Bolivians start huge mobilisation for the ‘return of democracy and sovereignty’

Bolivians march past the Huayllani bridge, Sacaba, as part of a mass mobilisation
Tracy Keeling

Bolivians are currently engaged in massive protests and a general strike. They are demanding the ‘return of democracy’ and sovereignty following a coup against their elected government in 2019. The temporary coup government recently delayed a planned election for 6 September, which it says is due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. But Bolivians are rising up in response.

Rising up

The US-backed coup forced out Bolivia’s socialist and indigenous president Evo Morales in November 2019. Citizens had re-elected Morales in October that year. According to journalist Ollie Vargas, a three-pronged coup took place in and around the election, involving fake news, bogus analysis claiming electoral fraud and, ultimately, the ousting of Morales by the military. Jeanine Añnz took over as interim leader, a right-wing Christian who has presided over a violent crackdown on protest, supporters of Morales’ Movement for Socialism [MAS] party, and adversarial journalism.

The country was meant to go to the polls in May. But authorities postponed that election on the same basis as the most recent delay, coronavirus. MAS argues that polls showing Añez currently trailing in third place as a preferred president could be behind the delay. Either way, many Bolivians have now had enough. Huge marches have recently taken place:

The country’s biggest trade union federation, the Bolivian Workers’ Center (COB), laid down a 72-hour ultimatum to the authorities on 28 July: retract the election delay decision or face a general strike. The retraction did not materialise, so the general strike is now underway:

Road blockades are taking place as part of the action. Vargas reported that claims circulating about the blockades inhibiting the movement of coronavirus medical supplies are “false”. Protesters are temporarily moving to allow passage of medical vehicles through, he said:

Sovereignty

One of the key demands of those taking action is the restoration of democracy. They want a democratic election to take place as planned. It’s by no means, however, the only demand. Some are calling for the immediate ousting or resignation of the coup regime:

The matter of sovereignty is also central to the protesters’ cause. One of Morales’ major achievements while in government was to nationalise industries involving the country’s natural resources, ensuring those resources – and the income they generated – could benefit citizens rather than transnational corporations. Since assuming leadership, Añez has shown her regime to be a fan of such resources being in private, corporate hands.

Lithium

In terms of natural resources, Bolivia is rich in one that’s increasingly highly valued: lithium. As Gaia Vince wrote in Adventures in the Anthropocene:

humanity’s quest for new low-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels will mean electrification of heating, lighting and transport, with vehicle fuel tanks replaced with batteries. The material for this lightweight high-density power source – lithium – will also need to be mined, and one of the few places in the world with supplies is Bolivia.

Vince explained that Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni – a vast area of salt flats – is thought to hold “more than half of the world’s supply of lithium”. Under Morales, the country was on its way to industrialising this resource. It had a deal in place between the state lithium company YLB and Germany’s ACISA, in which the former had majority-control. But that fell apart amid the coup.

Morales firmly believes the country’s lithium resources played a part in the US-backed coup. In an interview with journalist Glenn Greenwald after his ousting, he said the coup wasn’t solely orchestrated by the “Bolivian oligarchy”. It was an “external conspiracy” too, he argued. He went on:

My crime, my sin, is to be an Indian. And to have nationalised our natural resources. … Transnational companies are behind the coup. The United States too because of the lithium issue

He also said:

They don’t accept that Indians or social and worker movements can be the agents of our people’s liberation through lithium.

Vargas reported the temporary government “has already announced that they plan to invite numerous multinationals into the Salar de Uyuni”. He stated:

Añez’s VP candidate, Samuel Doria Medina, went as far as inviting Elon Musk (over Twitter) to come and exploit the Salar, and establish a lithium battery factory for Tesla cars. Elon Musk did not tweet back.

Musk may not have tweeted back to that. But he did recently ‘joke’ about the coup on Twitter when someone commented on the alleged link between it, the US and lithium, saying: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

Unsurprisingly then, the Bolivian people’s sovereignty over the lithium in the country features heavily in the mobilisation:

High stakes

Musk may ‘joke’, but the coup is no laughing matter. For the Bolivian people, the stakes are extremely high. The progress Morales made on their sovereignty over the country’s natural resources, and the subsequent social progress that enabled, is on the line. So too is the people’s democratic right to vote.

The world should be standing behind them.

Featured image via Twitter / screengrab

We need your help ...

The coronavirus pandemic is changing our world, fast. And we will do all we can to keep bringing you news and analysis throughout. But we are worried about maintaining enough income to pay our staff and minimal overheads.

Now, more than ever, we need a vibrant, independent media that holds the government to account and calls it out when it puts vested economic interests above human lives. We need a media that shows solidarity with the people most affected by the crisis – and one that can help to build a world based on collaboration and compassion.

We have been fighting against an establishment that is trying to shut us down. And like most independent media, we don’t have the deep pockets of investors to call on to bail us out.

Can you help by chipping in a few pounds each month?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. The americanas will never allow any socialist government of any country to thrive, and the reason for this is that the socialists steal all the countries wealth and hold rigged elections whilst the USofA just lie cheat and deceive their way into creating a coup or declaring the elections fraudulent and sending in the huge corporations to rip off the countries wealth. It’s all smoke and mirrors just like always and in this case we had a leader from the indigenous people in charge of the country, who was making a difference to ordinary peoples lives by using socialist principles and working for the people instead of the multi nationals. Yankeeland does the exact opposite, elections are stolen from the winning candidates on a regular basis, they have no compassion nor do they care about ordinary people and they invade countries in the name of democracy only to rape them of wealth and leave them in chaos.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.