What Bolivia Needs From Bernie

Drawing By Nathaniel St. Clair

Coups are delicate actions that require ideal conditions to congeal. As quickly as they spring into life they can dissolve into mush. When things hang in the balance a final push is still required, and Bolivia’s far-right military coup is in jeopardy of failing.

Mass protests have engulfed the nation to the point where food and gas was airlifted to several cities after major highways were blocked by a peasant union. Police repression has resulted in 24 killed and hundreds wounded, but in some areas the police have been overrun, in other areas police have joined protestors. A union federation is preparing for a possible general strike while actual fascist gangs in Santa Cruz terrorize protestors. The Bolivian Congress— dominated by Evo Morales’ party— voted to condemn the coup and will continue to recognize Evo Morales as President.

It’s a critical moment where strategic interventions can have big impacts, and Bernie is in a key position of power.

What Can Bernie Do

Because coups are fragile entities— especially in their initial stages— they require quick and bold action to stop. Political leaders across the world instantly condemned the coup, though Bernie waited 24 hours before saying that he was “concerned” about “what appears to be a coup”.

Bernie was then quiet on the matter, until nearly a week later when he was asked on t.v. about his prior remarks, questioning whether his use of the word “coup” was appropriate (the U.S. media has endlessly debated this plainly self-evident fact). Bernie’s answer included favorable comments about Evo Morales’ accomplishments while concluding with applying the standard definition of a coup to Bolivia.

These comments, while good, were pretty mild, but Evo Morales appeared jubilant on Twitter:

“My greeting and thanks to the brother @BernieSanders, US presidential candidate, for highlighting our poverty reduction task and denouncing the #GolpeDeEstadoEnBolivia [Coup d’état in Bolivia]. The international community demands Bolivia’s return to democracy”

Evo wasn’t overreacting but expressing how important Bernie’s words are, since Sanders could very well be the next U.S. President. People in Latin America watch intently which way the wind blows in the United States and adjust their sails accordingly. Bernie has spoken some truth on Bolivia’s coup, but much more can and should be done.

For example, If Bernie publicly demanded that Trump withdraw support from the coup-government, the coup would be instantly weakened; likewise, If Bernie discussed Bolivia on the campaign trail or insisted that U.S. aid or trade with Bolivia be restricted if further bloodshed occurs.

If Bernie pledged that a Sanders’ government would support reinstating Evo Morales, the coup might crumble overnight. If Sanders encouraged protests in the U.S. against the Bolivian coup, the protesting Bolivians would be emboldened, as would the momentum to impeach Trump.

We shouldn’t forget that Bolivia’s coup was birthed by false allegations of electoral fraud, a rumor started by Marco Rubio for the purpose of coup fuel. Rubio is well connected to Latin America’s oligarchs, and his words mattered.

Bernie’s words really could save lives in Bolivia, and when there’s a matter of life and death, silence can kill. Coups succeed in the dark, where dirty wars “stabilize” the new dictatorship via bloodshed, requiring Bernie to shine light on the topic.

The Coup Remains Vulnerable

Bernie’s words matter because Bolivia’s newborn fascist dictatorship is weak, a baby still dependent on the incubator.

This is due, in part, because the Bolivian military— like all militaries— consists of lower-ranking officers drawn from the lower class, and can’t be trusted to suppress the kind of protest that is demanding the return of last week’s commander in chief. Many of the younger military personnel are indigenous, referred to as “sons of Evo”.

Bolivia’s military-police apparatus is also historically weak, more deeply divided than the average military. In the last 20 years there have been numerous bloody clashes between police and military, as well as a ‘movement’ of lower-ranking military officers demanding higher wages.

Some police have joined anti-coup protests while a video emerged of some active-duty soldiers marching with protesters. The reason the military hasn’t been fully let off the chain to suppress protests is that soldiers might turn on the generals holding the leash— threatening the oligarchy as a class.

Bolivia’s wealthy may have thought themselves sly by stealing an election via coup, but Marx famously remarked that “the whip of counter-revolution” can spur the masses into action, as happened in Bolivia in 1951, where one of the western hemisphere’s greatest revolutions began after the ruling class annulled the elections that brought the Left to power; the workers and peasants then formed militias and dismembered the Bolivian military. There are many alive in Bolivia today who lived through these events and the decade of Leftist rule that followed.

If Bernie Fails to Act

Bolivia’s revolution that brought Evo Morales to power was part of a historic wave in Latin America, where U.S. imperialism was cast out of the region and the poor and indigenous entered the political process. Though the entire hemisphere was affected, Bolivia was part of the motor force of change where the revolution went deeper than anywhere except Venezuela.

If Bolivia falls to the far-right, the fascists in the region will become further emboldened, including those in the United States. It’s no surprise that Trump quickly gave strong support to the coup, a day faster than Bernie Sanders expressed “concern” about it.

If Bernie becomes President he would have had an ally in Morales, but if the coup solidifies Bernie’s far-right U.S. enemies will have a partner instead. Bernie must educate and organize people about these kinds of coup tactics so that people in the U.S. are ready for them— since they could easily be used against Bernie Sanders’ presidency.

Democratic Socialism Requires Fighting Imperialism

U.S. imperialism remains the most dangerous phenomenon on earth, propping up far-right regimes and undermining and toppling governments of the Left. Imperialism is rooted in the interests of the U.S. billionaire class, and its vanguard has always been the most ruthlessly racist and violent members of the military and CIA.

Defeating imperialism abroad strikes a blow against the far-right and billionaires at home while starving the U.S. military budget that enforces imperialism will allow for the kind of money that can fund the proposals Bernie is making.

Bernie’s record on imperialism is mixed, and often outright reactionary. His reaction to the recent attempted coup in Venezuela— where the U.S. still recognizes a fugitive as president— was and remains weak.

Bernie surely recognizes that the links between the U.S. and Latin American working classes are real, and our enemies are similar and often the same. A real socialist movement in the U.S. requires these lessons to be learned and acted upon.

Bernie cannot call himself a socialist if he continues to minimize the actions of socialists abroad. His supporters have a duty to demand that he take bolder action on the subject. DSA chapters across the country should organize protests against the coup since fighting Trumpism at home requires we fight it abroad.

Shamus Cooke is a member of the Portland branch of Democratic Socialists of America. He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com