Bolivia shows there is an alternative – thousands join Jeremy Corbyn at international solidarity event

“We have proved the empire wrong: Bolivia is an inspiration around the world.”

Claudia Turbet-Delof

By Ben Hayes, Islington North CLP.

Over 1,200 joined Friends Of Bolivia’s live online event Bolivia Shows There Is An Alternative: Putting People and Planet First, marking a year since the defeat of the coup government and the Movement For Socialism returning to office with over 55% of the vote. The evening saw a range of contributions reflecting on the significance of the country’s stance for social progress and sovereignty, as well as the importance of international solidarity.

Chairing the event, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament General Secretary Kate Hudson opened by calling on international governments to “respect the will of the Bolivian people ” who spoke so clearly at the ballot box, and reject the ongoing attempts and destabiliation from right-wing forces.

Friends of Bolivia’s Tim Young outlined the disastrous tenure of the previous unelected government led by Jeanine Anez: which saw poverty increase, the response to COVID-19 mismanaged and widespread political repression – including massacres of MAS supporters. 

Citing “the heroic resistance of the Bolivian people ” for ensuring their removal, he went on to discuss the achievements of the first year of current President Luis Arce. These include the launch of the Bonus Against Hunger initiative, which has helped 4 million Bolivians access regular food, increased pensions, a wealth tax, measures to prevent exploitation of natural resources, ensuring the majority of the population has now received at least one COVID vaccine (with having been double vaccinated) and a growth rate of 5.3% in the first 4 months of 2021.

The Arce administration has also taken steps to deliver justice for victims of the coup, as well as as rebuilding regional links and calling for the resignation of Luis Almagro, General Secretary of the Organisation of American States (whose widely discredited claims of electoral fraud were pivotal in the removal of Evo Morales in 2019). Noting that various coup-plotting figures are now at the heart of current destabiliastion attempts, Young called for continued solidarity with those standing up for self-determination. 

Claudia Turbet-Delof of Wiphalas Across The World stated that last year represented the recovery of Bolivian democracy, and paid tribute to all those who were on the sharp end of the coup – in some cases even losing their lives while resisting. The forces behind the removal of the elected government, she outlined, were an alliance of the United States with its regional allies, and Bolivia’s historic elite. This ruling class has never accepted the loss of their monopoly on power and the celebration of diversity as represented by Evo Morales’ government (as seen in their contempt for the Wiphala flag, a symbol of indigenious communities across Bolivia and Latin America). 

Noting that the fact the MAS were even able to be on the ballot was in itself a triumph of popular pressure defeating attempts to block their candidates from standing, Turbet-Delof stated that there would be “no regression to a colonial Bolivia where the majority were invisible” and “we have proved the empire wrong: Bolivia is an inspiration around the world”. She concluded by thanking all those who have worked to build international solidarity with the country.

Representing American peace campaign CODEPINK, Leonardo Flores discussed his experience as an election observer in Bolivia last year- recalling that activists had described a renewed integration between the MAS and Bolivia’s social movements as being crucial to organising under the repressive conditions of the coup government. Noting that this had helped build huge mobilisations which forced new elections, and was evident in last week’s rallies to “stop a new coup before it starts”. he emphasised the importance of ties between progressive movements in and out of power across the region in terms of protecting and advancing on the gains made in recent decades. Slamming governments and prominent NGOs who to this day have refused to apologise for or even acknowledge their role in propping up the coup, Flores called for international support for the demand that Luis Almagro resign from his position- arguing that “ending the OAS as we know it” would be a huge step forward for the left and the sovereignty of the region.

Miriam Amancay Colque from the Bartolina Sisa Resistance contrasted the two decades of neoliberalism and privatisation which had preceded Evo Morales’s election as President with his programme of “retribution and empowerment”- stating this was what drove reactionary forces to oppose him so vehemently and eventually remove him from office. But, channelling the words of famous indigenious leader Túpac Katari, Amancay Colque stated “we are back in our millions”. 

She outlined how, since their electoral triumph last year, the MAS have “worked tirelessly” to deliver strong public services, restore a proper justice system, and build regional integration to reject the vision of being “the US’s backyard”. She then discussed the report by Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts finding cases of summary executions, torture, and sexual and racial abuse following the coup – arguing that these memories were important to the low levels of support amongst the population for recent destablisation attempts by right-wing groups. Noting the large numbers who came out to call for respect for the Wiphala, she affirmed the commitment of the Bolivian people to continue standing in defence of democracy, social progress, the environment and justice.

Bolivia-based Journalist Ollie Vargas recalled reporting on the election for Kawsachun News, including being attacked by a pro-coup group: something he described as “a dying moment… lashing out”. Noting that the reveal of the much-anticipated exit poll was repeatedly delayed until Morales revealed the MAS’s own data, he described how the results were met with mass celebration, marking what was “the end of the most brutal government in living history for many Bolivians”. 

Vargas argued that the elections taking place represented a victory for popular pressure in itself, with recent revelations revealing that even in the last days of the campaign Colombian mercenaries behind this summer’s assasination of Haitain President Jovenel Moïse entered the country targeting Arce. In contrast with the Anez regime overseeing an economic crisis even before the outbreak, he described how the current MAS administration is building a ‘post-neoliberal’ economy, including using the state to invest in new technological developments. Remembering how the US government was revealed to have given $4.5m to a previous destablisation campaign in 2008, he called for campaigners to ‘stay alert’ and challenge the narrative put forward by our government and much of the media.

MP for Islington North and former Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn then discussed the significance of Bolivia’s role in the history of the region, with 19th century Latin American leader Simon Bolivar writing of its importance as a multiethnic and multilingual society. He outlined the country’s history of repression and resistance, noting that the MAS emerged out of struggles against privatisation and in defence of natural resources- describing their policy of Bolivia adopting a constitution “based on rights” (acknowledging the obligation for the state to ensure all citizens can access healthcare, education, housing, food etc) as “a source of hope and optimism for us all”. 

Recalling a visit as part of a Parliamentary delegation, Corbyn mentioned how many MPs couldn’t help but be impressed at the level of mass engagement with this process. Describing Evo Morales as one of the first victims of ‘lawfare’, a tactic used against numerous progressive leaders in the region, he emphasised the importance of having a Mexican government that was willing to offer him asylum in 2019 given subsequent events. He then touched on the lessons for the left internationally from the resilience of the MAS in overcoming the coup, arguing that here in Britain “the Labour Party must be rooted in popular struggle and the lives of the people”, or it fails to be relevant. Bolivia’s role on the global stage was also mentioned, with Corbyn arguing it has set an example for countries at the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow by showing that it is possible to protect the natural world at the same time as raising living standards. In addition to this, he praised its support for a global nuclear weapons ban and the inspiration it has provided to those opposing the hard-right Bolsonaro government in Brazil. He concluded his remarks by pledging to continue his long standing record of solidarity work with the country. 

Concluding the event, Kate Hudson called for unity in support of Bolivia’s struggle for social progress and self-determination- you can find out more from Friends of Bolivia on their website here.

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