By 2013, the U.S. ambassador, Drug Enforcement Agency, and US Agency for International Development had been expelled.

For more than two years, Morales’s intention to seek a fourth term provoked opposition.  He continued on despite constitutionally-imposed limits on presidential terms and despite the narrow defeat in February 1916 of a referendum that would have allowed extra terms. Morales and Vice President Garcia Linare did win on October 20 with 47 percent of the vote. Their 10.6 percent plurality over the next candidate in line satisfied the constitutional requirement for a first term victory.

Between the elections on October 20 and Morales’s resignation on November 10, the campaign against him moved into high gear. What happened provides evidence that the U.S. government was instrumental in causing his government to disappear.

In an unofficial report on the day of the elections, the Organization of American States (OAS) identified voting irregularities. The United States echoed these concerns. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s announcement on October 24 of the election results provoked tumultuous protests. The government responded by asking the OAS to assess the outcome. Conclusions were announced on November 10, earlier than expected. The OSA again cited voting irregularities and recommended new elections. Morales convoked them, but it was too late.

Violent protests led by reactionaries, by the Civic Committees mostly, had been building. The Santa Clara Civic Committee leader Luis Fernando Camacho was now leading them. The wealthy Camacho once led his committee’s violent youth wing and now owns natural gas and agricultural operations. Protestant evangelical fervor fuels his animus against the indigenous. On November 4 he demanded that Morales resign within 24 hours. The same day the helicopter carrying Morales “incurred an accident” and hit the ground from 15 meters up.

Civic Committee hoodlums spearheaded violent rampages against indigenous Bolivians and MAS members. Eventually they burned the houses of Morales, his sister, and other MAS politicians.

Security forces delivered the coup de grace. Police mutinies began on November 8. The top Army general asked Morales to resign. Morales departed along with other MAS officials and parliamentarians. Morales indicated he wanted to spare the country bloodshed.

The performance of the OAS was consistent with the idea that the U.S. government had charge of the coup. In May 2019 OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro gave Morales the go-ahead for a fourth term even though the referendum that would have allowed Morales an extra term had been defeated. When Morales asked the OAS to review the elections of October 20, he may have expected a balanced appraisal. Maybe, however, he had been tricked into a suppliant’s role.

The OAS, with offices in Washington, came into existence under U.S. auspices in 1948 as a supposed shield against communist infection. Under Almagro, the OAS has assisted the United States in trying to get rid of President Nicolas Maduro’s progressive Venezuelan government. The OAS evidently serves U.S. purposes. That was its job in regard to the elections in Bolivia.

Incidentally, the OAS erred in questioning the integrity of the elections. Walter Mebane and colleagues at the University of Michigan looked at the data and concluded that “fraudulent votes in the election were not decisive for the result.” The Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research performed a detailed study demonstrating the same.

The U.S. government took great advantage of its hold on Bolivia’s police and military forces. Top Army officers did confer with both Luis Fernando Camacho and U.S. Embassy officials. But the principal way the U.S. government manipulated the Bolivian security forces was the building of ties with individual military and police leaders.

That process had been underway for decades as Latin American military personnel were receiving training and indoctrination at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation… Analyst Jeb Sprague reports that, “At least six of the key coup plotters are alumni of the infamous School of the Americas, while [General] Kaliman and another figure served in the past as Bolivia’s military and police attachés in Washington.”

Sprague adds that the police commanders associated with the police mutinies received training at the Washington-based Latin American police exchange program known as APALA – its initials in Spanish.

The military head who asked Morales to resign was General Williams Kaliman. Afterwards, Kaliman himself quickly resigned.  Citing unconfirmed information, Sullkata M. Quilla of the Latin American Center for Strategic Analysis explains that Kaliman and other military chiefs each received $1 million, top police officers each received $500,000, and Kaliman moved to the United States. Transactions involving the money were arranged by U.S. Chargee d’affaires Bruce Williamson and took place in Jujuy Province, in Argentina, under the auspices of Governor Geraldo Morales. The story first appeared on the website Tvmundus.com.ar.

Interviewed on Democracy Now, Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations Sacha Llorenti – a Morales supporter – stated that prior to Morales’s departure   “some loyal members of his security team showed him messages in which people were offering them $50,000 if they would hand him over.”  Money was apparently flowing and its origin may be surmised.

A central motivation for U.S. intervention seemingly has to do with control over Bolivian lithium deposits that amount to almost 70 percent of the world’s total. Lithium is “essential to a battery-filled world” observes the National Geographic – think electric cars, electronic devices, computers, and smart phones. Collaborating with China, Bolivia’s government was preparing to manufacture its own batteries.

According to Reuters, China “produces nearly two-thirds of the world’s lithium-ion batteries – compared to 5 percent for the United States – and controls most of the world’s lithium processing facilities.”  The United States sees lithium availability as essential to its economy and national security, says the report.

Transnational corporations based in Europe and Canada had sought to exploit Bolivia’s Lithium. In Bolivia, however, proceeds from mining and oil production have paid for social development. The Morales government has demanded majority control of foreign mining operations. Any foreign companies processing Bolivia’s lithium must do so in conjunction with one of two state-owned Bolivian companies. So contracts with the foreign companies broke down or never came to fruition.

But two Chinese companies looked to be on the verge of making arrangements. China, it seemed, might end up with exclusive access to Bolivia’s lithium. As if to emphasize the point, that government on November 4 canceled a contract with a German company. According to analyst Vijay Prashad, “The idea that there might be a new social compact for the lithium was unacceptable to the main transnational mining companies.”

It’s clear that the U.S. government sponsored a coup in Bolivia. A few more items are relevant:

1. Prior to the elections President Morales charged that U.S. Embassy officials bribed people in the countryside to reject him at the polls. For example, they traveled to the Yungas region on October 16 with pay-offs to disaffected coca farmers.

2. Weapons shipments from the United States arrived at the Chilean port of Iquique apparently on their way to a militarized political opposition group in Bolivia.

3. The State Department allocated $100,000 to enable a company called “CLS Strategies” to mount a disinformation campaign through social media.

4. The CIA station in La Paz reportedly assumed control of the Whatsapp network in the country in order to leak false information.  More than 68,000 fake anti-Morales tweets were released.

5. Mariane Scott and Rolf A. Olson, U.S. Embassy officials in La Paz, met with diplomatic counterparts from Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina to coordinate destabilization efforts and “to deliver U.S. financing to local opposition forces.”

6. For many years the Santa Cruz Civic Committee and its proto-fascist Youth Union have received funding from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy. According to analyst Eva Golinger, the USAID provided $84 million to Bolivian opposition groups.

7. In mid-October “political consultant” George Eli Birnbaun arrived in Santa Cruz from Washington with a team of military and civilian personnel. His job was to support the presidential candidacy of Oscar Ortiz, preferred by the U.S. government, and to “destabilize the country politically and socially after the elections.” He was providing support for Santa Cruz Civic Committee’s youth organization and also supervising the U.S.- financed “Standing Rivers” NGO, engaged in spreading disinformation.

8. A collection of 16 audio recordings of the plotters’ pre-election conversations were leaked and then appeared on the internet. Several of the voices mentioned contacts with the U.S. Embassy and with U.S. Senators Ted Cruz, Robert Menendez, and Marco Rubio. Sprague reports that four of the ex-military plotters on the calls had attended the School of the Americas.

Conclusions are in order:

1. Easily accessed facts are consistent with the imperialist U.S. government having successfully notched another in a long list of coups aimed at stabilizing the capitalist world order. This one took some doing, sort of like Guatemala (1954) and Chile (1973).

2. The project of using elections to reach socialism or get rid of capitalism faces long odds. A determining factor is the role played by armies and police in support of reaction.

3. Media in the United States were complicit as regards the Bolivia coup.  According to a survey by Fair.org, “No establishment outlet framed the action [in Bolivia] as a coup.”

4. Once more President Donald Trump lies: “The resignation yesterday of Bolivian President Evo Morales is a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere.”

More articles by:

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

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