The Fate of Bolivian Democracy: US Coups, Intervention, and Interests

The US is culprit to much of the strife that currently tolls Bolivia, and much of South America for that matter.

The recent coup, protests, and military violence in Bolivia have been a stark reminder of US global hegemony. The Bolivian military has recently forced the resignation and exile of their democratically elected President, Evo Morales. Despite the US media’s coverage of these events as a return to democracy, all visible evidence goes against this conclusion. This is not a majority of the population ousting a leader they do not believe represents them or their interests, this is the military and opposition parties getting rid of the leader that has been giving back to his people for the past 14 years. The US has a vested interest in conveying this as a righteous movement led by the people and for the people rather than as what it is, a military, right-wing party taking power by overthrowing the existing government. US interests lie in trying to cover up their latest involvement in an unpopular coup of a democratic government that went against the US’s best interest, not that of the Bolivian people, and subsequently creating massive unrest and turmoil within the country that has had its ability to vote and choose their own leader, taken away.

The US has a long history of instigating coups and revolutions in countries that they rely on for cheap trade once the country starts taking a socialist turn in order to provide social services and better conditions for the citizens of its country and then heralding these violent upheavals as somehow for the betterment of a people the US does not have a care for and Bolivia is just the latest. Bolivia has been in a state of turmoil and unrest since the contested elections held in October. Unrest had been sowing for months leading up to the elections as Morales narrowly lost the votes for a constitutional resolution that would allow him to run in these latest elections, but then won an appeal in the Supreme Courts which removed term limits altogether. On October 20th, incumbent President Evo Morales was reelected with enough votes (at over 40 per cent) to win without necessitating a second round of elections. Things began to take a turn for the worst when opposing parties claimed votes were rigged and that corruption had led to Morales being elected for his fourth term in a row.

For three weeks, political tensions rose as the US and Organization of American States (OAS) repeated claims made by Carlos Mesa -Morales’ biggest opponent- of fraud and vote-count irregularities. Morales both invited an audit of the existing election records and conceded to holding fresh elections to counter the claims of fraud, however this was not enough for the military and right-wing groups.

Rioters targeted and broke into the homes of many members of Morales’ party, including Mayor Patricia Arce. Arce was forced to walk barefoot as she was dragged through the streets, covered in red paint, had her chopped off, as rioters threw racist and sexist taunts at her. During her kidnapping she was forced to commit to her resignation from office. On the same day the electoral office in Santa Cruz was burned down and the military ‘suggested’ that Morales resign. Shortly after this suggestion by the military, Morales left the country. The suggestions of the armed forces are hardly ever safe to ignore, especially at times of political unrest in South America, as has been demonstrated by the assassinations of many South American officials in the past.

Since Morales’ flight from Bolivia, Jeanine Añez, the former vice president of Senate and fifth person in-line for presidency, has declared herself interim President. Though she was required to be sworn-in by the Movimiento al Socialismo or Movement for Socialism (MAS) controlled legislative branch of government, the lawmakers refused to attend as many MAS party members had been attacked, arrested, or decried as terrorists since Morales’ loss of power. Añez proceeded to swear herself in, in order to take power, despite the requirements for her swearing-in ceremony not being met. Her statements as the self-declared interim president, have been nothing short of worrying, claiming that ‘the Bible has returned to the Palace’ and issuing a since deleted tweet, declaring that indigenous practices such as the Aymara New Year’s ‘satanic’. She has also barred Morales from returning to Bolivia and from running in the next elections. Morales supporters have been demonstrating across Bolivia calling for his return and protesting military involvement in the democratic proceedings of the country’s politics. 

US reporting of the events unfolding in Bolivia have been single-mindedly trying to cast doubt on Morales’ legitimacy and the use of the word ‘coup’. The Guardian heralds the events as a possible ‘return to democracy’, The Nation claims that ‘the armed forces spoke up for democracy’, The Washington Post said that ‘his downfall was his insatiable appetite for power’, Wall Street Journal posited that Morales having ‘stuffed (the Supreme Court) with loyalists’ was sufficient evidence that he should never have been able to run in these elections in the first place. All major outlets validate Morales’ ousting with claims that he stayed in power for far too long and that his desire to run again was proof of him becoming an autocrat.

To put into perspective the audacity of these claims, Morales has been in power in Bolivia for just as long as Angela Merkel has been in power in Germany and yet we do not hear of the beginnings of an uprising against her. Morales ‘stuffing’ the Supreme Court with ‘loyalists’ is nothing more or less than any US president has done when appointing judges during their term as is within their rights and duties. Similar reporting has shown the two groups of people in the streets in drastically differing lights; the protestors are shown as violent looters and rioters, inciting violence. Meanwhile, the military is portrayed as just ‘being out in the streets’. Contrary to these portrayals there have been over 30 casualties, entirely one-sided, with police and military forces routinely attacking the largely indigenous protestors.

Why is it that the US is trying to validate this interim government being run by a party that won only 4 per cent of votes in the latest elections, a party that wants to delegitimize the native practices that have equal standing with Christianity in Bolivia, a president who claims that native practices are satanic when 70 per cent of the populous she is now leading are indigenous? This is a government being propped up, almost entirely, by military might. Their actions since taking power have been more in line with stemming the democratic rights and interests of the Bolivian people than furthering them.

Añez has worked to remove Venezuelan and Cuban officials and doctors, work against indigenous rights, and bar Morales from returning or running as president. Morales was the first indigenous leader of Bolivia, representing and giving voice to the majority but marginalized population of the country, in contrast, Añez has no indigenous representation in her cabinet. Morales also managed to reduce extreme poverty by more than half during his time as president in large part by nationalizing the natural gas industry, a largely abundant resource in Bolivia. Many fear that Añez’s government’s plans to redistribute money generated from the natural gas, could lead to the reversal of much of this progress. US propaganda does not match up with this loss of democracy as the government works at odds with the interests of the people and yet most major news outlets seem dead-set on portraying this movement as the triumphant victory of an disenfranchised people over an autocrat. 

The US is culprit to much of the strife that currently tolls Bolivia, and much of South America for that matter. Rough estimates put the CIA at having backed around 50 coups in the past century. From Iran to Chile, the US has been ousting or downright assassinating leaders that nationalize industries that the US relied on cheap trade to exploit. The nationalization of these industries is almost always at the democratic will of the constituents within the states implementing these programs and is almost always shown to have positive economic benefits until the US starts placing sanctions or sabotaging economic advancements.

In Chile, Allende nationalized mines the US relied on for copper and was replaced by Pinochet and martial law. In Haiti, Aristide took stances against imperialist forces exploiting Haiti and was replaced with a puppet government that filled the country with Western sweatshops. In Iran, Mosaddegh sought to nationalize oil and was replaced with the monarchy of the Pahlavis. How does the US market any of these shifts of power as for the betterment of democracy? The only thing bettered in any of these situations is US trade interests. Even now in Bolivia, not only was natural gas a large and abundant resource that the US wanted to see liberated for private exploitation, but lithium, which is also plenty abundant in Bolivia, could very well have played a huge role in the US’s actions. Directly after the coup, Tesla’s stock prices took a sharp upwards turn. Lithium’s necessity in the building of electric cars could point to the sudden interest in American companies that will surely now have easier access to a resource not their own. 

The US has very self-serving interests when it comes to their involvement in Bolivia. They have a history of causing massive unrest and violence in less developed countries to continue exploiting the natural resources these countries could benefit from charging realistic costs for and an equally long history of playing these devastating political clashes as in the best interest of the people of the respective nations. Once again, in Bolivia, the US has backed an extremist religious group that a majority of the country dislikes to overthrow a government that was democratically elected in, in order to secure cheap access to Bolivian resources regardless of the casualties the turmoil has caused. CEPR’s (The Center for Economic and Policy Research) report found a damning lack of evidence for foul play in the latest elections that Morales won and yet the US PR team has been hard at work to play Añez and the military as the good guys struggling to deal with the fallout of Morales’ dictatorship and mob violence.

Anum Ali is a Research Intern at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA) and has a BA in International Relations from the University of South Florida (USF).

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Filed under Bolivia, Chile, Discussion, Politics, South America, United States

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