Across the spectrum, corporate media has endorsed last year’s rightwing takeover of Bolivia, refusing to label it as a coup. Coverage of Sunday’s historical elections hasn’t been much better.
by Alan Macleod
Part 3 - A year of political turbulence
Last October, Morales won an unprecedented and not uncontentious fourth term. Yet the U.S.-backed opposition refused to accept the results, claiming that they had been rigged. The Organization of American States immediately backed them up, producing a flawed report on election meddling, something that was almost immediately disproven.
Nevertheless, the right-wing mobilized and began a widespread campaign of terror, targeting, attacking, and kidnapping MAS politicians. On November 10, police and military commanders joined the coup, demanding Morales resign or else they would take matters into their own hands. Morales decided to flee to Mexico but made clear he was only leaving to prevent a bloodbath.
The military picked Añez, a little known senator from a party who gained only four percent of the public vote, to become president. She immediately granted security forces total pre-immunity for all crimes committed during the “re-establishment of order.” Her new interior minister, Arturo Murillo, oversaw the creation of masked, black-clad paramilitary units specifically aimed at political subversives, foreigners, and human rights groups. Journalists were attacked and, in one case, beaten to death, while foreign and alternative media were shut down completely. Murillo promised to “hunt down” his opponents like dogs.
Morales himself was charged with crimes against humanity and faces spending the rest of his life in prison if he returns to his home country. Other MAS leaders on yesterday’s ballot also face long prison terms on dubious charges.
Añez pushed through the privatization of natural resources and state-owned businesses while in office, accepting loans from predatory organizations like the International Monetary Fund. She also reorientated her country’s foreign policy away from an independent path towards one completely in line with U.S. foreign policy aims, pulling out of multiple regional alliances and entering new ones.
Under Morales, for example, Bolivia had declared Israel a ‘terrorist state.” Yet less than a month after the coup, Añez and Murillo were inviting IDF troops to the country to train their police forces in dealing with “leftist terrorism.”
The government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has also taken on a decidedly right-wing tone. Cuts to health provisions and the expulsion of hundreds of Cuban doctors (whom the government labeled as “terrorists”) caused the public health system to crash just before the pandemic became worldwide news. As a result, Bolivia has the third-highest COVID-19 death per capita rate in the world, comfortably surpassing the United States in severity. Añez herself contracted the virus in July.
Añez used the intensity of the pandemic as justification to continually suspend the elections she claimed she would hold, calling herself merely an “interim president.” Yet many inside the country felt the coronavirus was being used as an excuse to keep herself in power indefinitely. Throughout the year, Bolivia was engulfed in near continual protests, shutting the country down. As a result, the summer was marked by the rise of the virus and by a weeks-long peaceful general strike calling for elections. Fearing a potential revolution, Añez conceded and agreed to hold them in October.
After months of organized popular struggle in the face of a coup government that had been massacring them, Sunday’s result has been widely interpreted as a repudiation of the coup and a vote for socialism. MintPress’ Ollie Vargas, who has never made a secret of his political persuasions, said in the wake of the results:
On a personal level, I can’t believe this is finally happening, but it’s what we’ve always known. Despite the massacres, despite the persecution, despite U.S. intervention, the MAS is back and even more powerful. They can’t put a lid on the majority of the people.
Morales celebrated the ascension of his former minister of finance to Bolivia’s top job. “We’ve received our democracy” he declared. “Sisters and brothers: the will of the people has been imposed. There has been a resounding victory for the MAS. Our political movement will have a majority in both houses. We have returned millions, now we are going to restore dignity and freedom to the people,” he added on Twitter.
Arce himself was in an equally joyous mood, telling Vargas last night that, “It seems that a great part of the Bolivian people have recovered their soul.” “I think the Bolivian people want to retake the path we were on,” he added. MAS supporters took to the streets to celebrate their victory, made all the more unlikely given the repression they have been subject to under Añez’s military regime.
Fears of violence and vote rigging against the MAS were rife, especially as the government had blocked foreign election observers from overseeing events, threatening to jail them. On Saturday, Argentinian congressman Federico Fagioli, an official observer representing his government, was arrested by police at El Alto airport. Video of the incident shows Fagioli shouting “I am being kidnapped” as multiple officers pick him up and forcefully carry him away.