Bolivia: Coup or Revolt? A Battle of Narratives

Op-Ed by Mitchell McGuire

Depending on whether you live in a mainstream media echo chamber, or you are exposed to independent media and what the MSM likes to call “alternative facts,” you are either under the impression that Evo Morales resigned from power amidst a popular uprising supported by Bolivia’s military, or you believe he was violently forced from power by the military in unity with a right-wing minority, with support via back channels from powerful external powers motivated by economic interests that have been undermined by Morales’ anti-neoliberal/economic nationalist policies.

What has been viewed as a huge blow to democracy both within the country and all of Latin America, has been championed by the commander in chief of the strongest military in the world, with U.S. President Donald Trump making a public statement that claimed,

The resignation yesterday of Bolivian President Evo Morales is a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere. These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail.

The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution”, going on to add, We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.” As Raw Story had noted in their reporting, Trump’s statement implicated that there were more coups to come.

Furthermore, Raw Story summarized that,

The Trump administration has not been quiet about its desire for the removal of Bolivia’s socialist President Evo Morales, who resigned Sunday under threat from the nation’s military, police forces, and violent right-wing protesters.

Hours before Morales resigned in a televised address, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted his support for the findings of the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS), which alleged Morales’ victory in the October presidential election was riddled with fraud. Pompeo also echoed OAS’ call for new elections, a demand Morales accepted shortly before he was forced aside.” 

As Anya Parampil noted, the United States provides 60% of the budget for the OAS, the group which made the allegations of voter fraud without providing evidence to substantiate its claims. Despite the allegations, and the CEPR report that invalidated these allegations, Morales had agreed to a reelection hours before the coup. But, of course, he ended up being violently overthrown before another round of democratic elections could reaffirm his victory in democratic elections.

The coup supporters are seen falling back on the talking point that Morales lost the referendum seeking approval to go beyond constitutional term limits(he lost 49/51), so he had the supreme court alter the constitution. However, as Anya Parampil said, “I believe the question of term limits is a distraction from who actually won the October 20th elections.”

While the US quickly government championed the violently enforced transfer of power, the mainstream media, virtually sanctioned it as well, refusing to acknowledge it as a coup d’etat. While the media is ideally supposed to play the role of the “watchdog” in relation to the government, on behalf of the public, per usual, the mainstream media instantly, without question, fell in line to the narrative pushed by the US government, assisting in the propagation of a blatantly descriptive narrative.

As rising independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone reported in her article titled, “MSM Adamantly Avoids The Word “Coup” In Bolivia Reporting”:

There has been a military coup in Bolivia backed by violent right-wing rioters and the US government, but you’d hardly know this from any of the mainstream media headlines.

‘Bolivian President Evo Morales steps down following accusations of election fraud’  proclaims CNN.

“Bolivia’s Morales resigns amid scathing election report, rising protests” reports The Washington Post.

“Bolivian Leader Evo Morales Steps Down” says The New York Times.

“Bolivian President Evo Morales resigns amid fraud poll protests” declares the BBC.

“President of Bolivia steps down amid allegations of election rigging” we are informed by Telegraph.

“Bolivia’s President Morales resigns after backlash to disputed election” says the Sydney Morning Herald.

So there you have it. The indigenous leader of a socialist South American government which has successfully lifted masses of people out of crushing poverty, which happens to control the world’s largest reserves of lithium (which may one day replace oil as a crucial energy resource due to its use in powering smartphones, laptops, hybrid and electric cars), which has an extensive and well-documented history of being targeted for regime change by the US government, simply stepped down due to some sort of scandal involving a “disputed election”. Nothing to do with the fact that right-wing mobs had been terrorizing this leader’s family, or the fact that the nation’s military literally commanded him to step down and are now currently searching for him to arrest him, leading to ousted government officials being rounded up and held captive by soldiers wearing masks.

All perfectly normal and not suspicious at all.

As Anya said,There is no question that what we’ve just witnessed in Bolivia is a military coup, what do you call it when a president is forced to resign after the head of the armed forces, someone no Bolivian actually voted for, calls on the president to step down. He’s stepping down because members of his party … have actually fallen under threat, there are homes of mayors or governors that were attacked by violent demonstrators, who threatened to carry them out of their houses and set them on fire. We saw public journalists, journalists working for Bolivia Television, dragged out of their offices by these very clearly right-wing, violent, non-democratic protesters, demanding they stop the broadcast of their demonstrations. This appears to me COMPLETELY undemocratic, and an attack against Evo Morales and his mandate…he was willing to go for elections again[this coup could only have been seen as necessary by the opposition if they were confident Morales would have won in the reelections].

The battle of the narratives is clear… On one side, the revolt against Morales was the first step in the restoration of democracy, while on the other, the forced resignation after much violence and destruction is a clear violation and abolishment of democracy, serving the interests of the west’s elite as well as the Bolivian elite. However, the western elite’s narrative is partially crumbling, as the New York Times reported hours ago in an article titled, “Bolivia Crisis shows the Blurry Line Between Coup and Uprising”, that,

“The scholars faulted opposition leaders for helping to stoke the crisis and credited Mr. Morales with expanding democracy earlier in his tenure. But they argued that he now ‘barely respects constitutional checks and balances on presidential authority.’ [referring to the supreme court undermining the referendum concerning the allowance of a 4th term]

Rut Diamint, a political scientist at Torcuato Di Tella University in Argentina, agreed with the criticisms of Mr. Morales but added, ‘None of that justifies a coup d’état.’

She called it “a setback for democracy in Latin America” and a precedent for “other countries to define a political order with the [unnecessary]support of the armed forces.”

Liberation News put the coup in context, “The coup also has a clear regional significance. Progressive and revolutionary forces have been on the march over the past year. President López Obrador’s new government in Mexico committed itself to non-interference in the sovereign affairs of the nations of Latin America. Venezuela defeated the U.S.-backed coup attempt of Juan Guaidó. An uprising in Ecuador forced the government to flee the capital city and cancel an IMF-imposed austerity package. An ongoing rebellion in Chile has brought historic crowds into the streets and put the right wing government of Sebastian Piñera on the defensive despite vicious repression by the police and military. The right wing government in Argentina was voted out of office in favor of the progressive Alberto Fernández-Cristina Fernández presidential ticket. And immediately preceding the Bolivian coup, wrongfully imprisoned ex-President Lula was freed.

The Bolivian ruling class and their military are following the dictates of the U.S. government, which has worked overtime to turn back the leftwing tide sweeping Latin America.

While this article is about a battle between narratives, it’s also about a battle between neoliberalism vs. economic nationalism, as they are taking place on the same battle field. Morales electoral challenger, Mesa, is a classic neoliberal, and Morales a vehement opposer of neoliberalism and a prominent promoter of economic nationalism and sovereignty. 

The NYT article had said that, “The line between coups and revolts can be blurry, even nonexistent…But the overlapping terms often carry moral connotations that could not be more divergent: Coups, in today’s understanding, are to be condemned; revolts are to be championed.” However, this author’s interpretation is that revolts/revolutions come with the connotation that they are supported by the people, and that the revolting party has no other choice but to revolt, whereas a coup involves force and violence to overthrow a government with the implication that the people would not vote for the coup if given the opportunity to, which Bolivia basically was, when they were given the opportunity to not vote Evo Morales in the recent Oct. 20th elections. However, the people obviously chose Evo rather than Mesa, upon which the opposition began formulating a coup plot and establishing back channels with the United States Government as well as members of neighboring countries such as Brazil and Venezuela’s US-backed opposition. 

Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton co-authored a brilliant piece about the coup’s leader, Camacho, and his ties to foreign governments as well as an extremist right-wing paramilitary group. They would also go on to link Mesa with Camacho as well as the US.  “By 2005, Mesa was also ousted by huge demonstrations spurred by his protection of privatized natural gas companies. With his demise, the election of Morales and the rise of the socialist and rural Indigenous movements behind him were just beyond the horizon.

US government cables released by WikiLeaks show that, after his ouster, Mesa continued regular correspondence with American officials. A 2008 memo from the US embassy in Bolivia revealed that Washington was conspiring with opposition politicians in the lead-up to the 2009 presidential election, hoping to undermine and ultimately unseat Morales.

The memo noted that Mesa had met with the chargé d’affaires of the US embassy, and had privately told them he planned to run for president. The cable recalled: ‘Mesa told us his party will be ideologically similar to a social democratic party and that he hoped to strengthen ties with the Democratic party. ‘We have nothing against the Republican party, and have in fact gotten support from IRI (International Republican Institute) in the past, but we think we share more ideology with the Democrats,’ he added.’ ”

After the coup, TRT reported that  “Morales, who was Bolivia’s first indigenous president, said his opposition rivals, Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho, “will go down in history as racists and coup plotters.”

Many have pointed out the fact that Bolivia holds most of the world’s lithium reserves is probably playing a role in external support, let alone Morales’s anti-neoliberal history of nationalization and attacking what he calls “American Imperialism”. Latin America has had a wave of uprisings against neoliberalism, Morales being one of the first to ride the trend, in order to get elected in the first place.

Common Dreams published an article titled, “Bolivian Coup Comes Less Than a Week After Morales Stopped Multinational Firm’s Lithium Deal” , Introducing the article,The Sunday military coup in Bolivia has put in place a government which appears likely to reverse a decision by just-resigned President Evo Morales to cancel an agreement with a German company for developing lithium deposits in the Latin American country for batteries like those in electric cars. 

Bolivia’s lithium belongs to the Bolivian people,’ tweeted Washington Monthly contributor David Atkins. ‘Not to multinational corporate cabals.’”…. Going on to say that

The Morales move on Nov. 4 to cancel the December 2018 agreement with Germany’s ACI Systems Alemania (ACISA) came after weeks of protests from residents of the Potosí area. The region has 50% to 70% of the world’s lithium reserves in the Salar de Uyuni salt flats.

Among other clients, ACISA provides batteries to Tesla; Tesla’s stock rose Monday after the weekend. 

As Bloomberg News noted in 2018, that has set the country up to be incredibly important in the next decade:

Demand for lithium is expected to more than double by 2025. The soft, light mineral is mined mainly in Australia, Chile, and Argentina. Bolivia has plenty—9 million tons that have never been mined commercially, the second-largest amount in the world—but until now there’s been no practical way to mine and sell it.

Morales’ cancellation of the ACISA deal opened the door to either a renegotiation of the agreement with terms delivering more of the profits to the area’s population or the outright nationalization of the Bolivian lithium extraction industry.

As Telesur reported in June, the Morales government announced at the time it was ‘determined to industrialize Bolivia and has invested huge amounts to ensure that lithium is processed within the country to export it only in value-added form, such as in batteries.’”  

The idea of exporting Lithium in the form of a finished good rather than a raw material is exactly what is needed in developing countries if they wish to become developed. 

According to a WikiLeaks cable from 2009 following an article by Foreign Policy titled “Bolivia’s Lithium Powered Future” – “Nationalist sentiment over the lithium reserves is  growing, and state mining company COMIBOL has been unwilling  to begin working with international investors until the small COMIBOL pilot plant has shown the best processes for lithium extraction.  Government officials have stated that they look to international investors for “technical support” but not as full partners.  According to Saul Villegas, head of state mining company COMIBOL’s lithium division: “The previous imperialist model of exploitation of our natural resources will never be repeated in Bolivia.  Maybe there could be the possibility of foreigners accepted as minority partners or, better yet, as our clients.”

In February, Reuters reported, Bolivia has chosen a Chinese consortium to be its strategic partner on new $2.3 billion lithium projects, the government said on Wednesday, giving China a potential foothold in the country’s huge untapped reserves of the prized electric battery metal.”.

Following that deal, a deal was reached with ACISA, but what canceled by Morales a week prior to the coup as a result of protests by locals. Days after, days before the coup, ACISA would publicly call on the German government to get involved. Spiegel online would report that, “ We won’t just give up on this project,” ACISA head Wolfgang Schmutz told the news website Spiegel Online, adding that policymakers like economy and energy minister Peter Altmaier now need to find a solution. Schmutz said his company still had not received any formal note on the annulment of the contract with the state-owned Bolivian YLB group that Bolivia’s President Evo Morales announced on 3 November, adding that “I thought I must be mistaken” when he first heard of the decision on the radio. Schmutz said ‘legally binding’ contracts had been made with YLB but added that his company had no interest in fighting the case out in court. ‘I hope the politicians that backed us in the past won’t just disappear now,’ Schmutz said, stressing that a secure lithium supply is ‘the basis’ for Germany’s energy transition and e-mobility plans.’

The New York Times subtle admission that this was indeed a coup is a sign that the narrative battle is already shifting in support of Evo Morales.

Written and submitted by Mitchell McGuire

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