Coup and Massive Resistance in Bolivia

By Gustavo Giménez

The coup unleashed a fierce resistance against the illegitimate government of Jeanine Añez, an agent of the great bourgeoisie and imperialism. Unlike what Evo and the MAS propose, the solution is not to agree with the coup leaders but defeat them.

A new confrontation in the Senkata distillery of El Alto between repressive forces and the people that were occupying it to disrupt the distribution of fuel to La Paz left a total of nine people dead and dozens wounded on November 19. Widespread indignation reigns in this city, vanguard against the coup, and in the people that confront it. Meanwhile, popular cabildos (town halls) are taking place. Among them, a massive one in El Alto that voted to mobilize against the coup, and another in Sacaba, Cochabamba, that began debating how to arm the people and other measures of self-defense.

On Thursday 21, a massive mobilization of the people of El Alto that marched through the streets of La Paz carrying the five coffins of those murdered in Senkata, was violently repressed. There were new clashes. At the K’ara K’ara landfill, a confrontation ended with 24 soldiers with fractures and trauma from thrown stones, while eight of them were detained by the people for three hours.

Tension is building up and times are accelerating. The government reached an agreement with the MAS (Movement for Socialism), Evo´s party that has a majority in both Houses, on a law to hold new elections in 120 days. Añez signed it on Sunday the 24th. That law invalidates the election of October 20 and bans Evo and Alvaro Garcia Linera from being candidates (1) This is a betrayal to the heroic struggle of the Bolivian people against the coup.

A Pro-Imperialist Coup

The massacre of Cochabamba on November 15, perpetrated by the police and the army against thousands of rural workers from Chapare who were marching to La Paz, with a total of nine killed, dozens injured and a hundred detained, and the recent massacre of the Senkata raid, leave any discussion on the nature of the current Bolivian government and the attitude of its repressive apparatus behind. Only servants of Trump and the Bolivian oligarchy, like Macri or OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, can still maintain the euphemism that what Bolivia is suffering is not a coup, but an “institutional crisis”. Unfortunately, sectors of Bolivia´s social movements and of the left that had confronted Evo´s austerity measures fed this confusion in the beginning.

These days, Bolivian peasants and workers are the protagonists of thousands of heroic and uneven battles against repressive forces that are armed to the teeth. Yet, despite sustaining 30 deaths, hundreds of people injured and several thousand detentions, their struggle has not been put down. They are fighting without a leadership, given the defection of the MAS leadership. Among those who confront the coup, there are sectors that follow Evo´s current, while many others have politically broken with that leadership.

The government of right-wing senator Añez that took over the presidency on November 11,in an almost empty Legislative Assembly, without the necessary quorum, inaugurated by the military, tried to stop the protests with the police. She was inaugurated surrounded by right-wing politicians, with a racist speech against indigenous people (who account for 60% of Bolivia´s population). She applied reactionary measures, like persecuting the foreign media, and immediately aligned with Trump´s international policy, expelling 200 Cuban doctors and the Venezuelan diplomatic delegation. Since the police was not enough to stop the mobilized people of El Alto, she used the Army against the popular resistance, no matter the cost. While she negotiates a political solution to the situation she is in with the MAS, Añez has ordered the Army to unleash their deadly arsenal. When she signed a decree exempting the military and the police from any legal responsibility for the repression, these had already committed the Sacaba massacre, and then they advanced on Senkata.

The coup government needs to stop the popular rising to take control and also agree on an “institutional” exit with the MAS, because without their participation any presidential election would be invalid. Morales, who resigned and went into exile – in lieu of the military´s “suggestion” that he abandon power – not calling on people to resist the coup with the excuse of avoiding greater persecutions against his followers and preventing bloodshed. Now, emboldened by the massive resistance that Bolivians are putting up with El Alto at their vanguard, he talks about a possible return to “pacify” the country and calls on people to stop the anti-coup confrontation.

There are negotiations between Añez´s supporters and those of Evo, despite their public declarations and strong-arming that obstruct the closing of the deal. After a brief moment in which the Police banned them from entering Congress, the MAS legislators were able to enter and choose new authorities in both Houses, in which they hold a majority and quorum of their own. They coincide with Añez on the need to dismantle the crisis and the resistance to the coup through new elections.

Evo´s legislators first called a Legislative Assembly for November 19, but then cancelled it because, though the leader of the MAS announced that he would not be a candidate, the current government declared that it would not allow him to enter the country. There are differences in the MAS, where some sectors would rather agree with the de facto government, even without Evo. This is because the background of the deal is marked by an intensification of confrontations and by the seriousness of the political crisis. In this situation, Añez threatened to call for a new election by decree, while the Catholic Church and the European Union representative tried, with the blessing of Evo and Añez, to reach an agreement.

In the end, the MAS reached an agreement with the coup plotters, which constitutes a new and serious betrayal against those who risk their lives on the streets against the dictatorship. Against the repression, the killings, the illegitimate occupation of power by the rightist opposition, the only possible pacification of the country would be achieved by defeating the coup. This means overthrowing Añez and her minions, dismissing from the Police and the Army and incarcerating those responsible for the coup. It also implies arresting the political and material culprits of human rights violations, beginning with Añez, Camacho, Mesa and their accomplices, as well as taking economic measures in favor of the majorities.

This maneuvre, in the style of the Chilean pact between Piñera and the “opposition”, intends to stop and betray the mobilization with an agreement that allows Añez and the military to keep power and be the referees of an electoral exit without Evo as a candidate. It also guarantees the impunity of the coup´s democratic and human rights violations, going against the struggle of hundreds of thousands. If it is consolidated and imposed, this pact will give birth to a new political regime, offspring of a brutal attack against the liberties of the Bolivian people, that will attempt to take away hard won rights and impose the harsh capitalist austerity against which the peoples of the world are revolting.

The Resistance to the Coup

Diametrically opposed to Evo´s proposals, an important cabildo that met in El Alto, representing the city´s 14 districts and the country´s 20 provinces, decided to radicalize the struggle with a national blockade on November 17, particularly in La Paz, as part of a strike for indefinite time, until Añez leaves. Despite the massacres of Cochabamba and El Alto, the resistance does not stop.

The heroic people of El Alto and their mobilizations to La Paz were joined by the peasants and poor people of Cochabamba and Potosí. New massive mobilizations occupied La Paz on November 18 and the resistance continued growing, when the government counter-attacked on the 19th in Senkata. The course of events, the increasing violence of the confrontation, Áñez´s racist declarations that aim to consolidate the coup´s social base in the most reactionary sectors, have expanded the support of those who struggle against the coup. As the Áñez government cannot defeat the resistance, it is possible that the sectors that were dubious in the beginning because of their opposition to Evo´s anti-popular measures, will now join the resistance. This can increasingly weaken Áñez and endanger the continuity of the coup.

The rising resistance accelerated the negotiations between the de facto government and the MAS leadership to prevent its growth from getting completely out of control. They needed to put a stop to it. That is why the pact of the MAS with the coup plotters is a monumental betrayal to the Bolivian people´s struggle.

The leadership of the COB (Bolivian Workers’ Union), which asked for Evo to step down even before the Army did, is part of this betrayal. It first demanded Áñez to normalize “the institutional situation”: a policy that favors the plan for new elections with the de facto president in power. The COB now supports the call for new elections with the coup plotters in power and is part of a negotiation bureau with leaders of the MAS and other sectors. Against that bureaucratic leadership, working class sectors of the COB rank-and-file are organizing and want the Union to confront the coup plotters.

Why Did Evo Fall From Power?

You must wonder why, after almost three terms, Evo lost power and resigned without putting up a fight. Evo and Garcia Linera won the 2006 elections after the popular uprising that forced former liberal president Sanchez de Lozada, and then his vice-president Carlos Mesa, to step down. This was the result of a colossal triumph of the Bolivian people in the so-called “Gas War”, in which the selling of the national gas company to foreign (particularly Chilean) capitals at a vile price was stopped. Then, Evo launched a partial yet progressive measure: the nationalization of gas and oil deposits.

Evo Morales, the first indigenous president in a nation with an indigenous majority, betrayed the main demands of the popular uprisings of 2000 and 2003 shortly after taking office in 2006. He took advantage of the rise in international prices of raw materials, negotiated a new Political Constitution with the Bolivian bourgeoisie and oligarchy, changing over 100 articles that had been voted by a Constituent Assembly. He did make some concessions that improved the people´s quality of life, but without touching the semi-colonial capitalist base of the country.

He imposed a model of extractivist accumulation that allowed the Bolivian economy to grow at a 4% annual rate. But, as we have seen before in the neoliberal models, an economic boom can produce some immediate improvements in the living conditions of the masses, but it deepens social inequalities and does not solve the structural problems of capitalist decadence. When the world situation becomes unfavourable for local exports, and that affects the people´s living conditions, accumulated contradictions tend to explode.

In order to promote a capitalist development of Bolivia, Evo agreed with the oligarchy and multinational corporations and clashed with sectors that had supported him up to then. To advance with his project, he divided and confronted the indigenous movement: there are over 200 people prosecuted for confronting his government´s policies. Evo won over a sector of the leadership, but in 2011 he clashed with the peasants that live in the TIPNIS (Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory) over the construction of a road, which was part of the IIRSA (Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America) plan to unite the Chinese and Brazilian markets, and implied an environmental disaster. He repressed that indigenous community and broke with it.

Furthermore, to extend the “agricultural frontier” for soy and meat production for export, he approved the clearing of native forests, ignoring the interests and rights of the peoples who live there, causing a disaster in the Bolivian Amazon triggered by “controlled burnings”. He fought against the neighbourhood boards of Potosi over the delivery of the lithium deposits to German companies, with scant royalties for the region, which he was forced to stop because of the strong protests. He confronted the teachers, the miners and other unions organized in the COB, that began to oppose his government in defense of their labour conquests.

Re-Election and Demands of Fraud

After his third term, he tried to pass a new bill that allowed him to be candidate for a fourth time by forcing an arbitrary interpretation of the constitutional reform that only allowed two successive terms (he only counted the terms after the reform, ignoring his first mandate). He held a referendum in February 2016, which he lost with 51% voting against. Though he said he accepted the result, he then managed to achieve a favourable ruling by the Constitutional Court, which he dominates. That ruling was blessed by Almagro and the OAS, which then supported his government for sustaining the capitalist “stability and growth” that former governments had not achieved.

The provisional vote count of the October 20 elections rushed the crisis that had been building up. For the first time, Evo got less than 50% in a general election. With over 84% of votes counted, the candidate of the right, Carlos Mesa, had over 37,8% against Evo´s 45,7%: there was a difference of less than 10 points, which meant a second round. Suddenly, the counting was stopped and reinitiated after 15 hours: against all odds, the difference was over 10 points…

Protests Erupt Against Evo´s Maneuvres

The anger against what happened provoked the pronunciation of the COB and other sectors that had once supported Evo. The FSTMB (Union Federation of Bolivian Mining Workers) asked for his resignation. The reaction of these sectors received widespread support from the middle class, with secondary school and university students at the vanguard, as well as from the UPEA (Public University of El Alto) authorities, feminist groups like Mujeres Creando, La Paz teachers, UMSA workers, Adepcoca and Achacachi coca growers, the local COB of Sucre and Potosí, Cochabamba workers and San Cristobal and Chojlla miners. For three weeks, there were bitter clashes between the Police and pro-government groups of the MAS, that left a total of three people dead and dozens injured Days before the coup, the police confined itself to its stations.

This movement, which at first was democratic and progressive against the government´s electoral maneuvres and policies, was used by the right, in absence of a working class leadership capable of radicalizing it against Evo´s policies. The COB leadership opted out. In this serious political crisis, the right, first with Mesa and then with Fernando Camacho, representing the oligarchy and imperialist interests, used the weakness of Evo´s government to initiate this coup. Camacho, president of the Santa Cruz Neighborhood Board, is a very powerful figure on the right, and belongs to Bolivia´s richest family, with large investments in hydrocarbons. This man, who took the Bible to the Palacio Quemado (the government palace), encouraged the burning of the Wihpala, and called on the Police and the Army to oust Evo from power.

The OAS, asked by Morales to audit the vote count, emitted a provisional resolution on November 10 reporting“serious irregularities” in the elections. Evo accepted the resolution of this imperialist organization, which had previously supported him, and called for new elections. But that was not enough. First, the COB asked for his separation from government and then the head of the Army – who has now been replaced – “suggested” to Evo that he should resign to avoid greater confrontations. In the end, Evo resigned.

The erosion of Morales´ government, one of the region´s so-called progressive ones, is now following the path of Kirchnerism and the Brazilian PT. When the boom of the commodities was over, their policy of administering local capitalism and their deals with imperialism kicked in and they tried to make the working people, that had previously brought them to power, pay for the crisis. Evo repeated this pattern, which explains why he lacked social defence against his adversary´s attacks, as well as his decision to demobilize when the coup took place.

The bourgeoisie and imperialism acted as they tend to do with these governments that emerge as a distorted reflection of the processes of mobilization: they first agree on how to maintain their deals and then, when these governments wear out their support and can no longer contain the masses, they throw them overboard and impose new governments that respond to their plans of rapine. They squeeze them like a lemon, and then discard them. That is why Almagro shifted from supporting the Constitutional Court´s ruling that enabled Evo´s re-election to speaking out as an anti-fraud champion.

That is also why the illusions of many who struggle against the coup and believe that a future return of Evo will solve the problems that took them to this counter-revolutionary coup, are mistaken. On the contrary, his policies of making agreements with the local bourgeoisie and the corporations, abandoning and confronting his peasant and popular base, are what brought this situation on.

Evo would continue applying this line in the government because, in order to sustain the capitalist system, which he does not propose to break with, more austerity for workers, peasants and the poor, and the complete delivery of resources to extractivist companies will be needed. Only a government of the social organizations, the workers, the peasants, and the indigenous people can, by breaking with capitalist domination and taking control over the country´s natural resources and the economy´s main pillars, provide a solution to the current Bolivian crisis and convene a Constituent Assembly to reorganize the country on new bases.

Defeating the Coup and Fighting for an Anti-Capitalist Solution

The Bolivian people´s uprising against the coup is part of a series of mobilizations, uprisings and revolutions in the region, and a more extended global struggle against the austerity plans of the IMF and the capitalist decadence that we will analyze in the other articles of this magazine. The struggle between the revolution and the counter-revolution is intensifying, and the future of the processes that take place in Latin America and the world depends on their development.

A great part of Bolivia´s territory is paralyzed. Up to 94 road blockades were counted, with a greater concentration around La Paz, Oruro and Cochabamba, especially in the coca-growing zone. The blockade of La Paz has caused a growing shortage of food and fuel, and the government is trying to break it with repression. The massacres and the government´s will to repress with war ammunition, pose a very serious scenario. It is necessary to maintain and strengthen the actions of struggle, looking for the way to rebuild a centralized leadership of the fight.

Now the resistance to the coup must confront and defeat this pact of the MAS, the COB leadership and the right wing, de facto Áñez government, with their trap of antidemocratic elections and their political project to defeat the people´s conquests. Though it is too early to know what course the situation will take, we are sure of one thing: to consolidate, the monster that emerges from this pact must confront and defeat the heroic people of Bolivia, and the outcome of that battle is uncertain. More so, because the struggles in Latin America are putting the right wing governments and their capitalist “opposition” accomplices against the ropes.

The Bolivian people have a historical experience of social organization and revolutionary struggle. It is essential to deepen the development of self-organization in the cabildos or the forms that each struggling sector creates. Its centralization is decisive for the successful development of the resistance, to fulfil immediate tasks, like self-defense and, fundamentally, to continue the mobilization to defeat the coup, confronting the maneuvres and deceitful pacts that try to get them off the streets.

It is necessary for the anti-coup mobilization, mainly based in the rural resistance, to generate a program that includes the demands of the working class and urban sectors that previously confronted Evo´s austerity plans and have been abandoned by the COB leadership.

There is also a need to build a new anti-capitalist political tool that, taking advantage of the experience of the Bolivian vanguard and masses with the hesitations and betrayals of the MAS, can create a revolutionary party to confront the coup on the streets and take the struggle to the end. A party to fight for a government of the rural, indigenous and workers’ organizations, one that breaks with the current capitalist extractivist model and imposes an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist plan, expropriating the oligarchy and the corporations that support the coup. To end with the Bolivia of betrayed revolutions and military coups, and to inaugurate a new Bolivia at the service of workers and peasants, and respecting the right to plurinationality demanded by the majority of its people. A nation without oppression, exploitation or misery: a Bolivia that struggles with its sister countries in the region for a socialist Latin America.

A young leader of the Huanini mine workers:

“We tell [the coup leaders]: we would rather die than live as slaves”

Huanini is a city in the State of Oruro, in the Bolivian high plane, 4.000 meters above sea level and it is the “national capital of tin. It is a typical working class population with a traditional mining enclave industry. They have a long history of struggles against dictatorships and privatizing governments. A few years ago, the people achieved the nationalization of the main deposit, at Mount Posokoni. Today they resist the coup´s attacks. We spoke to one of the young leaders of the Mixed Union of Huanini Mining Workers. For safety reasons, we mention him by his initials. This is what he said on November 22.

What is the situation in Huanini since the coup?

W.P.V.:  In the first place, I want to send a revolutionary greeting to MST comrades, and to thank them for their help. First, my comrade, you must know that Huanini as a mining center has always been characterized as being a sector of constant struggle for the Bolivian people´s demands. In the past, there have been historical battles against de facto and right wing governments that sowed pain, grief, genocide and persecution in our old union leaders. The first national union was also created here: the Mixed Union of Huanini Mining Workers, as well as the Union Federation of Mining Workers of Bolivia.

In Huanini, since the coup took place, we have been under the constant threat of a possible occupation of Mount Posokoni – the main tin deposit – by mining cooperatives from the State of Potosi that are close to that city´s Civic Committee and the coup government. This threat is the main reason why Huanini is not fighting in La Paz, because leaving the district would allow the invasion and occupation of our tin deposit. On the other hand, we are suffering a dire shortage of basic products. We have already experienced hunger and poverty during the de facto governments, the hunger and the poverty, but our children have not, and that is why we have not stopped, nor will we stop, fighting for their future. We do not want the military to knock our doors down again, or to silence us by shooting us in front of our families. In the past, the fascist capitalist governments oppressed or tried to oppress the mining working class through genocide and persecution. Today we tell them: we would rather die than live as slaves!

How are you preparing to resist the coup government?

Though the threat of an invasion is latent, we know that at some point we will have to take to the streets, even though this government approved a law that exempts the Police and the Army from any responsibility in their genocidal operations. In a general assembly of all Huanini mining workers, the great majority voted to immediately call and organize an extended national assembly of our parent entities of the COB to set the dates for congresses to elect new leaders to represent us and confront the coup in unity with all Bolivian workers.

We also demand that the coup government stop the genocide and political persecution, and that self-proclaimed president Áñez resign. There are people imprisoned with ridiculous accusations, but they do not know that we have many more political and union leaders in our ranks, and that in order to stop us they would have to jail 90% of us. We call for a national cabildo of the organizations that reject the coup, to vote new representatives for new national elections and to confront the coup with a democratic solution in order to defeat it. Without unity, this will be difficult.

Can you confirm that not only the miners, but the people of Huanini began a blockade in Machacamarca on the road to Oruro?

The people of Huanini, the community of the ayllus (a rural people of our province), transportation and municipal workers, and the unions are blocking the Machacamarquita crossroad, on the road to Oruro, which also connects the States of Potosí and Sucre to the city of Huanini. We demand the pacification of the country and the resignation of genocidal Áñez. We also condemn the Bolivian media that lies and colludes against the Bolivian people. Our struggle is in defense of our essential rights, in the first place, the right to live and respect for our country´s sovereignty. We will not allow the looting of our natural resources by transnational corporations. The people of Bolivia are tired of the attacks against our country and a great majority are not defined by a particular political color, but by their class consciousness.

What do you think of the perspective of fighting for a government of the working people in your country?

The Bolivian people have always fought for their rights. Unlike other countries, we were hit by the oppression of the Spanish conquest and de facto capitalist governments. The years of abuse and genocide have taught us that our freedom is our most valuable treasure and that it is worth sacrificing our lives to conserve and defend it, so that future generations can live in a free country. A government of the working people has always been our greatest desire as a class in our country. I am convinced that with the total unity of Bolivian workers, we will reach this goal.

How importance do you think international solidarity with the struggle of the working class and the people of Bolivia is?

International solidarity has always been very valuable to us. Our people need it and let the world know that Bolivia is resisting and that it does not give up easily. We must multiply the struggle of the working class and the poor people of my country for their fundamental rights. And let me tell you that it is an honor for this humble miner to count with the support of the MST and the International Socialist League. Until the final victory, my comrades!