In Bolivia, right-wing Senator Jeanine Áñez declared herself president Tuesday night despite a lack of quorum in Congress, amid a deepening political crisis in the country. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, left the country Monday after being granted asylum in Mexico. Morales announced his resignation Sunday shortly after the Bolivian military took to the airwaves to call for his departure. His Movement Toward Socialism party is refusing to recognize Áñez as president, calling her claim illegal and decrying Evo Morales’s resignation over the weekend as a military coup. Last month, Morales was re-elected for a fourth term in a race his opponents claimed was marred by fraud. He ran for a fourth term after contesting a referendum upholding term limits. On Tuesday, the Organization of American States held an emergency meeting in Washington, where U.S. Ambassador Carlos Trujillo read a statement from President Donald Trump applauding Evo Morales’s resignation and warning it should “send a strong signal” to Venezuela and Nicaragua. Mexico, Uruguay, Nicaragua and the president-elect of Argentina have all denounced Morales’s departure as a coup. Morales’s departure has sparked demonstrations and clashes across Bolivia. We host a debate on the political crisis in Bolivia with Pablo Solón, former ambassador to the United Nations under President Evo Morales until 2011, and Kevin Young, assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the author of “Blood of the Earth: Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia.”
Archive for category: Latin America
“It’s not 30 pesos: it’s 30 years.” This slogan, one of the most frequently used in the mass protests in Chile, explains in seven words what has triggered the biggest mass demonstrations in living memory in this Andean country since the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. It was not the 30 Chilean pesos (€0.037 euros, US$0.041) rise in the subway fare but the accumulation of decades of neoliberal policies, which have turned the Chile of today into one of the most inegalitarian countries in Latin America.
The subway fare rise, one of the highest in the region, unleashed, in the words of Argentine sociologist Maristella Svampa, “an unprecedented generalised experiment in civil disobedience” that began on 7 October, when a group of high school students called for a mass avoidance of fare payment. Five days later, the popular uprising took to the streets. “A violent outbreak was to be expected because it was the only way out. When the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was discussed in Congress, for example, we went on marches, we asked for meetings and consultations, and we were ignored: the system continues along the path of social injustice,” says Alejandra Parra of Environmental Rights Action Network.
Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, who shortly before the social unrest broke out had described his country as “an oasis of stability” in the midst of regional upheaval, declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew. As the crisis mounted, the president compared himself to Ulysses: just as Homer’s mythical hero did not succumb to the sirens’ song, he would not give in to the claims of his people (equating the sirens’ songs with populism – and populism with the people’s demands).
Not long afterwards, however, he reversed the increase in the subway fare, introduced a package of social measures and announced changes in his cabinet; changes that his critics consider cosmetic. Chile’s citizen’s movement is aiming further than this: it wants to dismantle the neoliberal economic and social order that was imposed in the country through blood and fire, following the coup that removed Salvador Allende in 1973, and the implementation of a system that effectively remains in place thanks to a constitution which, as Parra explains, “was formulated in the middle of the dictatorship, and designed to place in private hands public services such as health, education and pensions, and basic rights such as water.”
The uprising in Chile coincided with protests in Ecuador and Haiti, also triggered by an increase in the cost of public transport, but the causes go further back. On Tuesday, 1 October, the Ecuadorian government announced a package of economic measures (the “big package”) that included the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy (through Decree 883), a 20 per cent reduction in the wages of casual public employees and other reforms imposed by the IMF.
The people responded with mass protests and their demands went far beyond the repeal of the decree; they questioned “the neoliberal policies that are against the people’s interests, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which seek to reactivate the business economy but not the economy of the people, or of our rural communities,” concludes Katy Machoa of the Federation of Indigenous Organisations of Napo (FOIN), speaking from the Amazon.
The protests made President Lenín Moreno reverse the fuel price rise, but it seems less likely that there will be a reversal in the direction of his economic policy. “Ecuador is trapped: it has a dollarised economy that it cannot devalue, it does not control its own currency and is very reliant on the export of raw materials, whose prices are falling,” says Svampa, who is concerned about the rise of the right at a time of “a questioning of the party system.”
In Haiti, where, according to a report by the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, inflation (18 per cent) and a wage freeze exist alongside the para-militarisation of daily life, the government of Jovenel Moïse, weighed down by corruption and waste, followed the recommendations of the IMF and decided to increase the price of fuel. This provoked shortages, which, in turn, generated mass protests in which, according a report published by the United Nations on 25 October, 30 deaths were recorded, half of them at the hands of the police. It never rains but it pours: the cycle of citizen’s protests had begun in July 2018. The Haitian people are demanding Moïse’s resignation and the end of foreign interference in their economy.
Social power and state repression
If anything is characteristic of these protests, it is the sheer size and diversity of the mobilisation. “In Ecuador, the popular revolt has served not only to put anti-neoliberal theories back on the agenda but also the issue of pluri-nationality, thanks to the strong role played by the CONAIE [Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador], the [clear] visibility of women, and its multicultural nature,” explains Svampa. Students, unions, rural movements and citizens in general have also joined the ranks of the protestors.
In Chile, where the mass demonstrations of 2005 and 2011 were led by students, this time other social actors have joined in, including the middle classes disillusioned with the neoliberal model that has failed to live up to its promises. Alejandra Parra highlights the horizontality of the movement:
“The organisation has been spontaneous, and at the same time it has been the result of the strengthening of diverse social organisations – students, unions, community and socio-environmental organisations, women’s rights groups, native peoples – who had been working along parallel lanes but who in recent years have been working together to put forward coordinated proposals”.
“Women will be increasingly important in the mobilisations – in different aspects: community women’s groups, urban or rural women’s groups – as well as native peoples and socio-ecological groups,” says Svampa. This Argentine sociologist also notes a common reaction by the states: “It is to be expected that these crowds will face a repressive response from the state, and a state of emergency.”
We have already seen it in Ecuador, where the Ombudsman’s Office counted eight dead, about 1,200 arrests and 13,400 injured; President Moreno, decreed a state of emergency and imposed a curfew. In Chile, the tally is even more alarming: 20 deaths, 3,193 detainees and more than 1,000 injured, according to the National Institute of Human Rights (NHRI), which has also reported complaints of rape and torture. Several witness statements suggest that a torture centre was set up for at least one night at the Baquedano subway station, which brings back dark memories of the dictatorship for the Chilean people. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, sent a mission to investigate what happened; the social movements are demanding that there should also be an independent investigation that coordinates with the social organisations.
An uncertain outlook
What will the Latin American political scene look like in the wake of these protests? Parra is optimistic: “I hope that there will be a real change: what we have experienced will stay with us, body and soul, ‘learning by doing’ has not been erased from our popular culture and is seen today in the form of assemblies that are formulating structured proposals from the demands voiced on the streets, in order to launch a people’s demand for structural change in our country; and that will go to a constituent assembly that will lead to the reform of the constitution”. According to a survey carried out in October, 80 per cent of Chilean citizens approve the idea of a new constitution and 85 per cent are “in agreement” with the social movement of recent weeks.
“In Chile there is a radical questioning now of the status quo, but there are no left or centre-left parties capable of articulating those demands,” argues Svampa. What has been put on the table, however, is that the “oasis” of stability that was Chile, for years presented as proof of the success of the liberal model, had feet of clay. From now on, it will be more difficult to use Chile’s macroeconomic figures as an argument to legitimise adjustment policies in the region. And it remains to be seen what will happen to Piñera, who has already had to suspend the summits of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC) and the 2019 United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 25), scheduled for November and December, respectively.
What these popular uprisings have also shown is that “the impact of the mobilisations is much greater when they manage to break away from the polarised image that presents the issues as a case of government versus opposition,” explains Svampa.
In other words, these protests are not so much about the government of the day, but the economic model itself: in Ecuador, the movements now protesting against Moreno have also dissociated themselves from former President Rafael Correa.Likewise, in Chile and Haiti the protests are not against a specific government and in favour of another one, but rather against neoliberalism and its austerity/adjustment policies. In Argentina, on the contrary, although anti-neoliberal protests are frequent, they have not developed “the ability to break into the public scene and end the simplified neoliberalism versus populism paradigm,” says Svampa.
More children have been detained in the U.S. than in any other country, largely due to Trump’s policies
Bolivia’s democratically-elected President Evo Morales said in a televised speech on November 9: “I would like to denounce before the Bolivian people and the world that a coup is underway. A coup against a democratically-elected government. A coup against social movements, workers, patriots, humble and Indigenous people who have built a democratic cultural revolution.”
The ongoing coup attempt by the United States-backed opposition in Bolivia has reached boiling point. Sections of the police have declared mutiny and far-right protesters attacked and shut down the government’s media outlets, assaulting its journalists. Now new elections have been called by the Bolivian government in an attempt to defuse the situation.
Beyond the fast paced developments, it’s necessary to understand the politics and background to this coup attempt, which has now undertaken a dramatic shift to the right as fascist elements within Bolivia’s right wing opposition come to the fore.
There is now an increasingly clear rupture between the minority of more moderate voices, and the fascist rhetoric of Fernando Camacho, the Santa Cruz caudillo (political leader), who has emerged as the new leadership of the right wing protest movements that seek to annul the democratic results of Bolivia’s recent elections that gave a clear victory to Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) coalition on October 20. However, the resistance to the coup, led by indigenous communities and trade unions, has also stepped up and proved itself capable of keeping the far right at bay.
Carlos Mesa, the neo-liberal centrist candidate who came second in October’s Presidential race with only 36% of the vote, has now lost the media spotlight to far right politician Camacho, leader of the “civic committee” of Santa Cruz, the most right wing region of the country, with a history of racism against the country’s indigenous majority, the last flare up of which was the 2008 “Media Luna” coup attempt that saw a wave of racist violence carried out by the “civic” and “youth” groups that are taking a leading role in the protest movement today.
The extent to which Mesa has lost control was laid bare on November 6 when an important opposition rally was held in La Paz. Camacho led this event and Mesa was not even present. The chant “neither Evo nor Mesa” is now common at opposition protests.
Camacho and the Civic Committees are now the leadership of the opposition protests and their politics are unambiguously extremist and fascistic. Unlike Mesa, Camacho has taken a maximalist position, meaning he does not believe in holding a second round, or holding fresh Presidential elections, he calls instead for the immediate fall of the government and the passing of state power to the supreme court until new elections can be held at which Morales would be barred from running.
At the mass rallies that he has led in Santa Cruz, he always holds up a bible and recently announced that he “is going to restore God to the Presidential palace, from where he has been taken out [by Morales]”. Religious conservatism has been a common theme for his movement. The civic committee’s last high profile protests were in 2016 against the extension of LGBT rights under Morales’ Gender Identity Law that allowed trans citizens to change their gender on official documents.
Those loyal to Camacho’s civic committees have been carrying out egregious violence, mostly against indigenous women during the recent protests. One woman in Santa Cruz was attempting to pass an opposition roadblock on her way to visit the local cemetery when she was “detained” in a toilet and threatened with being burnt alive for being a “masista” (government supporter) and a “colla” (a racist term used against highland Andeans). She was eventually released after being forced to get on her knees and “apologise” to the right wing protesters as they filmed it.
Another, woman, Patricia Arce the elected socialist mayor of Vinto (a town in the Cochabamba department) was kidnapped, beaten, covered in red paint and had her hair cut off then paraded through the streets barefoot by opposition protesters, before being rescued by police.
Her words, whilst still being held captive, were caught on film and serve as an example of the bravery of the working class and indigenous Bolivians who have resisted the coup thus far, she said, “I’m not afraid of you, I tell the truth. This is a free country and I’m not going to be silenced. If you want to kill me then kill me…I’ll give my life for this process of change”.
This level of violence was previously seen in Bolivia in 2008 during the Media Luna coup attempt, but at that time it was restricted only to the eastern regions of the country, that were demanding autonomy from the central state. However, this time, the Santa Cruz based far-right have taken leadership of a movement that spans the entire country.
At a rally on November 7, Camacho was joined by Waldo Albarricin (former centrist who now calls for the armed forces to join the coup), leading figure of the opposition in La Paz, and Marco Pumari, leader of the Potosi (Andean department) civic committee, who proclaimed jubilantly from the stage that “Camacho will make the heretics read the bible!” This right-wing opposition in the Andean regions formerly opposed the racism of the Cruceno elites, but have now cast Mesa’s centrism aside and lined up behind Camacho’s religious extremism.
Morales responded to this sudden resurgence of political Christianity, saying on twitter, “Our Plurinational State guarantees freedom of worship, there is no longer any religions given primary or secondary importance, it’s sad that religion is being used to organise mobilisations of racism and discrimination. Religion is reconciliation and blessing…”
The response of the Bolivian government has been extraordinarily hands off. The police have been given orders to not lift the opposition “bloqueos” (where protesters block roads indefinitely, these have been concentrated in the wealthiest and whitest areas of the large cities). These bloqueos are entering their 17th day, paralysing traffic circulation in upper class districts such as San Miguel and Calacoto in the Zona Sur of La Paz.
Those resisting the coup in the streets have not been the forces of the state, but rather trade unions and indigenous communities. Miners and rural workers have flooded into La Paz and maintained a permanent presence outside the Presidential palace, so as to stop right-wing forces from seizing it, something opposition protesters have attempted to do.
The indigenous popular city of El Alto has come in swinging for Morales’ government this week, holding a number of mass rallies at which social movements pledged resistance to coup.
Despite the hands off approach of the state, the opposition claims they are suffering repression due to clashes between them and protesters who support the government. In some places intense fighting has broken out between both sides. In the town of Montero, known as a government stronghold, truck loads of oppositionists from Santa Cruz were brought in to attack “masistas”.
Heavy fighting broke out between local residents and the oppositionists that resulted in two deaths of opposition protesters, and a scenario took place in Cochabamba that resulted in the death of one. The government has formally condemned violence of both sides in such confrontations and arrests have already been made. Nevertheless, the opposition are equating outbreaks of street fights to police/military repression.
The threat of the US government taking measures against Bolivia remains present, with war hawk and US Senator Marco Rubio himself issuing “warnings” to Morales.
Though the Bolivian government hope that they can pull through this conflict and avert the sanctions and intervention that have been imposed on Venezuela and Nicaragua, it is in pursuit of this that they have given all manner of concessions to the right wing.
These past few weeks have proven the futility of trying to reason with coup plotters – the opposition are not a democratic force and have rebuffed every attempt at a peaceful negotiated solution that the Bolivian government have proposed. The government’s supporters have mobilized en masse to resist the coup and defend Morales’ recent election victory. They are demanding that the coup be quashed once and for all.
The stakes involved in this struggle are huge. The US and Bolivia’s right-wing opposition are not prepared to accept the legitimate re-election of Morales and seek to reverse the tremendous economic and social transformation of the country that this socialist movement has achieved since it first came to office in 2006.
The US are attempting to make all of Latin America its “backyard” again and Bolivia is its next target. Progressive people across the world must stand with Bolivia against the coup plotters and the attempts of the US to destabilise the country.