Weeks of Protest Leads to Coup, Ousting Bolivia’s First Indigenous President Evo Morales

Interview with Andres Arauz, senior research fellow with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, conducted by Scott Harris

After three weeks of sometimes violent protests that left three dead and many injured, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales was forced from power in a coup. On Nov. 10, Morales, Latin America’s first indigenous head of state, and Vice President Alvaro Garcia announced their forced resignation and fled to the city of Cochabamba in central Bolivia. He later arrived in Mexico, where he has been granted political asylum.

Protests followed the Oct. 20 national election, which the Bolivian opposition had charged was manipulated by electoral authorities to declare Morales the first-round victor. The Washington-dominated Organization of American States had published a report alleging irregularities that impacted the official vote count. But analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has cast doubt on those findings, warning against what it called “the politicization of the electoral observation process.”

Both the commander-in-chief of Bolivia’s military and head of the Bolivian Police requested, in no uncertain terms, the resignation of Morales. The coup forces, led by Pro-Santa Cruz Committee President Luis Fernando Camacho, continues to target Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) activists, progressive social movements and the majority Indigenous peoples of the nation. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Andres Arauz, senior research fellow with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a former Ecuador government minister of knowledge and Central Bank general director. Reached in Mexico City where he’s pursuing a doctorate in economics, Arauz describes the coup that overthrew Bolivia’s socialist president.

ANDRES ARAUZ: Well, this has led to a power vacuum in Bolivia. The vice president also resigned in solidarity with the president. So the line of succession is broken because there is nobody to be in charge of the presidency of the Bolivian government and the congressional authorities that were supposed to be in the line of succession have also resigned due to pressures from the opposition. There is apparently the second vice president of the Senate in a position and a leader. She is supposedly next in the line of succession.

But the opposition protesters that have been leading the coup, especially (Luis Fernando) Camacho from Santa Cruz has said that somebody else needs to take charge. And of course he volunteered himself. Now he’s a person that is extremely right wing. He belongs to Nazi groups in Santa Cruz and he is also part of the commercial and economic elite of Santa Cruz. He’s a landowner and he is what you may call a religious fanatic. Like for example, taking the Bible and putting it on top of the Bolivian flag when he took over the presidential palace. It is expected that even if he’s not actually in charge of the presidency, he may be the one actually running the country right now. Of course, he has no democratic mandate whatsoever. He was not elected at all, but he’s the one exerting power right now and he has asked the military — that have not participated in any way by repressing protesters — so today he has asked the military to intervene and to exert force against the leftist campesinos that are now protesting against the coup d’etat and that are primarily from the countryside and from the Bolivian city of El Alto, which is just outside of La Paz, the capital city.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Andres, what do we know about any U.S. support for this apparent coup d’etat in Bolivia?

ANDRES ARAUZ: Well, there have been some pronouncements by the Trump administration congratulating the opposition forces for “democracy.” I don’t know what kind of democracy is this – one of the machinations when they questioned whether he won by just enough margin on a round; a second round was necessary, but it was obvious that he had more votes than MAS and the OES, electoral supervisory mission, admits. So, we have also had some announcements by (Sen.) Marco Rubio, by the attorney general and by the U.S. attorney general. And of course, by (Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo, all congratulating the Bolivian opposition for this. So even though if U.S. didn’t play an active role, which had been constant in the case of Bolivian history for, you know, throughout the 20th century. Even these words that are encouraging the Bolivian coup slaughter perhaps were not necessary in a civilized 21st century democracy.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Andres, who would the potential winners and losers be in a civil war in Bolivia that pits the indigenous population that supports Eva Morales and his MAS party against the regionally-centered conservative opposition groups?

ANDRES ARAUZ: The Bolivian campesinos and indigenous majority has lived under repression from right-wing forces and conservative politicians — not in the last 24 hours, but more something like the last 500 years. Please recall that Evo Morales was the first indigenous president in an overwhelmingly indigenous majority population. So this is the first indigenous president in an indigenous country. And Evo Morales is really more like the figure of Nelson Mandela, who had been in prison for multiple times before he was ever a candidate or a politician, precisely because he led the resistance against neoliberal or right-wing governments. He was in office for more than 10 years into the early 21st century. So like even Evo Morales and his vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera said, indigenous people that are actually used to being the underdog, are used to being the ones that are repressed and that face you know, the armed forces in very asymmetric times.

So it is widely expected that unless there is a democratic revival in Bolivia, the right-wing forces will again – with the support of the armed forces, police and so on – will regain the upperhand and control with brute force the political situation in Bolivia. In economic terms, it will mean an aggressive, extractivist project primarily based on the expansion of agriculture into the Amazon. Camacho is a landowner that supports expansion of the agricultural frontier into the Amazon, having devastating ecological consequences. And of course, in the macroeconomic side, there is no doubt that a right-wing government would simply adopt the IMF (International Monetary Fund) agenda, which is clearly set out for Bolivia in its last report from December 2018.

For more information, visit the Center for Economic and Policy Research at cepr.net.

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