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Bolivia’s Election: The defeat of the 2019 Coup

04 November 2020

Originally published at on 3 November 2020

One year after they ousted the Bolivian President, Evo Morales, the right and far right parties that organised and led the coup, with the support and encouragement of the White House and the Organisation of American States, OAS, have suffered a devastating defeat at the polls. Their usurping president, Jeanine Áñez, who withdrew as a candidate in mid-September, was forced to concede. She now faces charges over the killing of 30 people during last year’s coup, specifically the massacres in Senkata, Sacaba and Yapacani.

When polls closed on Thursday, 22 October, Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca, of the Movement Towards Socialism or MAS were declared elected in the first round with 55.1 percent of the votes. Carlos Mesa of Comunidad Ciudadana (Civic Community) was in second place with 28.83 percent and Luiz Fernando Camacho of Creemos (We Believe) was third with 14 percent. (TSE –

The MAS now has the presidency and a clear majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. This victory for the left will be welcomed by popular forces across Latin America where the right has been on the offensive in recent years.

Divisions between the right wing conservative, Civic Community, and the far right Creemos, contributed to the scale of the defeat. The latter is a clerical, far right alliance based in the southern department of Santa Cruz, backed by the Santa Cruz Youth (Unión Juvenil Cruceñista- UJC) a fascist movement involved in terrorist attacks on popular activists.

Other major factors were Áñez and her government’s chaotic handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis; her austerity policy; privatisation of health, education and natural resources, and her attacks on the rights of Bolivia’s majority indigenous population. Last, but not least, was a year’s sustained popular resistance, which once more led to victory for the left populist MAS.

However, MAS president-elect Luis Arce’s statement: “We are going to govern for all Bolivians and construct a government of national unity”, should ring alarm bells. This is the typical reformist yearning for class collaboration, but the right is highly unlikely to respond positively. Internationally, however, all the forces that supported the coup, including the OAS, the White House and the European Union, felt obliged to congratulate Arce. Even Trump responded by saying, “We hope to work in our joint interests”.

According to G1-Globo, the Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, tried to justify himself by arguing that there are no similarities between these elections and those cancelled in 2019. “There is no parallel, it is not very clever to draw that parallel”. (…).

It is even less clever to deny the obvious; that the coup was based on a cynical fraud, led to dozens of deaths and the arrests and imprisonment of militants of the popular movements.

No one should forget, however, that the figures that carried out the coup of October 19 remain in control of the army, the police, the judiciary and the secret services and their links with the US military and the White House are intact and operative.

In addition, the MAS is no more reliable as a defence against the forces of international capital and imperialism than it was before 2019. Indeed, the latter will hope that faced with the pandemic and the economic crisis the government will rapidly disillusion its mass support and open the road to another takeover by the right.

The social forces, the workers, poor peasants and indigenous communities that waged the “water war’ of 2000 and the “gas war” of 2003 and mobilised to stop last October’s coup will need to mobilise again if the forces of reaction are to be disarmed and the forces of compromise, the MAS leaders, prevented from selling the country’s rich natural resources, such as the huge lithium deposits, to the multinational corporations who have looted the country.

The 2019 coup

On October 20, 2019, it was announced that Evo Morales, of the MAS, had been re-elected for a fourth term as president of Bolivia. With 47 percent of the vote and a lead of more than 10 percent over the second placed candidate, Carlos Mesa, who had 36.51 percent of the poll, Morales was declared elected outright since, according to Bolivia’s electoral law, there does not need to be a second round if a candidate obtains more than 40 percent of the vote and has a lead of 10 percentage points or more over the next highest candidate.

Confusion arose because of the method of vote counting in Bolivia which includes a rapid preliminary one (TREP), based on tally sheets from the individual departments, which is then followed by the official count of every vote (cómputo). Only the latter is considered decisive. Though discrepancies had been pointed out, and the preliminary count had been halted, Morales was finally declared the winner with a 10 percent lead thus avoiding the need for a second round.

As soon as the right-wing opposition realised their defeat was inevitable, they began to raise accusations of electoral fraud. They mobilised tumultuous demonstrations in protest, calling on their supporters to remain on the streets until holding a second round was conceded. Soon, huge counter demonstrations by MAS supporters filled the streets of La Paz and an indefinite general strike was called. Faced with the disputed count and the clashing mobilisations, the MAS government yielded to pressure and asked for an external audit of the poll.

The OAS declared on 23 October that the best option was to hold the second round. The European Union also called for a second round. On the same day, Carlos Mesa declared that he did not recognise the results announced by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) and announced the formation of a Coordination for the Defence of Democracy in order to press for the holding of the second round.

Basing himself on the results issued by the TSE, Morales tried to ride out the street movements that were becoming more and more radical. But the police, plus sectors of the Armed Forces, and racist and right wing fundamentalist forces aligned themselves with the coup plotters. Their street actions became more violent, with kidnappings of politicians and their relatives linked to Evo. Dozens of people were killed and wounded in these days.

We cannot fail to point out, too, the scandalous fact that the Central Obrera Boliviana, COB, the federation of workers’ and poor peasant unions, initially supported the coup. On November 10, in the face of confrontations in the streets and a mutiny by the police and armed forces, Morales “resigned” from the presidency and fled the country with his vice president, Álvaro García Linera. Morales denounced the coup from his political asylum in Mexico, Cuba and, finally, in Argentina.

On 12 November, Jeanine Añes, at a meeting of congress, which lacked its constitutional quorum, declared herself interim president, promising to restore peace in the country and call new elections as soon as possible. The coup was complete.

Linera, a former leader of the Tupac Katari guerilla movement in the 1990s, was also the theorist of Morales’ government and the author of Sociology of Social Movements in Bolivia (2005). In various articles he has used Gramsci’s “war of position”, that is, institutional reforms, in contrast to a “war of manoeuvre”, that is, revolution, to argue that building up an “Andean capitalism” was a necessary preliminary stage, which might last for decades, before socialism could be introduced.

The cultural, educational and welfare reforms of the MAS were important; the declaration of Bolivia as a plurinational republic; the promotion of the Wiphala to equal status with the Bolivian tricolour; the recognition of the country’s Aymara, Quechua and other indigenous languages and cultures, were all important. However, the failure to protect communities’ lands against oil and gas companies and agribusinesses, fractured the alliance on which the MAS had ridden to power. At the same time, the integration of indigenous organisations into government institutions led to their bureaucratisation and the development of an elite that deserted Evo at the crucial moment.

Finally, the Bolivian elite and their US advisers did not limit themselves to a “war of position” but successfully “manoeuvred” Morales and Linera into exile. They, in turn, left their supporters to the tender mercies of the generals, police chiefs and fascists.

Thus, while the rank and file members of the MAS and the popular assemblies in many cities, notably in EL Alto, did wage a heroic resistance and suffered heavy casualties, the flight of the MAS leaders and the retreat of the MAS parliamentarians, left the movement without a centralised leadership. This was truly disgraceful. To expect anything better from their successors today in any future crisis would be the height of folly. During the election, Luis Arce repeatedly distanced himself from Morales to the right and, as economy minister in the latter’s government, pursued an openly pro-capitalist policy. There is no reason to believe that the leopard has changed his spots.

However, the resistance did not cease despite the repression from far right gangs, then the onslaught of covid-19 and the dislocation to the country’s economic life. In August, when the Supreme Court delayed the election due on September 8, a wave of strikes, road blockades and demonstrations showed the ruling class that the workers and indigenous masses would not tolerate the repeated postponements. This pressure plus the government’s internal conflicts made the October election unavoidable. Thus, it was the class struggle that ensured the restoration of formal democracy. To make it a reality will require more of the democratically organised mass mobilisations for which Bolivia is justly famous.

Where Now?

This victory at the polls represents much more than an electoral victory for the politicians of the MAS. Far more is it the result of resistance from the working class and indigenous peoples that can encourage and strengthen progressive forces across the whole of Latin America. But we must always remember that it is only the beginning of this movement and that we must take care that it does not end in class conciliation.

After US imperialism reasserted its domination of Latin America, after a decade or so of “Bolivarianism” and “socialism of the 21st century”, by means of the coups in Paraguay, Ecuador, Brazil and Bolivia, the victory of the MAS will encourage a fight back in these other countries. The Bolivian working people showed how to win; by general strikes and other mass actions. The way forward is through the organisation and mobilisation of the working class, to unleash revolutionary gales across the Americas.

However, it is plain that the reality of capitalism in the oppressed and exploited semi-colonial world cannot be changed by bourgeois elections. We have to find another strategy for the working class, beyond the reformism and electoralism of populist parties like the MAS. Whilst they rely on the workers and impoverished indigenous campesino communities to win elections, once in power, they fall into the orbit of imperialism and seek to act as local agents for North American, European or, more recently, Chinese, imperialism.

True, Morales and Linera did wring concessions from the squabbling external powers and were able to make significant, if temporary, reforms. But, as the 2019 coup showed, manoeuvring between them to win Bolivia a larger cut of the wealth that will come from lithium, hydrocarbons etc., will not prevent coups and economic blockades such as those being imposed on Venezuela and Cuba. The link between the arrogant billionaires seeking to seize what is now Bolivia’s most valuable mineral resource, lithium, was clear when Elon Musk, billionaire owner of the Tesla electric car manufacturer, challenged about US involvement in the coup responded on Twitter: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

The workers’ movement worldwide needs to denounce such outside interventions with the demand that Bolivia’s sovereignty must be respected. In Bolivia, the political leaders of the 2019 coup, as well as the commanders of the police and armed forces, who arrested, tortured and killed people, must be punished. This is not revenge, it is JUSTICE!

Again, this will require the intervention of the masses not just decrees by ministers or laws passed by deputies. It will require the breaking of the discipline of the “gorillas” over the rank and file soldiers, with democratic rights for them and armed militia for the popular masses. In short, to make the country safe for democracy and for socialist measures to meet the masses’ needs, means breaking up the apparatus of repression, the state of the landowner and capitalist elite.

Bolivia must also have the right to review all international agreements, harmful to its people, that were made during the coup government, which had no legitimacy to make them. The sell-off of its wealth, especially gas and lithium, must be reversed. The indigenous peoples also need to be compensated for the losses imposed on them during the coup d’état of President Jeanine Áñez.

Finally, the Bolivian people must remain mobilised and organised to face possible reactions from the coup-plotting right, supported by imperialism and even possible retreats by the MAS government leading to the well-known class conciliation.

Bolivia’s workers and poor peasants need to build an internationalist revolutionary party with a programme to overthrow capitalism. A party to organise the working class and build the revolutionary process that will free it from capitalist slavery and lead it to the power of a new state, a socialist state.

The working class of all Latin America feels the strengthening winds, blowing from Bolivia and Chile. This demonstrates too the urgent need for an international organisation that links them to the workers of North America, Europe and China, too. Together we can free ourselves from the imperialist powers and their agents, the corrupt and dictatorial local elites. That is why we need to put on the agenda the building of a Fifth International and revolutionary parties in every country. A vital component of their programmes must be the creation of the United Socialist Republics of Latin America.

Read The League for the Fifth International coverage of events in Bolivia over the past years.

Down with the Reactionary Coup in Bolivia

The November Coup in Bolivia and How to Reverse it…

Bolivia: the Fight for Democracy is the Struggle for Revolution…

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