I did not intend to use this blog to discuss much regarding current events but rather focus on theory, however with what happened in Bolivia over the past few days it is difficult not to. So here are my takes on the event for your consideration.
During the past few months, the world has been rocked by global protests. From the anti-austerity protests in Ecuador and Chile to the anti-extradition law protest in Hong Kong, these have been mostly lauded as positive by Western media. The Bolivian protest and the ousting of Evo Morales is no different: news outlets such as CNN called it a "blunt message to leaders drunk on power". But is that really the case?
To understand this, we need to answer 4 key questions: 1) Who is Evo Morales, 2) What happened in the election, 3) Who is the opposition and 4) What is the reason behind the protest?
Evo Morales is the man who gave a hammer and sickle to the pope, who then smiled at him and took the gift home.
He's the first indigenous president in Bolivia, or as some would put it, "the first president there to look like the people". He is a member of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, and is among the lowest paid presidents in the region, being paid a sixth of what the Brazilian President Bolsonaro gets and a twentieth of what the US president gets. This is due to him cutting his own pay in half in 2006, fulfilling his campaign promise.
So what happened during his presidency? Poverty declined rapidly, he virtually wiped out illiteracy, he signed anti-discrimination laws, rapidly increased the country's GDP, and created a universal healthcare system that the WHO considered a model for the world. The Guardian even stated that "Evo Morales has proved that socialism doesn’t damage economies" in a 2014 headline.
Another significant part of Morales' presidency is his industrial policy. He nationalized many industries, including lithium, one with vast future potentials. In his own words, he is "determined to industrialize Bolivia and has invested huge amounts to ensure that lithium is processed within the country to export it only in value-added form, such as in batteries." He also kicked out the DEA and instituted his own plan for cutting down cocaine production, which resulted in the cultivation of coca leaves to be at a 13-year low according to the UN. This of course did not make the United States happy, as having their imperial arm removed and seeing someone wiping out drug production by legalizing coca leaves goes against everything that they have been preaching for the past decades regarding the War on Drugs.
So what happened during the election? To answer this question, we must first know how the vote count system in Bolivia works. In Bolivia, there are 2 separate counts: the quick count (TREP) and the legally binding count. The quick count is only meant to be a preliminary count and would only cover the first 80% of the votes, this was agreed to 11 days before the election. After the release of the preliminary count, "the EPO has up to five days to complete the calculation" and to release the subsequent legally binding count.
On October 20th, as planned, the TREP is released at around 80% and then halts so that the real count can take place. At this point, Morales is leading but without the 10% margin he needed to defeat Mesa. The media misinterprets this due to their failure to understand the difference between the TREP and the real count, and consider this a halt done to tamper with the remaining votes. Due to media pressure, the TREP resumed the next day and at 93% it shows that Morales now has enough votes to avoid a runoff election. Mesa begins calling foul and saying that the halting was done to tamper with the votes despite it being agreed to 11 days prior to the election, and rioting begins. The legally binding count was then released, showing that Morales has 11% more votes than Mesa, and everything went to hell. Rioting continued over the next weeks, and Morales called in the OAS to perform an audit. The OAS audit came back declaring that it could not verify that result of the election, and recommends Morales to call for a reelection. This he did, though some hours later, military commanders turned against him and called for him to step down. As a result, Morales resigned and disappeared as his home and his sister's became a target for ransacking by the opposition.
"So an independent organization went in and declared the election a fraud", you might think. But is the OAS really that independent? One must recall that the OAS was founded in 1948 for the purposes of "solidarity and cooperation" among its member states in the Western Hemisphere, and to stoke opposition to the wave of leftism emanating from Eastern Europe. The OAS is also funded primarily by the US and Canada, and their report was almost immediately disputed by researchers from the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR): “There is simply no statistical or evidentiary basis to dispute the vote count results showing that Evo Morales won in the first round[...] We also need to remember that an OAS electoral mission overturned election results in Haiti in 2011 with no statistical or other basis for doing so.”
So does the report have any merit? Not really. The report provides us with little methodology and information, and the main allegations are reflective of nothing more than the delegation's incompetence and failure to do the most basic research on electoral policy. A major point of the report is that the halt was used to tamper with the votes, but as we can see the halt was planned 11 days before the election as to not cause confusion due to the possibility of people mixing up the TREP with the real count. OAS did raise a fact, which is that Morales won much more votes in the last 10-15% of the votes than he did in the previous 80%, but that is no surprise at all. One must remember that Morales' support base is largely rural and geographically distributed. Because of this, their votes would be counted last. As a result, Morales began with a lower win margin, which steadily increased throughout the entire count until it passed 10%. This argument then demonstrates nothing more than the OAS's own ignorance about the geography of Bolivia and it's own electoral system. International observers concur with the fairness of the election: the president of the electoral court in Honduras Rixi Moncada stated that "The vote count is open to all who want to see it… we could see the noting down of each of the votes from each ballot paper" and European Parliament member Manu Pineda stating that “each ballot paper is held and shown to all, so there cannot be any manipulation, the vote is then recorded publicly on a board for all to see. The count takes a very long time, but we can see that it’s a positive thing because it stops any possibility of fraud.”
It also is important to note that Mesa and Goni won with a mere 42 thousand votes in 2002 and Mesa certainly did not contest the results then, whereas Morales' 640 thousand margin is disputed. Even the OAS doesn't even dispute the fact that Morales won but merely the margin by which he won in their preliminary report, which means that Morales most certainly won by much more votes than Goni/Mesa did in 2002.
One should also recall the simulations that were ran prior to the election by the OEP, which shows that in most scenarios, Morales would win at around the margin he did, which is 10-11%.
So was there fraud? The evidence seems to say no. While there were in fact problems with the election equipment (as one would expect with a developing country such as Bolivia), there is no real evidence of fraud and tampering. One who calls such problems evidence of fraud might as well as be declaring that the lack of evidence is evidence of fraud.
Another point of contention is the term limit issue. The constitution of Bolivia originally allowed 2 terms when it went into effect during Morales' second term. The court ruled that his first term did not count as the constitution was not in effect then, so he was allowed to run for a third term. Then, he held a referendum where 51% voted against and 49% voted for removing the term limit in the constitution, however the elected Supreme Court in 2017 decided to abolish the limit anyways, citing the American Convention on Human Rights. So, Morales runs. What a strange thing to call Morales a dictator for. Many "western" leaders have been in office for around the same time as Morales, yet one does not see CNN or BBC calling them a dictator. Merkel was in office as Chancellor for 14 years, Netanyahu for 13, and Erdogan for 16. One truly must wonder why white European politicians can do things that would be deemed authoritarian if it were done by an indigenous Bolivian.
The opposition does not seem that concerned about constitutionality either. Jeanine Añez has appointed herself president, even though the constitution requires the chamber of deputies to hold a session to approve this. But this did not happen, the meeting of the chamber was cancelled as most of the deputies abstained from attending due to concerns for their personal safety. Yet Jeanine ends up president anyways, and is "taking all necessary measures to pacify the country". Of course, these measures being the suppression of pro-Morales supporters, the illegal detention of elected officials of MAS, and the selling of Bolivian resources to international conglomerates.
So who is the opposition? They can be divided into 3 parts: the "grassroots", Mesa and the military. The grassroots are led by the far-right Unión Juvenil Cruceñista (UJC), also known as the Santa Cruz Youth Union, which was founded by the millionaire fascist Luis Fernando Camacho. Camacho hails from a family of corporate elites who have long profited from Bolivia’s plentiful natural gas reserves, and he himself has been named in the Panama Papers. After Morales' resignation, Camacho stormed into the abandoned presidential palace. With a Bible in one hand and a national flag in the other, Camacho bowed his head in prayer above the presidential seal, fulfilling his vow to purge his country’s Native heritage from government and “return God to the burned palace.” “Pachamama will never return to the palace,” he proclaimed.
Actions of members of his organization are even more disturbing.
“Some 100 youth were paid by de Mesa and his associates to wreak havoc, according to government intelligence and confessions of youth transporting explosives who were arrested at the airport, and also the deathbed confession to the family of a young man recruited to create street chaos. He was preparing an explosive projectile that misfired and destroyed his head. His family knew he was earning good money but had not known how.”
“[The UJC paramilitary] destroyed local MAS campaign headquarters and the offices of Campesino groups [...] tried to lynch journalists [...] attacked the president’s home in Cochabamba [...] attacked the home of the governor [of Pando] who was forced to flee to safety with his small children and his wife.”
“In several zones of the city of La Paz, right-wing attacks against election officials achieved the theft of their packages of votes being delivered from the countryside, and one of the packages was burned.” (TelesurEnglish)
The protestors also are ridiculously anti-indigenous, both the "grassroot" and military opposition has been filmed systematically ripping out and burning Plurinational flags now that the indigenous president has been ousted.
All of these reports shows who the protestors really are: anti-democratic fascists who attacked election officials and burn ballots of votes delivered from areas where the MAS has strong support, while assaulting and burning down the homes of politicians.
As to the next question, just who is Mesa? Mesa was Goni's Vice President and eventually became president for a short while after Goni was forced to resign due to protests against his regime, in part due to him ordering a government attack that killed 67 protestors. Mesa is currently listed as an expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a DC-based think tank funded by the US government’s soft-power arm USAID, various oil giants, and a host of multi-national corporations active in Latin America. (GrayzoneProject). Mesa is directly tied to the US government and has pro-business policies, with US government cables published by WikiLeaks revealing that he regularly corresponded with American officials in their efforts to destabilize Morales, during the same period of time when the US was supporting other opposition groups in Bolivia, even as they openly discussed blowing up gas lines and innocent people. There was of course, “a plan for immediate response in the event of a sudden emergency, i.e. a coup attempt or President Morales’ death”.
The military is directly linked to the US government, with military leaders who participated in the coup being trained at WHINSEC, a place that is a key part in training coup leaders for regime change and recruiting foreign assets (see Philip Agee's Inside the Company: CIA Diary for more details). Not only that, one of the coup leaders, Calderón Mariscal, served as President of Police Attachés of Latin America in the United States of America (APALA). APALA officials and participants has met countless times with officials from the FBI, DEA, ICE, as well as other US agencies. Not only that, then-OAS General Secretary José Miguel Insulza met with APALA during it's founding in 2012. One can certainly not ignore these links and signs of foreign intervention, especially when combined with the leaked audios discussed later. One should also recall that the last few times the military ousted a democratically elected leader did not end so well, notably with Chile's 9/11 coup in 1973 resulting in Pinochet being installed as the dictator, or the more recent 2009 Honduran coup d'etat.
So, what else do we know about the opposition? Less than 36 hours from the coup, we already have leaked audios showing how they are linked to the Brazilian and US government. Some highlights of the clips find U.S. senators Marco Rubio, Bob Menendez and Ted Cruz, as well as an agent of Brazil's President Bolsonaro, all working with and supporting the opposition, not to mention indications of support from the Jubilee Foundation, the European Union, the United States Embassy and the Evangelical Church. The leaks have also cast light on an agreement between members of the opposition to obtain rapid voting equipment with the goal of manipulating public opinion into declaring the election a fraud. The military leaders involved in the coup are heard in a subsequent audio clip discussing a plan to attack the Cuban embassy and civilians to drive them out of the country, as well as calling for attacks on the homes of supporters of Morales. One can only wonder how these people are seen as pro-democracy by the American media.
To recap and answer the questions posed at the beginning:
Who is Evo Morales? An indigenous president who lifted Bolivia from poverty, wiped out illiteracy, and nationalized industries to benefit the working class of Bolivia.
What happened in the election? Mesa decided to call foul because he lost, the media ate up his lies, America and Brazil jumped at the chance to stage a coup, the military joined the opposition and ousted Morales.
Who is the opposition? A millionaire-led fascist paramilitary, ex-VP Mesa who oversaw brutal massacres and oppression, and the military.
What is the reason behind the protest? Morales not wanting to sell resources for cheap prices to foreign corporations, resisting American imperialism, and nationalizing industries at the expense of the elites to support his social programs that reduced poverty drastically.
The last point of note is how Western media covered the events that unfolded on Sunday. Alan McLeod of FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) made a strong case that the media's refusal to acknowledge that Morales' disposal was the result of a coup d'etat, is indicative of the extent to which elites in the US approve of it. Another interesting thing is how the media tries to avoid discussing who Mesa really is. This is a problem even in supposed left-wing alternative media such as systemicalternatives, which states that the military switched sides due to "high risks that could later lead to trials and prison as occurred during a government-ordered massacre in October 2003". The absurd implication, of course, being that Morales would order a massacre, the irony of which is evident when one remembers that the 2003 massacre happened at the hand of Gonzi and Mesa, the very man who is running against Morales and calling foul. And not just the media, consent is actively being manufactured on Wikipedia, where the page was renamed briefly to "2019 Bolivian Return to Democracy" by a self-proclaimed American with Bolivian heritage before being changed to "Evo Morales government resignation". The page still has no mention of the CEPR report and evidence contrary to the OAS report, but instead focuses primarily on the narrative of the opposition.
One should also draw parallels to the United States. What would the reaction of the right be if antifascist protestors dragged Ted Cruz through the streets barefoot, doused him in paint, cut off his hair, and burned down his home? Surely it would not be support, they would condemn the violence and call for "debate in the marketplace of ideas". Yet such is what the right is supporting when it is done against those who act against the interest of the elites and corporations, demonstrating how little ideological consistency they hold.
Finally, one must remember that this is not without precedent. From the forgotten 9/11 of Chile to the Guatemala coup of 1954, not to mention Honduras in 2009 and Bolivia itself in 1971, whenever there were threats to the profits of corporations such as the United Fruits Company (Guatemala 1954), the United States intervened and installed regimes ran by dictators like Pinochet (Chile 1973) or Banzer (Bolivia 1971), the later of whom hired literal Nazi Klaus Barbie to handle the suppression of the population. And it is not just Latin America either, even European countries suffered the same interventions from America. As Chomsky describes what happened in Italy,
“We worked on destroying the democratic process. The left was obviously going to win the elections; it had a lot of prestige from the resistance, and the traditional conservative order had been discredited. The US wouldn’t tolerate that. But what if the communists still won? In its first report, NSC 1, the council made plans for that contingency: the US would declare a national emergency, put the Sixth Fleet on alert in the Mediterranean and support paramilitary activities to overthrow the Italian government.”
And precisely that happened here, the Bolivian left was attacked by an US-backed order, and when the election was won the opposition cried foul and the military overthrew Morales.
Another democracy just died. And it is not in darkness that it died, but in the false light shone by news outlets such as the Washington Post and CNN who regurgitated lies from the opposition and refused to see the reality of the election, thus allowing the fascist opposition to gain power and oust the man who has lifted Bolivia from poverty. All in the name of profit. One could only hope that democracy would soon return to Bolivia, and that the people united will never be defeated.
Some recommended readings for those who wish to learn more about the history of American imperialism and intervention:
Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine
Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent
Michael Parenti’s The Face of Imperialism
Lars Schoultz's Human Rights and United States Policy Toward Latin America
James Peck's Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-Opted Human Rights
Update Nov. 14: Added more information regarding military leaderships.