The Tragedy of Bolivia’s Coup D’etat

A supporter of former President Evo Morales holds a Bolivian flag during clashes with police in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Bolivia's new interim president Jeanine Anez faces the challenge of stabilizing the nation and organizing national elections within three months at a time of political disputes that pushed Morales to fly off to self-exile in Mexico after 14 years in power. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

What has happened in Bolivia is arguably the worst possible outcome for the masses of the country, who benefited immensely from the policies of President Evo Morales over the past 14 years. Morales implemented a leftist agenda which successfully managed to reduce poverty and inequality, and increase economic growth. The success of the Bolivarian model was seen as a threat to the interests of the United States and right wing governments in Latin America, and regime change efforts were moved into high gear.

As the first indigenous President of the country, Morales had managed to wrest political power from a small group of predatory elites of European descent, and ensured the redistribution of resources so the masses were able to enjoy a better life. For the indigenous people of Bolivia, who comprise over 60% of the population, this was a sea change given that they had been oppressed for 500 years, enduring conditions that approximated 19th century servitude.

Morales’ electoral successes in 2005, 2009, 2014, and in October this year have largely been due to his socio-economic reforms which resulted in unprecedented economic growth, with poverty and extreme poverty declining by 25% and 43% respectively. 

In 2014 the Financial Times called Morales “one of the world’s most popular leaders,” and the Washington Post reported last year: “It’s indisputable that Bolivians are healthier, wealthier, better educated, living longer and more equal than at any time in this South American nation’s history…under Morales, data shows, Bolivia’s economy is closing the gap with the rest of the continent, growing faster than most neighbors over the past 13 years.” This is a major achievement considering that at the time of Morales’ election Bolivia was the poorest nation in Latin America.

Morales was able to bolster social spending by increasing taxation on the hydrocarbon industry, forcing corporations to pay 82% of their profits to the state compared to the previous 18%.  Morales reduced his presidential wage and that of his ministers by 57% to US$1,875 a month, and reduced Bolivia’s dependence on the World Bank and IMF. At the end of Morales’ first year in office the country had no fiscal deficit for the first time in 30 years. 

The Morales administration had focused on rural infrastructure improvement in order to bring roads, running water and electricity to areas that lacked them. His progressive social policies saw the introduction of non-contributory old-age pensions, and payments to mothers provided babies were taken for health checks and attended school. By 2014 the government had opened 20 hospitals and increased medical coverage to the age of 25. When Morales first came to power the illiteracy rate was the highest in Latin America at 16%, but by 2009 UNESCO declared Bolivia free from illiteracy. Bolivia also has the highest representation of women as politicians in the world. 

The government controlled the prices of petrol and food, food was distributed at subsidized prices, and hundreds of tractors were distributed free of charge. Such policies helped to curb inflation and brought economic stability. 

But Morales’ independent and successful domestic policies were matched by a fiercely independent foreign policy which rejected US hegemonic interference. It is a wonder he lasted as long as he did. In February this year, in his first visit to the US, Morales sat two seats away from President Trump in the UN Security Council and lambasted the US’s disregard for international law and multilateralism. Morales went as far as calling for the UN headquarters to be moved out of the country. 

The US dug into its regime change tool kit which has succeeded in overthrowing countless governments through military coups, kidnapping (Haiti and Honduras), parliamentary coups (Brazil and Paraguay), and in the case of Bolivia – resorted to destabilisation through the mobilisation of violent protests. Right wing paramilitary groups in Bolivia allied to the former ruling elite were funded to wreak havoc in the country on the night the votes were counted after the October 20th poll. The handmaiden of this destabilisation agenda was the white supremacist Luis Comacho, a wealthy lawyer who coordinated paramilitary attacks, and publicly associates with Juan Guaido in Venezuela. 

Even before the last one million votes had been counted, the leader of the opposition and former President Carlos de Mesa rejected the election as fraudulent, stoking protests on the streets. Paid youth with bats and explosives went on the rampage attacking indigenous people, politicians from the ruling party, burning residences and electoral tribunals. 

Morales tried to defuse the situation by inviting the OAS to audit the election results. The OAS determined there were serious problems, but said Morales may have won. The OAS, the headquarters of which are in Washington, nevertheless recommended fresh elections which Morales had accepted. But with the rapidly deteriorating violent situation on the ground, police defecting to the opposition, workers forced out of the state broadcaster, and the Chief of the Armed Forces recommending Morales resign, the President and his top leadership resigned their positions, and Morales subsequently flew to Mexico. 

Morales has called his ouster a US-inspired coup détat, as have the remaining regional left wing governments of Mexico, Argentina, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, as well as our own tripartite alliance. It is the majority indigenous people of Bolivia who will ultimately be the losers as the former ruling elite will regain control of the economy, and reverse Morales’ social and economic achievements, and independent foreign policy.

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.