“The new MAS government has begun to make good on President Arce’s inauguration promise to rebuild Bolivia, kick-starting the economy by increasing people’s spending power & public investment.”
When a US-backed military coup in November 2019 denied Evo Morales another term as Bolivia’s elected President, he identified corporate capitalism’s desire for the country’s vast lithium resources as the driving factor – to the usual chorus of denials.
But then followed the giveaway remark of Elon Musk, boss of the electric car firm Tesla whose products depend on lithium: “We will coup whoever we want. Deal with it.”
And now investigative journalism website Declassified UK has published a startling exposé of how the UK Embassy in Bolivia provided data for the now discredited Organisation of American States (OAS) report used to justify the coup, and then swiftly sought a key position in the coup regime’s new plans for the lithium industry, working with the Ministry of Mining in organising an international seminar for 300 officials from the global extractives sector.
But the coup regime under ‘interim president’ Jeanine Añez lasted less than a year, with the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) led by Luis Arce securing victory by a massive 27% margin in Bolivia’s Presidential election in October 2020.
The new national government led by President Arce has faced an enormous task though. Añez’s coup regime was characterised by widespread repression, corruption and incompetence.
Critically, it failed to develop a coherent strategy to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate the accompanying economic downturn. 400,000 jobs were lost during 2020, income from remittances went down by almost half and poverty and inequality soared.
It further badly mishandled the economy, increasing foreign debt to $11.2 billion (including a $300 million loan from the IMF), while also setting about overturning Morales’ strategy of taking control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations.
By contrast, the new MAS government has begun to make good on President Arce’s inauguration promise to rebuild Bolivia, kick-starting the economy by increasing people’s spending power and public investment.
The Bonus Against Hunger initiative, for example, is targeted towards over 4 million people without formal employment and pension entitlement.in the country.
The payments, which started in December, will help reduce the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable families in the country as well start to reactivate the Bolivian economy.
The government also plans to impose a wealth tax from 2021 onwards on individuals whose assets exceed 30 million Bolivianos (about £3.2 million). Potentially this could raise over £10 million to help revitalise the economy and fund redistributive programmes.
With a range of other initiatives being funded, President Arce’s 2021 budget is providing $4 billion for public investment and has increased expenditure on health to 10% for the first time.
To tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, Arce’s three-pronged strategy is for municipalities to carry out widespread testing, at no cost to recipients; coordination between departmental and municipal governments, with national provision of the necessary tests, medical supplies and staffing; and buying vaccines.
Large-scale test distribution is already happening, while 15.8 million vaccines have been ordered, the first of which began to arrive at the end of January. Health workers have now started to be vaccinated with Sputnik V doses. A mass vaccination campaign of the entire Bolivian population over 18 is scheduled to start in March.
But with over 250,000 cases to date and nearly 12,000 deaths, there is severe pressure on hospitals and particularly intensive care units, with staff still falling ill and a shortage of beds.
President Arce has also promoted a Health Emergency Law to strengthen the state’s capacity to fight the pandemic and protect the population by avoiding abuses in the provision of health services.
Securing the government’s position at home and abroad has been a pressing task.
On the international stage it has begun rebuilding links with allies and partners dismantled by the coup regime. Diplomatic relations with President Maduro of Venezuela are now restored, reversing the coup regime’s recognition of the self-titled “interim president” Juan Guaidó.
The government has also renewed its support for regional integration in Latin America by resuming its participation in three of the most important regional organisations for trade, dialogue and security, ALBA, CELAC, and UNASUR.
At home, given the degree of military support for the coup and the coup regime, President Arce moved quickly to make top-level changes in the armed forces to reduce the likelihood of their again siding with reactionary moves against the elected government.
Arrests have been made of former Army Commander Jorge Mendieta and Admiral Flavio San Martin, former Chief of the General Staff, for their involvement in the coup. Former Police Commander Yuri Calderon and former Army Commander Sergio Orellana, who fled to Colombia, are also being sought.
‘Interim president’ Jeanine Añez has also been captured and charged with terrorism, sedition, and conspiracy for her actions during the 2019 coup. These include corruption, the systematic violation of human rights and the impunity decree for the police and army which underpinned the Senkata and Sacaba massacres, currently under investigation by five experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Añez’s detention in custody as a ‘flight risk’ has drawn criticism from the OAS, prompting Bolivia’s Justice Minister to consider taking legal action against OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro for interfering – yet again –in Bolivia’s internal affairs.
As internationalists, we must give our support for the MAS, the social movements and the Arce government against any attempts by reactionary forces, inside and outside the country, to turn the clock back and restore by force a right-wing regime intent on destroying MAS’s work to advance democracy, human rights, equality and social progress in Bolivia.
- EVENT: Bolivia – People Power, Hope & Solidarity
Monday April 19, 18.30. Register here – Invite & share on FB here – Retweet here to spread the word
With: Eyewitness speakers from Bolivia including journalist Ollie Vargas
Plus: Jeremy Corbyn MP, Miriam Colque (Bolivian activist in London), Claudia Tuberg-Defor (Wiphalas Across the World,) Alex Main (US based Director of International Policy at the Center for Economic & Policy Research). Chair: Christine Blower (Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.)