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The people of Bolivia have risen & we must stand with them – Christine Blower

“By this summer, Bolivia found itself in a deepening political, economic, social and health crisis, & has now seen months of protest in what is nothing less than a national uprising.”

Christine Blower

After seizing power in a military-backed coup in October 2019, Bolivia’s hard right-wing and Trump-supported ‘interim’ government has shown itself to be no respecter of human rights or democracy.

In recent months this has taken the form of massive repression and demonisation of the masses of Bolivians all over the country who had been protesting both against a delay in elections (now due for October) and the Government’s failure when it comes to its deadly approach to the Coronavirus pandemic.

When looking at the actions of the coup regime, it’s important to understand that it came to power in a coup that took place with the incumbent Evo Morales, despite winning October’s presidential elections,  being ousted by the military following a wave of right-wing opposition violence that lashed out at the country’s indigenous and campesino populations, trade unionists and socialists.

Support from some quarters internationally for the far-right coup was partly justified by ‘concern’ over the election results, which were fuelled by a mid-count report by the US-dominated OAS (Organisation of American States) announcing “deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results.”  This change in voting trend was in fact merely due to votes from pro-Morales areas coming in later. However, the report was seized upon by the Trump administration and its allies in the international press as “evidence” of electoral fraud, and it was another six months before the mistake was acknowledged by some in the media, too late to reverse the annulment of the elections.  

Following the coup, the current President far right lawmaker Jeanine Anez immediately declared herself president and has hung on to power ever since, despite early promises to hold new elections. Her initial pledge to not stand for office herself lasted less than three months before she declared her intention to stand, triggering a rebellion in her cabinet which she quickly dealt with by purging the dissenters, although she has now been forced to withdraw her name from the upcoming election in face of low poll ratings and being blamed for a divided right-wing.

Protests against the coup and the interim government were brutally put down, including one incident in Cochabamba where demonstrating civilians were attacked by security forces, leaving 9 indigenous people dead, others injured and many more arrested. Repression of protests was further reinforced by police raiding homes in search of evidence to link students to anti-government activity. In the following weeks the death toll rose, prompting the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to express concerns about the death toll of at least 36 people and the use of armed forces in controlling social protests, Interim president Anez felt no such concerns, however, and signed a decree exempting the armed forces from prosecution for any action taken in controlling citizens.

Additionally, members of Bolivia’s indigenous majority were specifically targeted by the transitional government and faced intimidation and violence from paramilitary groups.

Particular venom was aimed at Morales and many other members of his Government, who at the time of the coup were given asylum first in Mexico then in Argentina.

Anez’s coup-government has also censored the media, threatening foreign media organisations with expulsion or arrest. As the protests continued into the new year, journalists covering demonstrations were shot or arrested. Several foreign television companies were shut down and an Al Jazeera journalist was tear-gassed whilst on air. 

The previous government of Evo Morales had adopted a strategy of reversing neoliberal policies and resuming control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations. Anez’s new regime quickly set about overturning this strategy and began to privatise state-owned companies, as well as tearing up plans to ensure the proceeds of increased lithium production flow to the Bolivian people rather than multi-national corporations.

Morales’ progressive foreign policy was also abandoned as full relations were re-established with the U.S. USAID, the agency used by the US to channel funds and support to right wing groups and NGOs, was brought in to “cooperate” in the promised elections and CLS Strategies, a US political consulting firm, was contracted to provide strategic communications advice.

While all parties started selecting candidates and organising their campaigns, the interim government did everything it could to prevent Evo Morales’ MAS party (Movement Towards Socialism) from taking part. Prominent members of the MAS were accused of sedition, and in some cases illegally detained. Some ministers and former ministers had their homes attacked and lives threatened, leading them to request asylum in the Mexican embassy in La Paz for safety.

By this summer, Bolivia found itself in a deepening political, economic, social and health crisis, and has now seen months of protest in what is nothing less than a national uprising.

The government’s response to the covid19 crisis has seen them do little to protect the most vulnerable citizens, and in particular those who work in the informal economy. Harsh austerity measures have led to a serious health crisis and a shortage of medical supplies. The indigenous population, many of who support the MAS and the previous government of Evo Morales, have been particularly hard hit.

At the time of writing elections will take place by October 18, and MAS candidate – former Economy Minister Luis Arce – is currently leading in the polls, but there is understandably widespread concern among supporters of the MAS that even if elections do take place the government may take steps to prevent a fair result.

We have seen a general strike, roadblocks, mass marches and much more as part of a wave of resistance against the coup regime in recent months. The Bolivian trade unions, MAS supporters and the coca growers of Cochabamba have been amongst those demonstrating to demand their right to vote in elections, whilst health workers have protested about the inadequate medical supplies provided by the reactionary government.

Meanwhile repression of socialists, trade unionists, indigenous communities and other progressive forces continues. The interior minister has threatened to deploy troops to intervene if the various social movements continue to hold demonstrations, but people keep resisting and all the signs are this movement is still growing.

The people of Bolivia have risen against the Trump-sponsored coup-regime and vicious neo-liberalism – we must stand with them.

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