Bolivia: Anatomy of a Coup

On Sunday, October 20 Evo Morales was re-elected president of Bolivia with 46.85 per cent of the vote against his nearest competitor, Carlos Mesa, who received 36.74 percent. In anticipation of a Morales victory the U.S. corporate media launched a fake news disinformation barrage nine days earlier aimed at discrediting the result and setting the stage for a well-orchestrated fascist-led coup. Presented to the world as a popular democratic revolution against a dictator, the coup was led by fascist groups in alliance with Bolivia’s defecting police and army. The relentless media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), aptly reported: “The New York Times’ editorial (11/11/19) accused Morales of “brazenly abusing the power and institutions put in his care by the electorate. The Washington Post (11/11/19) alleged that ‘a majority of Bolivians wanted [Morales] to leave office’ –a claim for which they provided no evidence – while asserting that he had ‘grown increasingly autocratic’ and that ‘his downfall was his insatiable appetite for power.’ The Wall Street Journal (11/11/19) argued that Morales ‘is a victim of his own efforts to steal another election,’ saying that Morales ‘has rigged the rules time and again to stay in power.’” FAIR’s corporate media accounting goes on to list several major media outlets in the country that dutifully sang the same song. Not a single major daily challenged these baseless accusations. These “manufacturing consent” specialists were unanimous in denouncing Morales and his re-election long before the votes were tallied. The Bolivian coup was conceived as a relatively quiet U.S.-supported regime change endeavor in comparison to the overt and monstrous full court failed coup that U.S. imperialism conducted against the Venezuelan government of Nicholas Maduro several months earlier.

On November 10, twenty-one days after his election victory Morales, in the name of “peace” and to avoid “violence and bloodshed,” resigned the presidency and fled to Mexico at the invitation of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. On November 22 Morales told a New York Times reporter in Mexico that the coup leaders had placed a $50,000 “wanted dead or alive” price tag on his capture. Mexico’s air force jet sent for the rescue operation arrived via a circuitous route including a stop in Paraguay after several nations – including U.S.-allied Peru and Ecuador – denied flyover or refueling rights. Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who greeted Morales upon his arrival, denounced the coup as well as the concerted interference with Mexico’s effort to retrieve Morales. No doubt the U.S.-backed coup makers had informed their allies of Morales’s departure plans, while evaluating the merits and demerits of arresting, if not murdering him by the still-undeclared formal coup leaders.

While Morales’s political party, Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), held a majority in Bolivia’s congress, right wing Senator Jeanine Añez Chavez declared herself interim president in violation of Bolivian succession laws and via a meeting conducted without a required quorum. Senators and congressional representatives from MAS, which holds a majority in congress, were physically excluded from the meeting. With nobody from the Morales’ ruling party present to object Añez promoted herself to the head of the Senate, a position that she said put her in line to be the country’s interim president since both Morales and his vice president had resigned. Appearing later at the presidential residence wearing the presidential sash, Añez hoisted a Bible as she appeared on the balcony to signify Bolivia’s return to its white racist Christian conqueror past. “This Bible is very important to us,” said Añez. “Our strength is God. Power is God.” The fascist coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho (See below.) was more explicit stating, “The Bible returns to the presidential palace. The Pachamama (Mother Earth in the Quechua language) will never be back to the government. Bolivia belongs to Jesus Christ,” not to the heathen natives, me might have added.

Invoking a Christian god as the source of political power was aimed at repudiating Morales and his Aymara indigenous roots in a nation where 62 percent of the population are of indigenous origin, mostly Aymara, Quechuan and Guarani, with indigenous peoples speaking 37 native languages, all formally recognized by the 2009 constitution approved during the Morales presidency. Another 20 percent of the population are Mestizos – people with mixed ancestry (indigenous and white Europeans). An estimated 10-15 percent are white. Bolivia’s 2009 constitution changed the country’s name from the Republic of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia in recognition of the multi-ethnic nature of the country and the enhanced position of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples.

Morales was South America’s first indigenous leader since independence from Spanish colonial rule in 1825. The multicolored Wiphala flag that represents the many Andean indigenous groups and the Andean cross, or chakana, filled the halls of power in Bolivia during Morales’ three terms. The coup leaders demonstrably tore down Wiphala flags from state buildings while police officers did the same, ripping the Wiphala insignias from their uniforms.

During the months preceding the election Morales had been prohibited from running for re-election by term limits but those were later declared unconstitutional by the Bolivian Supreme Court. Under Bolivian law, the presidential winner must win a majority of votes cast or earn 40 percent of the vote and be more than 10 percent of the votes higher than their nearest competitor. If this threshold is not met, the top two candidates are to face off in a second round election. Bolivia also uses a quick count system (called TREP for its acronym in Spanish) along with the official count. The quick count is to give voters and the media a rough idea of how the election is going. When the quick count reached almost 84 percent of the total vote, the results showed that Morales had 45.71 percent of the vote while his opponent Carlos Mesa had 37.84 percent, a difference of 7.87 percent of the votes, which could have triggered a second round election if these were the final figures. They were not! The election commission, as is stipulated by Bolivian law, then stopped the quick count because the official count had begun and quick counts stop once 80 percent of the votes are tallied. In addition, quick counts report results from urban and wealthier areas sooner than working class districts and rural regions where Morales is overwhelmingly popular. Quick counts are acknowledged as biased by all governments that use them, and by the international NGOs that promote them.

As soon as the quick count was halted, however, the Bolivian opposition cried “fraud” a spurious charge immediately echoed by the world’s corporate media, which simultaneously insisted that Morales had stopped the count in order to throw the election into his “black hole,” that is, to his allegedly corrupt ballot counters. In Bolivia, all ballots are counted by hand and by individuals approved by the election commission. Election centers are overseen by all parties to the election as well as by international observers. The final result announced by the electoral commission indicated that Morales had indeed won the election by exceeding his nearest opponent by a margin of 10.11 percent.

The internationally broadcast fraud accusations were accompanied by media-manufactured reports that Morales “thugs” had been systematically attacking innocent and unarmed election protestors. In truth, the anti-Morales and anti-MAS mobilizations were orchestrated by the coup’s shock troops provided by various armed fascist groups. They met with little or no resistance. Their central leader was Luis Fernando Camacho, who soon emerged as a key player in the coup. Camacho grew up in the Santa Cruz Youth Union, [UJC in its Spanish abbreviation] a fascist paramilitary group notorious for racist violence against indigenous peoples, assaults, and assassination plots against Morales and other MAS leaders. The group has strong ties to fascist groups in Europe and strong links to the CIA.

Camacho’s forces began attacking the election centers while votes were being counted and activists and elected officials from MAS were present. Residences of MAS officials were ransacked, a women who was a mayor from a MAS city was publicly tortured. Family members of MAS activists were kidnapped. Morales’s sister was captured while her house was burned to the ground. No doubt Morales himself was similarly threatened and likely “offered” the alternatives of resigning and issuing his well-publicized statements calling for “an end to the violence” and “new elections” (as if to repudiate his own election), or face his assassination by the fascist and U.S.-backed coup plotters along with his family and political associates. Reports from revolutionary currents inside Bolivia recount the round up and arrest of some thousand class struggle fighters as the fascist forces quickly moved to minimize resistance. Upon his arrival in Mexico on November 12, Morales thanked President Lopez Obrador stating that Mexico had saved his life after he received death threats in Bolivia. (Los Angeles Times, Nov. 12).

Michael G. Kozak, acting assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, tweeted on the same day that U.S. authorities “look forward to working” with Añez and other leaders in Bolivia “as they arrange free & fair elections as soon as possible.” President Trump chimed in with his support for Añez while other State Department officials insisted that there was no coup on Bolivia. The New York Times joined the chorus with a full- page article by “Interpreter” Max Fisher entitled, “Bolivia Crisis Shows the Blurry Line.” Said Fisher, “The Cold War binary of ‘bad’ coups and ‘good’ popular revolts no longer applies. But the labels persist, with important consequences.” The “consequences, no doubt,” are vital as U.S. “law” supposedly prohibits aid to any regime that comes to power via a military coup. We note here only in passing that the 2014 fascist-led coup in Ukraine did not prevent the U.S. from pledging $400 million in military aid to that regime!

Morales’s calls on the Bolivian army and the police to protect his government fell on deaf ears. Police units almost immediately abandoned their posts, including protecting government buildings. They joined the fascist-led marches against the Morales government. When the head of the army called for Morales to resign the coup was completed. As with the U.S. coup effort in Venezuela, reports are emerging that various generals and police officials were secretly offered U.S. bribes to defect. The price of a Bolivian general, according to these reports, was said to be $1 million, while lower racking police officials were said to be had for $100,000 – both sums a mere pittance to be paid by CIA officials via a briefcase stuffed with bills printed by the Federal Reserve or U.S. Treasury for such occasions! But the heads of Bolivia’s police and military are no strangers to political intrigue. Defecting commander-in-chief of Bolivia’s police, Vladimir Yuri Calderon, served as military attaché at Bolivia’s embassy in Washington, D.C. until December 2018. Defecting Williams Kaliman, who heads Bolivia’s armed forces, held the same position between 2013 and 2016.

The myth of election fraud was generated by the rightest/fascist political opposition in cooperation with the international media and the Organization of American States (OAS]), the latter largely funded by the U.S. and infamous for its support to U.S.-orchestrated coups and military aid to Latin American dictatorships. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro distinguished himself as a U.S. stooge earlier this year by recognizing the unelected, self-declared, U.S.-appointed “president” Juan Guaidó’s envoy as Venezuela’s “official OAS delegate.”

On the basis of no evidence, the OAS expressed “grave concerns” about the halt to the quick count. The head of the OAS delegation was forced to resign after his anti-Morales political positions were revealed, but the damage was done.

One week after the coup, the death toll stood at 27 and climbing. When anti-coup forces from El Alto (The Heights), a largely indigenous city of one million, re-constituted their Popular Assemblies, elected new leaders, damned the coup, and proceeded to march on the nearby capital city of La Paz, they were met with the full force of the fascist thugs, now inseparable from the defecting police and army. Unarmed, and in numbers perhaps of a few thousand, they were turned away with little resistance as the coup makers and their advisers had decided in advance to pose themselves as democrats rather than fascist butchers. Nevertheless, police massacres have been reported in two regions.

It is clear how the coup took place. It is also clear who did it and why. The coup was organized by the white ruling class of Bolivia in collaboration with U.S. imperialism. Carlos Mesa, the opposition candidate and a former president who was forced to resign in June 2005 by mass protests after two years in office, has been coordinating with the U.S. government to overthrow Morales and the MAS party for years, as revealed in the WikiLeaks documents. Camacho has strong ties to U.S. intelligence and European fascist groups. Both represent the white ruling class of a settler state based on the exploitation of the indigenous peoples and the resources of Bolivia.

The coup represents a grave defeat for the Bolivian masses and for working people around the world. Its lessons must be learned by revolutionaries everywhere and its mistakes never repeated. Morales and MAS are neither anti-capitalist nor socialist. Both Morales and his political party remain firmly committed to the capitalist framework of economic development. They emerged during the Latin American “pink tide” or “pink revolution” period some twenty years ago that saw reform-minded and “progressive” governments come to political power in Venezuela, Ecuador, Uruguay and Argentina. While adhering to the capitalist framework Morales did register some impressive gains for the workers and indigenous people of Bolivia. He created a multinational and multicultural political system; he created a social safety net and social programs that cut extreme poverty by over half although Bolivia’s poverty rate remains among the highest on the continent. He also massively increased foreign investment and profits in the country, re-negotiating, not nationalizing, gas and oil contracts and carrying out a small land reform – 5.4 million acres of state owned land. He did little to challenge the power and curb the profits of the capitalist class. What little he did, however, was too much for a Bolivian ruling class and its imperialist-allies, wedded to the death to the super-profits of a neoliberal model of capitalism. Perhaps the final straw that doomed his government was his anticipated $2.5 billion trade deal with China for the development of lithium mining. In addition to its major oil and natural gas reserves, the latter among the highest in Latin America, and its vast tin resources, Bolivia holds 70% of the worlds known lithium reserves. Lithium is a crucial component in cell phones, computer batteries and electric cars. While Morales required some transnational company to partner equally with the COMIBOL, the Bolivian National Mining Company, and Bolivia´s national lithium company, the YLB, the terms of these ever negotiated and re-negotiated agreements always contained an assortment of loopholes that allowed for the reduction Bolivia’s share of the profits. Experts in these matters have repeatedly demonstrated that the claimed Bolivian “nationalizations” of gas and oil facilities were little more than re-negotiations of the pre-Morales era where the lion’s share of profits remained in foreign hands, albeit with some terms that allowed for the Morales government to implement significant social reforms, especially at a time when world oil and gas prices had peaked. The lithium deal with China is now up for grabs, with the Bolivian ruing class and its associated transnational mining behemoths expected to be the biggest winners.

Morales came to power in 2006 in the midst of a series of massive working class mobilizations organized through powerful and democratic Popular Assemblies across the country and accompanied by general strikes led by the Bolivian Workers Center (COB), the chief trade union federation in the nation. The COB’s most powerful component was the Union Federation of Bolivian Mine Workers (FSTMB), a mass force that had been led by revolutionary socialists in the early 1950s. In the face of mass working class mobilization that threatened capitalist power and prerogatives in 2004-5 and at a time when the overt corruption of the Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and Carlos Mesa government had reduced their credibility to near zero, Morales and his parliamentary oriented MAS entered the political scene as a relatively safe alternative to the organized power in the streets. The ruling rich preferred a Morales presidency coupled with some gas and oil concessions to the new government than risk a direct confrontation with mass forces intent on their physical removal. Morales received ninety percent of the vote in 2006. But his Movement Toward Socialism was nothing of the kind. Bolivia’s vast land and natural resources, its banks and financial institutions remained in the hands of the ruling rich as did the state’s repressive apparatus – the army and police.

Morales arrived in “power” as the guarantor of capitalist stability. As with all the pink tide governments at that time, that is, neither communist red nor neo-liberal capitalist white, all pledged fealty to socialism in the abstract but ensured that capitalist power would not be challenged in the concrete. Morales promoted illusions in the loyalty of the state’s army and the police that for decades if not centuries have been capitalism’s final guarantor of its privileges and profits.

In Bolivia until the coup, as with all the pink tide “revolutions,” the name of the game was and remains maneuver – the implementation or lack of measures to simultaneously satisfy the needs of the vast masses of workers and peasants on the one hand and their capitalist bosses on the other – an impossible task that history has repeatedly doomed to failure. The Bolivian coup undoubtedly represents a tragic setback in every respect. The once nationally organized assemblies of people’s power of 2003-05 have been largely reduced to a near underground existence. The once militant leadership of the COB, at the height of the coup, turned right and formally joined the reactionary chorus demanding Morales’s resignation! However, angered and disgusted at Morales’ endless concessions to capital, including banning unionization of so-called cooperative mining endeavors, the COB found itself on the wrong side of the barricades when unity against the coup makers was the decisive issue of the day!

Thus, the prerequisite for an effective fightback against Bolivian capital and its imperialist backers was entirely absent, that is, a mass revolutionary socialist party deeply imbedded in all the struggles of the masses for justice, equality and freedom and dedicated to the abolition of capitalism itself. Bolivia’s proud history in challenging and defeating imperialist-backed coups and their associated imposed dictators repeatedly informs us that it has never been the unwillingness of the masses to fight and bring into being the socialist future, but rather the absence of a mass revolutionary socialist party steeled in struggle and aimed at decisive action at the critical moments in history when socialist revolution is on the immediate agenda.

Jeff Mackler and Lazaro Monteverde are staff writers for Socialist Action newspaper They can be reached at