After two weeks of protests Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, in power for the last 14 years, has been forced by the armed forces to resign his post.
The unrest was a result of accusations of electoral fraud in Morales’s latest election (October 2019), as well as the Supreme Court (November 2017) overruling the referendum result which denied Morales the right to run for his fourth re-election.
There has been some controversy on whether the last presidential election was in fact rigged. Following the accusation, Morales himself asked the Organisation of American States (OAS) to audit the election. The OAS’s report found evidence of electoral data manipulation. However, the polls had predicted a win for Morales, and other independent organisations reported no evidence of electoral misconduct.
Whatever the truth about that, it is important to recognise the largely reactionary character of the anti-government demonstrations. Morales’ resignation was a result of a coup led by the military and the sections of the Bolivian ruling class as a reaction to social-democratic reforms and pro-indigenous affirmation promoted by Morales’s government in the last 14 years.
The left has plenty of reasons to criticise Morales’s government, including most recently his failure to combat domestic violence and his gross mishandling of forest fires. The recent demonstrations, overall, did not reflect a left-wing critique, perhaps because of the lack of an organised left opposition. Anti-government demonstrators were openly anti-indigenous and anti-worker: burning the Wiphala (the flag of the Andes indigenous people) at several occasions during protests, and tying the radio director of the peasants’ union to a tree while trashing the union building.
In midst of the civil unrest, the police mutinied and the armed forces “suggested” that Morales resign. The president and vice-president of the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) were arrested and paraded on television, and Morales’s house was violently invaded by the armed forces.
Morales resigned on 10 November, seeking asylum in Mexico. The opposition deputy leader of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez, has taken over as Interim President because the leaders of the senate and lower house also resigned. She declared: “The Bible has re-entered the government palace”.
Morales’s resignation and the establishment of a new government did not calm the situation. Mass protests of Morales’ supporters, many of them indigenous people and coca farmers, are now taking to the streets. (Over 40% of Bolivia’s population are of peoples predating Spanish colonisation, mostly Aymara and Quechua. Other Latin American countries except Peru and Guatemala have much smaller percentages of indigenous peoples).
Protests have been met heavy-handily by the police, and 23 protesters have died in the clashes so far. Pro-Morales and anti-coup protesters have blocked roads to the main cities, causing a shortage of food and fuel. Coca-grower farmer unions have given the interim president until late today to step down.
It is undeniable that Bolivian democracy is at great risk. In Latin America’s turn to the right over the last year, this is perhaps the greatest threat to the bourgeois democracy which gained a precarious and thin spread right across the continent in the 1990s.
The establishment of a permanent military-authoritarian government in Bolivia would be massively harmful to the working class, women and indigenous people, not only in Bolivia, but in the whole of South-America. The Bolivian coup will certainly entrench authoritarian moves by the right in the rest of the continent.
We must unapologetically oppose the coup in Bolivia, call for the end to the persecution of left wing leaders (regardless of the quality of their politics), and for new free elections.