By Yanis Iqbal
Ever since the racist right-wing government of Jeanine Anez has assumed power, Bolivia is continuously experiencing politico-economic tumult. Recently, seven legislators of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) filed a complaint against the Ministers of Government and Defense, Arturo Murillo and Luis Fernando López, for misconduct in the purchase of riot gear equipments. As per the complaint, the post-coup Bolivian government unfavorably cancelled its purchase with the Brazilian corporation Condor. Thereafter, the Bolivian government signed an agreement with an American company named Bravo Tactical Solutions. The Shifting of purchase to Bravo Tactical Solution has allegedly cost the Bolivian government a surcharge of $2 million. This recent incident of dishonest dealing is one among the 35 cases of corruption which have occurred since Evo Morales, the radical Aymara socialist president of Bolivia, was illegally overthrown with the help of US support. Prominent among these cases was the ventilator scandal in which the governmental coup-plotters purchased 170 unusable ventilators worth $1.2 million for $4.7 million. Due to the public outrage which this corruption scandal generated, the health minister Marcelo Navajas had to be suspended.
The increasing numbers of corruption scandals are highlighting a fundamental feature of the new post-coup government: the new government does not care for the well-being of the Bolivian populace. The historical conditions in which it emerged shaped it as an authoritarian administration which had to act as the handmaiden of US imperialism and neoliberalism. To better understand these structural features of the post-coup government which are going to play out importantly in the future, we need to examine the circumstances in which it rose to power.
In November 2019, the democratically elected socialist president of Evo Morales was ousted through a US-orchestrated coup. This coup was initially spawned by the Organization of American States (OSA) which published a report falsely claiming that the 2019 Bolivian elections were rigged. In the report, OAS expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results revealed after the closing of the polls”. Despite being “long on accusations and short on facts”, this report was uncritically absorbed and iterated by major publishing outlets without any qualms. Later on, OAS’s audacious prevarications were disproved by MIT in an article published by Washington Post in which it said that “As specialists in election integrity, we find that the statistical evidence does not support the claim of fraud in Bolivia’s October election”. Moreover, an independent verification carried out by The Center for Economic and Policy Research also found that there wasn’t any “quantitative evidence of an irregular trend as claimed by the OAS”.
In spite of subsequent refutations, OAS had already done much damage through its strategically organized falsification campaign. Using the utterly spurious OAS report on October elections, the far-right of Bolivia started to conflagrate the political environment. On November 4 2019, Luis Fernando Camacho, a multi-millionaire businessman from separatist Santa Cruz, promised to “bring the Bible back to the palace of government”. Furthermore, he told Morales to resign within 24 hours and pompously said to a crowd of supporters: “I’m not going with weapons, I’m going with my faith and my hope; with a Bible in my right hand and a resignation letter [for Morales] in my left hand.” Camacho somehow managed to enter the main hall of the presidential palace and placed the bible on a Bolivian flag. After the turmoil of Bolivian coup had settled, Fernando Camacho met Luis Almagro, head of the OAS, in Washington DC who praised Camacho’s “commitment to democracy”. In addition, Camacho was also a guest speaker at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington DC-based think tank, whose shadowy aim is to “foster democratic governance, prosperity, and social equity in Latin America and the Caribbean”.
The symbolic act of placing the bible on a Bolivian flag defines the core anti-indigenist ideology of Fernando Camacho. This ideology wants to relegate the indigenous people to a position of secondary citizens and aspires to ruthlessly subjugate them. The burning of Wiphala flags by Camacho’s supporters highlights the hatred for a plurinational state which is not coerced by Catholicism into mistreating the 36 indigenous groups of Bolivia. But despite its toxic features, the coup plotters garnered backing from USA which, through its conspicuous silence, gave tacit consent to the ongoing violence. Right-wing gangs ransacked the home of Evo Morales, assaulted MAS officials and publicly tortured a female socialist mayor. The final blow came with the November 8-10, 2019 mutinies of the military and police when top Army General Williams Kaliman asked Morales to leave. It is pertinent to remember that Williams Kaliman was trained at the School of Americas which, through its engagement in the dirty wars of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Peru, El Salvador, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua, has acquired a variety of names such as School of Assassins, School of Coups and School of Dictators.
After the military proclamation, Evo Morales had to resign and flee to Mexico. Jeanine Anez, a right wing catholic politician from a miniscule party named Democrat Social Movement, was approved as the interim president of Bolivia by a parliament without the presence of the majority of its elected representatives. Anez ordered a national blockade and selectively sent helicopters to right-wing legislators in order to prevent MAS officials from joining the assembly where they command a two-thirds majority. Through this governmental gangsterism carried out in cahoots with right-wing mobs, Jeanine Anez proclaimed herself as the president and euphorically announced with an oversized bible in her hands that “God has allowed the Bible to come back into the palace. May he bless us.” Furthermore, the new cabinet which Anez announced includes the personal lawyer of Fernando Camacho and it is not surprising that Anez has close affinities with Camacho’s anti-indigenist rhetoric. In a tweet, she said that she dreams “of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites. The city is not for Indians; let them go back to the highlands or the Chaco”.
Donald Trump expressed his full approval for the patently unjust events of Bolivia by triumphalistically saying that the resignation of Evo Morales was “a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere”. Trump actually meant to say that it was a significant moment for ruthless neoliberalism in the Western Hemisphere. With Evo Morales gone, the large lithium reserves of Bolivia, which account for 70% of world’s supply, are exposed to the predatory interests of western transnational corporations. Moreover, Bolivia has considerable amount of indium which is an important component of LCD and with the ouster of Evo’s resource nationalism, these precious metals too can be easily plundered by foreign companies. Access to these resources has been made easier through the foreign policy shift which Anez’s post-coup government has initiated. She has exited the left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America and Union of South American Nations to join the Lima Group which is subservient to USA and supports the right-wing self-proclaimed president of Venezuela Juan Guaido. Anez has also closed Bolivia’s diplomatic offices in Iran and Nicaragua and both these countries have been under the radar of US sanctions.
Through a president servile to US imperialism, Bolivia has again become an enclave for US operations. The US Agency for International Development (USAID), which had been expelled by Evo Morales from Bolivia in 2013, has re-entered Bolivia. This is an important event considering the fact that USAID has previously engaged in subversive activities against Evo Morales. In the past years, USAID had been managing a “decentralization and autonomy” program through a US company named Casals and Associates in the region of Media Luna (Half-moon) where powerful business interests and separatist sentiments are located. USAID has also run a program called “Strengthening Democratic Institutions (SDI)” through which it has worked to “enrich the dialogue on decentralization; improve management of departmental budgetary resources; and promote regional economic development.” All this eyewash of decentralization and regional autonomy masks the underlying objective which is to divide Bolivia and end the unified working class support base of Evo Morales through a strategy of organized separatism.
USAID has tried to augment the strength of opposition parties through two US entities named International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI). These two entities received their funding from the Department of State and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and professionally coordinated to destabilize the socialist government of Evo Morales. Here, we come across another major actor on the Bolivian political terrain which has been prominent in the violent putsch of MAS government: National Endowment for Democracy (NED). In 2019, NED ran programmes such as Countering Disinformation in the Political Process, Informing Citizens Via Digital Platforms, Monitoring the National Electoral Process, Promoting an Informed Electorate, Providing Independent Analysis and Information, Providing Independent Political News and Election Information and Stimulating an Informed National Debate. These NED tactics conclusively point towards a scheme of carefully choreographed propaganda and electoral interventionism which contributed to the 2019 Bolivia coup. Contemporary manifestations of this propagandist-electoral warfare include the funding of Santa Cruz Civic Committee and Santa Cruz Youth Committee (of which Fernando Camacho was a member) by NED, shipment of weapons by US to a militarized opposition group in Bolivia through the Chilean port of Iquique and the involvement of U.S. Senators Ted Cruz, Robert Menendez, and Marco Rubio in the discussion of a civil-military transition government which “would allege fraud in the electoral process and would not recognize Morales’ electoral victory”.
The overwhelming influence of USA on the new post-coup government is the reason behind the growing number of corruption cases. This administration was constructed in order to siphon money off from public spending and transfer it to foreign corporations. For this to happen, authoritarian measures have to be taken which militarize the country and crack down on protests. The creation of a “special apparatus of the Prosecutor’s office” to arrest deputies related to MAS, arrest of more than 100 MAS officials and the investigation of 600 former authorities of the executive branch depicts the ongoing governmental crackdown on MAS members. Jeanine Anez’s government has not even spared the civilians and already 36 civilians have been killed by police and military. These killings include the massacre of Senkata in El Alto and the massacre of Sacaba in Cochabamba. Plans are being made to increase military strength for more brutal repression and the use of Israeli military services to train Bolivia’s armed forces is a decisive step in this direction. Along with this witch hunt against MAS members and killings of dissident civilians, the post-coup government is also waging an info-warfare in which the communication minister Roxana Lizárraga is taking “pertinent actions, including deportation, against journalists who commit sedition.” To prevent a critical media from emerging, Russia Today, TeleSUR and foreign outlets have been removed from the cable system and 53 community radio stations have been closed. The new Bolivian government has also signed an agreement with a US-based company called CLS strategies to provide “strategic communications counsel” and it was this same company whom US State Department had allocated $100,000 to spread disinformation against Bolivia through social media platforms. During this entire authoritarian clampdown, neoliberalism is being pursued and the passing of Supreme Decree 4232 is a good example of this. This decree allows the use of genetically modified seeds for five crops i.e. sugarcane, cotton, soy, wheat and corn. Permitting the usage of genetically modified seeds will also allow for use of glyphosate, an herbicide and agro-toxin injurious to human health and used in Colombia by Monsanto for aerial fumigation which increased child deaths, caused respiratory ailments and skin diseases.
Under the post-coup right-wing government, Bolivia is undergoing tremendous upheaval. US imperialism and right-wing militarism are continuously unwinding the major achievements of Evo’s government and are utilizing the Coronavirus lockdown to consolidate power. But despite the repressive political environment, a positive development was the announcement by the Supreme Electoral Court that general elections would be held on 6 September, 2020. According to an opinion poll conducted in March 2020, Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca, the candidates of MAS for president and vice president respectively, are the most preferred among the Bolivian citizens. This means that the revolutionary optimism of fearless Bolivians is still intact and they have not been cowed down by US imperialism.