Bolivia: Evo Morales resigns amid ‘civic coup’

Bolivia's Evo Morales resigns: What prompted it and what's next?

Morales addresses the media at the presidential hangar in the Bolivian Air Force terminal in El Alto, Bolivia [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

By Bill Weinberg (at Countervortex)

On Nov. 10, Bolivia’s besieged president Evo Morales flew from La Paz to the provincial city Chimoré in his traditional heartland of Cochabamba department, where he issued a televised statement announcing his resignation. The statement decried the “civic coup” that had been launched against him, noting more than two weeks of increasingly violent protests since last month’s disputed elections. He especially called on Carlos Mesa, his challenger in the race, and Luis Fernando Camacho, the opposition leader in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, not to “maltreat” the Bolivian people, and “stop kicking them.” He vowed that the fight is not over, and that “we are going to continue this struggle for equality and peace.”

His vice president Álvaro García Linera also issued a statement, saying “the coup has been consummated.” But he also pledged a continued popular mobilization by Morales supporters. Invoking the words of the 18th century Aymara revolutionary Túpac Katari, he said, “We will return, and we will be millions.”

The opposition also pledged to keep up the pressure. “Today we won a battle,”  Camacho told a crowd of cheering supporters in La Paz as Morales fled the city. But he also demanded that all lawmakers (senators and lower-house deputies), high court magistrates, and members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal also resign. “Only when we can be sure that democracy is solid, then will we go back home.”

Morales’ resignation came hours after the OAS issued a statement on preliminary findings of its audit of the Oct. 20 vote, stating that the results should be “annulled and the electoral process should begin anew as soon as new conditions exist that give new guarantees for its execution, including a new composition of the electoral organ.” The accompanying OAS report found that 350,000 votes are called into question by irregularities in the computer system—far more than the 40,000 by which Morales ostensibly won. “The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom and assign responsibility in this serious case.”

After the statement was issued, several Morales allies resigned, including Mining Minister Cesar Navarro and Chamber of Deputies president Victor Borda—who both cited fear for the safety of their families. Juan Carlos Huarachi, leader of the Bolivian Workers Confederation (COB), also called on Morales to step down “for the health of the country.”

Joining calls for Morales’ resignation was Gen. Williams Kaliman, commander of the armed forces, who said the president should step aside “for pacification and the maintaining of stability, for the good of our Bolivia.”

Another Morales ally, Senate leader Adriana Salvatierra, also stepped down. This cleared the way for the Senate vice-president, Jeanine Añez of the opposition Social Democratic Movement (Demócratas), to become the new leader of the upper house—and next in line in the presidential succession. After the resignation of Moraels and García Linera, she announced that she is to become interim president until new elections can be held. Añez is one of Morales’ harshest opponents. (Los Tiempos de CochabambaLos TiemposPaginaSiete, La Paz, FM BoliviaBBC MundoBBC MundoBBC NewsReutersInfoBaeInfoBae, Argentina, La Republica, Ecuador, RPP Noticias, Peru, Nov. 10)

Police mutiny, escalating violence
In the 48 hours leading up Morales’ resignation, police forces in four Bolivian cities declared themselves to be in “mutiny” against the government, and joined the opposition protests in the streets. The first to announce rebellion was the Cochabamba detachment of the elite Special Operations Tactical Unit (UTOP).  National Police commanders in Santa Cruz, Sucre and Tarija shortly followed. (RPP Noticias, Peru, Nov. 8)

This came amid growing violence across the country. In Oruro, an angry mob on Nov. 9 burned the house of the departmental governor Victor Hugo Vásquez, a Morales ally. The home of the city’s mayor, Saúl Aguilar, another Morales ally, was also set on fire. He announced his resignation shortly after the attack, and joined the calls for new elections. (La Razon, La Paz, Nov, 10; La Razon, Nov. 9)

On Nov. 6, a mob set fire to the municipal building in Vinto, a town in Cochabamba department, and dragged out the mayor, Patricia Arce, again a Morales ally. She was forcibly marched through the streets, while the assailants sprayed her with red paint and cut her hair. She was eventually rescued by the police. That same day, in the nearby village of Huayculi, a young man named Limbert Guzmán Vásquez, apparently a Morales supporter, was beaten to death by a mob. (Los Tiempos,  Nov. 8; EFEBBC News, Nov. 7; Ambito, Argentina, Nov. 6)

On Oct. 30, two men were killed in Montero, a town outside the city of Santa Cruz, in clashes between supporters and opponents of Morales. Both were apparently Morales opponents, and died of gunshot wounds. (BBC NewsInfoBae, Oct. 31; Eju!, Santa Cruz, Oct. 30)

Amid the left-right polarization, an indigenous opposition to Morales also mobilized. Lawmaker Rafael Quispe, a traditional Aymara leader from La Paz department and a former Morales supporter, on Nov. 7 announced the start of a hunger strike to demand the president’s resignation. In a statement from the Chamber of Deputies building, where he held the fast, he called for “a halt to confrontation,” but also demanded that the entire Supreme Electoral Tribunal step down along with Morales. (Pagina Siete, Nov. 7)

OAS findings contested
There has been dissent to the OAS findings that the Oct. 20 election was tainted. The initial OAS statement the day after the vote stressed the hiatus in the count after it began to indicate that the race would have to go to a second round. Twenty-four hours later, the count was resumed, “with an inexplicable change in trend that drastically modifies the fate of the election and generates a loss of confidence in the electoral process.”

But Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington, issued his own analysis contesting that of the OAS. “The OAS statement implies that there is something wrong with the vote count in Bolivia because later-reporting voting centers showed a different margin than earlier ones,” Weisbrot said. “But it provides absolutely no evidence—no statistics, numbers, or facts of any kind—to support this idea. And in fact, a preliminary analysis of the voting data at all of the more than 34,000 voting tables—which is all publicly available and can be downloaded by anyone—shows no evidence of irregularity.” He called on the OAS to “retract” its statement.

On Nov. 8, the CEPR issued a second analysis of the vote count, asserting: “Neither the OAS mission nor any other party has demonstrated that there were widespread or systematic irregularities…”

In a Nov. 9 interview with the BBC, Weisbrot called the claims of electoral fraud “nothing, at this point, more than an unfounded conspiracy theory.” He said the OAS is “under enormous pressure from the Trump administration and Senator [Marco] Rubio, who have publicly stated their intentions to also get rid of this government.”

CEPR has yet to release a response to the OAS report of Nov. 10.

Arrest orders for Morales? 
Hours after Morales announced his resignation, the recently resigned president and vice president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, María Eugenia Choque and Antonio Costas, were both arrested in La Paz. (ABI, Nov. 10)

Nearly simultaneously, Morales reported on Twitter that his home in Cochabamba had been attacked by a mob of opponents, and that he had received word that arrest orders have been issued against him. “The coup-mongers are destroying the rule of law,” he said.  (Los golpistas destruyen el Estado de Derecho.) (ABI, Nov. 10)

Bolivia: was is a ‘coup’? And will it be war?

While the gringo lefties (such as, inevitablyNoam Chomsky) are rushing to call it a “coup,” voices on the left in Bolivia and South America provide a more nuanced assessment.

The Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi warns of “A Popular Uprising Exploited by the Ultra-Right.” (In English here, and in Spanish here.) He notes that as well as the COB, another major trade union, the Syndical Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia  (FSTMB) had also Stated: “President Evo, you have done much for Bolivia, you have improved education, health, and brought diginity to many poor people. President, do not allow your people to burn, don’t allow more deaths to go on being president. All the people will value you for the position you must take; resignation is inevitable, compañero President. We must leave the national government in the hands of the people.”

He also notes Morales’ alienation of former indigenous allies now in the opposition, such as Rafael Quispe’s organization CONAMAQ. Zibechi concludes:

If there is anything left of ethics and dignity on the Latin American left, we should be reflecting on power, and the abuses committed in its exercise. As feminists and indigenous people have taught us, power is always oppressive, colonial and patriarchal. That is why they reject leaders [caudillos], and why communities rotate their leaders so that they don’t accumulate power.

We cannot forget that in this moment there is a serious danger that the racist, colonial and patriarchal right manages to take advantage of this situation to impose rule and provoke a bloodbath. The revanchist social and political desires of the dominant classes is as present, as it has been over the last five centuries, and must be stopped without any vacillation.

We will not enter into the game of war that both sides wish to impose.

Another analysis is offered by Pablo Solón of the Fundación Solón in La Paz, Morales’ former UN ambassador but today in the left opposition. (English here, Spanish here.) He asks flatly, “What happened in Bolivia? Was there a coup?” He also warns of right-wing exploitation of the crisis, but does not exculpate Morales of fraud, and calls him to task for serious errors.

First he notes that the company contracted by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal itself to review the election results found that the process was “nullified by corruption” [viciado de nulidad]. (An account in Argentina’s La Nación identifies the company as as the Panamanian firm Ethical Hacking, although, confusingly, another account on DW has the Tribunal pointing to the Ethical Hacking review as vindicating the results.)  Solón charges that the Morales government “minimized the indignation generated by the fraud. In the beginning, Evo Morales said the protests were small groups of youth tricked by money…

In an interview with Solón by Britain’s Political Economy Research Centre, he elaborates on the deeper long-term strategic errors by Morales and his party:

Originally, we conceived of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) as a political instrument of social organizations. The objective was not to construct a political party in the traditional sense, but rather for the social movements, and in particular the peasant and indigenous movements, to have a political arm with which to intervene in elections, but with the social movement always retaining decision-making power, not the party…

One of the mistakes that the government made, for which I am also responsible, was to involve too many leaders from social movement organizations in the administration of the government. We weakened the social organizations through the incorporation of their leaders into the state apparatus.

This was a grave error. We did not consider the importance of maintaining the independence of social organizations from the state. The error was to fail to recognize that within the state we were going to suffer through a process of transformation and that, therefore, there had to be a kind of capable counter-power – not only to exercise control over those of us who were in government, but also to transfer more areas of decision-making and action from the state toward this counter-power of social organizations.

We did precisely the opposite. We build an ever more important cult of personality around the figure of Evo Morales. This allowed him to win the second election overwhelmingly, but it laid the basis for the disaster that would come later.

Another neither/nor perspective is offered by Maria Galindo of La Paz feminist collective Mujeres Creando (in English here and Spanish here). First, she repudiates the version of events proffered by Morales and his supporters:

It tires me to have to repeat that the Movement to Socialism (MAS) is exporting to the world the idea that what is happening in Bolivia is a popular progressive bloc against an extreme and fundamentalist right. The government of Evo Morales was for many years responsible for dismantling of popular organizations by dividing them, corrupting them and imposing clientelist leadership, making pacts with the most conservative sectors of society including fundamentalist Christian sects…

But next she turns to right-opposition leader Fernando Camacho:

In the face of the delusional leadership of Evo, the Santa Cruz region produced another delusional, apparently antagonistic but at the same time complementary leader. A white man, entrepreneur, and president of a “civic” organization who uses religious fanaticism and an openly misogynist discourse…

Meanwhile, on the subject of the “game of war” warned of by Zibechi, frightening footage has emerged on social media (see herehere and here) of Morales’ most militant supporters, the Ponchos Rojos, running through the streets in El Alto with wiphala flags, setting off dynamite, and chanting “Now yes, civil war!” (it sort of rhymes in Spanish: ¡Ahora si, guerra civil!)  and “Rifle, machine-gun, El Alto will not fall!” or “El Alto will not be silent!” (The Spanish can be translated either way: ¡Fusil, metralla, El Alto no se calla!)

14 thoughts on “Bolivia: Evo Morales resigns amid ‘civic coup’

      1. They do not leave fingerprints but admit to it forty years later. The deniers of CIA activity are culpable because they know.

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  1. Is that your best shot man? You’re stuck on repeat, it’s the second time you’ve used that I’m all shook up. As Dennis Healey said I feel like I’ve been attacked by a ‘dead sheep.’

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