On the evening of 10 November, sections of the Bolivian military and police launched a successful coup against left-wing president Evo Morales. Though Morales had agreed to hold new elections, the military demanded he step aside. Sources close to Morales claim that he did so in an attempt to prevent more violence, and opposition lawmaker Jeanine Anez has since confirmed that she will assume the presidency. Fear, confusion, and resistance now grip the country.
A coup in three phases
In the short-term, the coup seems to have developed in three phases. After fires engulfed wide parts of the Amazon and the Bolivian region of Chiquitania in late August, elements within the Bolivian opposition seized the moment to exert pressure on Morales. To be sure, the fires were severe – but “behind a green-progressive front” within the Bolivian opposition “lies an agenda of rightwing regime change funded indirectly by US bodies such as the National Endowment for Democracy”. A flurry of articles soon appeared across the international press accusing the Morales government of inaction, and groups including Extinction Rebellion organised a protest event in Berlin. Bolivia was thus placed firmly in the international spotlight.
Bolivians then went to the polls on 20 October. After Morales declared victory, the Organisation of American States (OAS) quickly claimed there were “numerous troubling irregularities” and called foul play. According to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, however, “Morales’s first-round victory was not just possible, but probable, based on the results of the initial 83.85% of votes in the quick count”. There is currently no independently verified evidence suggesting that voter fraud occurred.
In the final phase following the election, large and often violent protests spread across the country. The coup culminated on 10 November, when the military called on Morales to step down despite him having ceded to the protesters’ demands. Opponents of Morales’s MAS party then ransacked the houses of government officials and burned their belongings, and the police reportedly issued a warrant for Morales’s arrest.
Since Morales was forced to step down, waves of resistance have spread across the country, particularly in areas like El Alto where the former president’s movement commands popular Indigenous support. Those resisting, however, are reportedly being met by severe police repression. Echoes of settler-colonialism are growing as opposition figures burn Indigenous flags, write anti-Indigenous graffiti, and embrace Christian fundamentalism. And as the Grayzone reported, the coup is being spearheaded by Luis Fernando Camacho – a “Christian fascist paramilitary leader and multi-millionaire – with foreign support”.
On the ground
The Canary spoke with Olivia Arigho Stiles, a PhD researcher and contributing editor of London-based magazine Alborada, on 11 November. Speaking from Bolivian capital La Paz, she explained what was happening on the ground that day:
Today’s been quite quiet.
Last night there was a lot of violence. The public buses were set on fire. The houses of Evo Morales and his sister were ransacked. Last night saw a lot of mobilisation and unrest.
Just before Morales resigned, there were – in the centre of La Paz – a number of incredibly flashy jeeps that rolled in. The police were armed and masked, and doing laps around the city. There were a lot of scenes of jubilant anti-government protesters – then of course in the evening there were pockets of violence…
I have a feeling there won’t be mass mobilisations today – it’s quite a sombre mood in the capital right now.
The Canary asked if the international media, which has generally avoided the word ‘coup’, has been fair in its coverage of events in Bolivia. She continued:
In terms of coverage from the mainstream press, I think typically they’ve shied away from calling it a coup. They’ve done it before in the past with Brazil, for example, and I think it comes from not giving enough credence to the political developments that have been happening on the ground.
While cautioning not to emphasise the role of US figures on the ground over an array of domestic forces, she added:
What we’ve seen in the past two weeks is the very rapid mobilisation of the ultra-right elite from the Santa Cruz region, which is historically a stronghold of anti-MAS. We’ve seen the rise of Luis Fernando Camacho who has links to a fascist youth group. We’ve also seen the mobilisation of the urban middle classes in cities across Bolivia.
In terms of the people on the ground, I think what has been crucial has been the rapid mobilisation of the Santa Cruz regional right. Morales has also been losing support from both workers and Indigenous groups – his core base – recently. It is a complex picture.
Arigho Stiles also spoke about how environmental concerns have been weaponised by elements in the Bolivian far right:
There have been environmental concerns, but we have also seen the rise of a green-washing right-wing movement – largely but not exclusively based out of Santa Cruz. And this movement has adopted and co-opted an environmental criticism of Morales and is using it to push forward their agenda which actually obscures the fact that this is a class-based right-wing movement that has always sought to undermine Morales’ socialist and pro-Indigenous vision…
Morales has faced a lot of criticism, but this has been weaponised by the right and deployed cynically to undermine what is otherwise a progressive socialist government.
The situation, added Arigho Stiles, is complex and volatile. She said:
At the moment, the president and the vice-president have resigned… I think we’re in danger of extreme sectors of the right filling a vacuum in the interim given now that there is a vacuum of power.
As the green movement grows and decentralises, moreover, it’s important to be cautious about environmentalism being used by malign actors. Morales, who was pushing the UN to adopt a “Marshall Plan for Planet Earth” a decade ago, will likely be replaced by someone with little to no interest in addressing climate breakdown.
This coup must be watched closely.
Featured image via Flickr – Sebastian Baryli
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