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While Evo’s MAS party regroups, Bolivia’s coup leaders are eating each other alive

Humiliating scandals are destroying right-wing leader Luis Fernando Camacho and the right is fracturing as a more militant MAS party readies for an uphill election battle.

by Wyatt Reed

Part 2 - From right-wing golden boy to “damaged goods”

Luis Fernando Camacho rose to political prominence months ago, but cemented his status as coup figurehead after he broke into the Palacio Quemado, Bolivia’s presidential palace, with police assistance. In a bizarre act of colonialist kabuki theater, he placed a Bolivian flag and enormous Bible on the floor and declared that God had returned to the Presidential Palace.

Moments later, the pastor by Camacho’s side promised that “Pachamama will never return to the palace,” in a reference to the Andean spirit of Mother Earth.

As the former leader of the undeniably fascistic Union Juvenil Crucenista paramilitary and the separatist Santa Cruz Committee, Camacho has struggled to shake off a history of white supremacy and anti-indigenous violence. 

Marco Pumari, as the leader of the rightist Potosi Civic Committee, purports to speak for the “real indigenous people” – in contrast to supposedly ‘fake indigenous’ President Evo Morales. As such, Pumari would have offered political cover to Camacho’s campaign and helped to divert indigenous voters away from Morales’ leftist party Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).

But on December 7 Camacho announced he was running on his own, leading Pumari to lament that “without hearing my position, the decision was made… I was surprised by the decision of Luis Fernando Camacho.

The numerically miniscule Civic Committee of Potosi, Pumari’s only real constituency, had refused to play ball. They decided Pumari would be president or nothing at all. 

In the end, the very real threat that the far-right civic committee leaders would take the presidency now appears to have come undone thanks entirely to their own selfishness. Much like the right-wing opposition in Nicaragua and Venezuela, their failure to capitalize on momentary success orchestrated by outside imperialist powers and a near inescapable chorus of complicit media seem to have boiled down to pure self-interest.

In an attempt to justify this decision, Camacho, or someone close to him, leaked a recorded conversation between the two men in which Camacho accuses Pumari of attempting to solicit a $250,000 bribe in return for his presence on the presidential ticket.

Furthermore, the tape revealed that Pumari had demanded control of a number of Aduanas, the customs checkpoints which oversee the taxation of all incoming commercial traffic, in what would have been a highly lucrative side hustle for the right-wing political operator. In that recording, Pumari did not deny soliciting the kickbacks but insisted he had plans to spend the proceeds on campaign expenses. 

Coup supporters are now taking to social media in a collective meltdown. They are furious that they are forced to pick between an increasingly fractured field of candidates that seems hellbent on splitting, amoeba-like, from one to two candidates – and soon, potentially, four.

In what could be the final nail in the coffin for Camacho, allegations of domestic abuse by Camacho’s ex-wife leaked out to the media.

Adding insult to the serial tax-evading multimillionaire’s injury, Camacho’s December 12 talk at the US government-funded think tank the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC descended into utter chaos when a group of Bolivian and US anti-imperialist activists prevented him from talking with sustained protests.

State propaganda outlets in Bolivian attempted to mitigate the damage by accusing the activists of being paid $15-an-hour by unspecified sources, citing US-based pro-coup Bolivia expats and claiming no Bolivians were part of the protests, despite clear visual evidence to the contrary. 

But the ruses are wearing thin, even for erstwhile Camacho supporters.

Camacho is damaged goods now, just like Mesa,” one upper-class coup supporter from Santa Cruz remarked to me this week outside a ritzy bar in Cochabamba. He sat in glum silence as his outraged companion thrust his phone in my face and attempted to walked me through The Grayzones’s prior coverage of the well-to-do far-right candidate.

He looked ashen as his friend shook his head and displayed the video of Camacho’s Union Juventud Cruceñista disciples sieg-heiling. “There’s no one we can vote for,” he lamented.

Within the span of just a week, Camacho and Pumari have gone from theoretical frontrunners to national laughingstocks.

In an attempt to stanch the bleeding, Waldo Albarracín, the president of the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy, perhaps the closest analogue to a civic committee that exists in La Paz, referred to both men as “unethical and antidemocratic” and urged them to step aside.

The main beneficiary in all this is likely to be Carlos Mesa, the man best positioned to take advantage of what’s rapidly become a civil war among the far-right.

And a minister recently fired by self-declared “interim president” Jeanine Añez insists she intends to run as well. Although Añes has publicly downplayed the prospect, indicating in a fawning hagiography by state propaganda outlet Pagina Siete that doing so would be “dishonest,” the likelihood seriously increases as the other far-right presidential hopefuls continue to destroy one another’s careers.

Korean-Bolivian evangelical magnate Chi Hyun Chung, a renowned misogynist and anti-indigenous bigot, has thrown his hat in the ring as well. Chung managed to pull 8 percent of the votes in the October elections, which Evo Morales won handily before his deposition amid fabricated charges of electoral fraud.

But the ranks of Chung’s far-right supporters have dwindled after he was the only opposition figure to to accept Evo Morales’ call for dialogue. In fact, now his own Democratic Christian Party refuses to endorse him. At best, he can play a spoiler role, further splitting the right.

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