A return to feudalism? The aftermath of Bolivia’s coup

This coup is a disaster, and besides Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, no major North American politician has pushed back against it.

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“We are the indigenous blood of Mother Earth. Until now Bolivia has been ruled by a few families that have all the political and economic power. They despise, humiliate, marginalize and hate the majority of the indigenous population.”Evo Morales

On November 12th, Jeanine Anez, Bolivia’s newly self proclaimed president, made her way to the government palace surrounded by supporters, an enormous leather bound book in her arms. The scene itself was unusual for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the new president, a far right Christian fundamentalist, was fifth in succession for the presidency.

Anez was elevated because all of those ahead of her were allies of former president Evo Morales and all had resigned, though several changed their minds and claimed that they had been threatened by police, the military or opposition supporters before doing so.

The new president, 52, blonde and dressed in what appeared to be designer clothes, formerly a senator representing the department of Beni in the country’s north-east, held the ridiculously over-sized book aloft, crying, “The bible is returning to the palace!”

Unlike other recent dubious changes in government in nearby Brazil and Argentina, where the judiciary was used to bring rightwing governments to power (and imprison former Brazilian president Lula da Silva to keep him from running again), what happened in Bolivia was closer to what we think of when it comes to the coups of the past in the region. Evo Morales left office at the ‘suggestion’ of the head of the country’s military, a sad reminder of Latin America’s tragic history.

Soon after Morales’ departure and her ascension, Anez’s minister of government, Arturo Murillo, said that he would be creating a list of legislators guilty of “subversion”, and “…that those individuals will be blocked from continuing their duties as representatives and will be subject to arrest starting Monday.”

We can assume that most, if not all, of those on this proposed list will be from Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, which still holds the majority of seats in the country’s two houses of Congress and could conceivably block Anez and the rightwing opposition’s plans for the country.

The newly installed president and other members of her cabinet are on the record repeatedly making racist statements. Although Anez has since deleted it, proof of this can be found in a 2013 tweet where she wrote, “I dream of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites. The city is not for the Indian: they should go to the highlands or the Chaco”.

The new president’s stage managed arrival at the palace was another absurdity heaped upon the horror that has overtaken Bolivia since the overthrow of Morales on Sunday, November 10th. The ousted president, who has since been granted asylum in Mexico, was the first indigenous president in a country where a majority of the population identify as such.

Morales’ overthrow revolved around two main issues that were high-lighted in most of the coverage in the English language press, which varied between seeming ambivalence to delight at what was happening in the mineral rich country. The first, that Morales had overturned a term limit on the presidency is objectively true, but it should be understood that he had done this the legal way, with the country’s highest court deciding that he could run for a fourth term.

The second is a little more nebulous and is based on the vote count and involved the intervention of the Organization of American States (OAS), which appeared to be acting as a puppet for the United States and its regional allies.

The gist of it is that for presidential elections Bolivia there are two vote counts, a ‘quick count’ and the official one. The quick count, which is handled by a private company called Neotech, was set to take about 80% of the vote into account (it actually ended at 83%). This initial quick count showed that while Morales was the winner, he failed to meet the 10% threshold to avoid a runoff election with his nearest rival.

The full count, which includes isolated rural areas known to be loyal to Morales, showed him pulling ahead enough to avoid a runoff and for some reason observers from the OAS decided that this more thorough counting of all the votes showed ‘irregularities’. Morales, likely knowing he would win in the end, even said that he was willing to re-run the election, instead he was threatened and forced from office.

The now former president’s removal and exile has led his supporters to take to the streets throughout the country with many serious injuries and at least 30 deaths so far. Showing loyalty to Morales, often great personal risk, the protesters know that giving control back to the country’s traditional elites is a return not to neo-liberalism (although they can expect renewed austerity) but to a long standing feudalism based on the kind of racism Anez and her subordinates feel no shame in publicly espousing.

As Sonia, a woman involved in the protests explained to a reporter, “Evo Morales has been a good man, He worked for the people. He didn’t rob from us like these thieves who want to shake up the state and kill us like dogs, as if we’re not humans.”

Like any other politician, Morales was not perfect, but in terms of the vast majority of Bolivia’s population who had languished for decades in extreme poverty at the mercy of local elites and foreign interests, his record compares favorably with any other Latin American leader this century. By most major metrics from literacy to poverty, Bolivia has seen great progress over the last decade and change of Morales’ rule.

Nationalizing resources like the country’s vast reserves of lithium is a logical plan of action that is of course despised by both local and foreign elites; Morales’ plans to allow Chinese companies to help develop these resources also likely played a role. From Canada and the United States to most of the heads of state of Europe, whether they call themselves ‘conservatives’ or ‘liberals’, powerful foreign governments have shown themselves over decades to be no friends to the people of Bolivia, or, for that matter, the majority in Latin America, most of whom struggle to feed their families and ensure better futures for their children.

Anez may have a different style from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who seems to delight in playing the role of the fascist strongman, but the motivations of these leaders are pretty much the same: to revive the extreme racism of the past, to allow local robber barons and foreign multinationals to exploit the land with impunity and to push fundamentalist Christianity with all that this entails for women and marginalized communities in both countries.

This coup, whether mainstream journalists want to call it this or not, is a disaster, and besides Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, no major North American politician has pushed back against it, another black mark against the so-called ‘developed world’.

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