Bolivia has emerged as a new focus in the struggle in Latin America between pro-US economic elite and those fighting against neo-liberal plunder of their countries and standing for redistributive policies which they call as ‘socialism’. This struggle is being waged on pan-Latin American stage. There have been many battlegrounds in this struggle. This struggle is also intimately connected with increasing contradictions among the imperialist countries with China increasing its economic and Russia its military footprints. The dominant power of the western hemisphere as well as the leading economic and military power in the world, US imperialism, has repeatedly struck to keep the rival imperialist powers at bay and people of these countries in check. In this it is aligned to a section of elites of these countries who wish to appropriate the whole proceeds of the natural resources of these countries and products of its labouring masses. These sections, challenged by the rising movements of the people demanding better lives and sections of elite against US domination of their country’s economic, social and political life, are aligned with Western imperialist rulers particularly US imperialism.
The western imperialist powers call their anti-people military intervention as aimed at bringing about or restoring democracy as the case may be. But this has always been a cover for their imperialist interests and has nothing to do with any democracy. US imperialism depends on the support of the sections of the ruling classes aligned to it as well as military officers who are mostly trained in the US Academy for Americas. The veil of democracy which they throw around their aggression, subversion and coups, has been worn out. US imperialism is the biggest enemy of democracy in the world particularly in Latin America. It has been borne out by a series of military coups orchestrated by them in Latin American countries. Bolivia is its most recent example where every tenet of democracy has been violated.
On October 20 this year, Bolivia held its Presidential election in which incumbent President, Evo Morales was declared elected. Opposition disputed the outcome but only to the extent of whether or not Morales had won by the margin of 10% votes which was necessary to avoid a run-off. For record there was no dispute that Morales was leading his opponent, Carlos Mesa, a former President. Carlos Mesa, a pro-US politician politically and financially supported by US imperialism, whose political strategy were formulated in the US embassy in Bolivian capital, La Paz, called for open revolt against President Morales. That however, did not bring many people out as most of Bolivians support Morales. To put the issue to rest, Morales acquiesced to a team from Organization of American States (OAS) an organization under the control of US. This team found no evidence of wrong doing yet curiously labeled “clear manipulation” in the counting. Acting on the report, Morales ordered re-election to be held.
The US supported opposition which had till then demanded run-off changed tack and started demanding Morales should not be allowed to contest election. This brought to the fore the real design of the forces behind the anti-Morales campaign. Police mutinied. Warrant of arrest was announced against Morales. His supporters and leaders of his Movement for Socialism (MAS) were attacked, their houses ransacked. House of Morales and his sister were also attacked. And then came the final blow. On November 10 Bolivian military chief asked Morales to quit forcing him to quit the country. This was purely and simply, as pure it can be, a military coup against an elected leader. Military chief General Williams Kaliman has been trained like many others in the infamous School of Americas. Fearing for his life and those of other leaders of MAS, Morales along with some other leaders of MAS left the country. In this he was helped by the new leader of Mexico, Obrador, who had won on the plank of opposing US domination of his country. His flight abroad had to counter obstacles from the pro-US regimes. Columbia refused to allow the plane carrying him to enter its airspace and it had to be routed through Paraguay.
The coup leaders continued to target leaders of the MAS. To give so-called legitimacy to their coup, they got the legislative assembly to choose his successor. Here the problem was that both the chambers were dominated by Morales party, MAS. MAS had 25 out of 36 members of the upper house and 88 out of 130 of the lower house, a comfortable two third majority in both the chambers. Military, police and cadres of pro-US parties unleashed a wave of violence against them and did not permit them to attend the session. In the empty house, deputy leader of the upper house, Ms. Aneez proclaimed herself to be the President. On the other hand, people came out on the streets and confronted the police and military. Lakhs of people demonstrated and are continuing their protests in capital La Paz and other cities. More than 20 protesters have been killed and over 400 seriously injured in the firing by police and military. The whole country is witnessing a mass upheaval against this military coup.
Morales has been the first indigenous leader of Bolivia, a country where nearly two third of the people belong to indigenous communities. They are the most oppressed, exploited and their concerns neglected. After his election in 2006, Morales has implemented redistributive policies spending a part of the income from the natural resources on the welfare of the people which obviously was not to the liking of pro-US elites. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly this year, Morales claimed that his Govt. has reduced poverty rate from 38.2% to 15.2% and has implemented a Universal Health Care System. An interesting development during Morales rule has been granting land tenures to women, over a million have received such tenures and over 50% of those elected to parliament chambers are women. Morales’ model has been only redistribution of the income from natural resources without altering the production relations in the country. However under his rule, indigenous communities received attention for the first time and their conditions improved.
Bolivia, a country of 11 million, is an exporter of natural gas and mainly minerals. It has vast resources of silver, tin and lithium. According to World Bank its economy was 40.58 billion US dollars in 2018 with per capital GDP of 3565 US $ (more than double on the index of PPP) and a growth rate of 4.2% with unemployment rate of 4%. Its main exports are minerals like tin, zinc, gol, natural gas and soy products. Nearly 30% of its labour force is employed in agriculture while nearly 22% in industries and 48% in services. Mining, smelting and petroleum are among the main industries in Bolivia. It is the main source of tin and it is home to up to 70% of lithium supply in the world. Its exports are mainly to neighbouring countries with Brazil and Argentina among the top. It imports machinery, petroleum products, vehicles, iron & steel and plastics. China has emerged as the main source of its imports accounting for nearly 22%. Decrease in the prices of commodities has put a strain on the economy. After he came to power, Morales made at least half of the control of mines with Bolivia national firms and allotted a part of the profit from mining for social development (The Forty Sixth Newsletter). Western firms rejected new stipulation and Morales Govt. reached deals with Chinese firms. China has emerged as one of the main trading partners of Latin American countries. This coup is targeted at controlling the mineral resources of Bolivia. US and western firms want to corner bulk of the profits and would like to eject Chinese companies from Bolivia.
Another important aspect of the coup has been its targeting of indigenous people who constitute nearly two third of the people. It is the democracy of the US imperialism which is calling this coup against indigenous majority as restoration of democracy. The Bolivian tribal flag (Pochama signifying mother earth) which used to fly along with Bolivian national flag has been torn down from the Govt. buildings. At Anez declaring herself President a pastor shouted outside that this was as the second coming of Christ. The new President has remarked, ‘I dream of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites. The city is not for Indians; let them go back to the highlands or the Chaco’. Apart from everything, this was a racist coup. (The Forty Sixth Newsletter)
The US orchestrated military coup is facing resistance from the people. They fear for the loss of whatever Morales did and their fears are genuine. This people’s upheaval in Bolivia is part of the struggles of the people of Latin American countries against US directed neo-liberal regimes. A very sharp struggle has broken out in Chile where millions came out on streets against rising inequality and deteriorating conditions of living. The struggle in Chile was precipitated by a rise in metro fares (transport charges constitute nearly 20% of the expenses by a labouring household). But it has grown into wider challenge to the neo-liberal economic policies. People are out of the streets against what they call thirty years of rising inequality. Conservative billionaire Sebstian Pinera Govt. is facing challenge from the people especially working people and this struggle is expanding to draw more and more forces into streets. They are demanding a change in the direction of the country and not merely changes in the Govt.
In Argentina, Peronist Alberto Fernandez has won the presidency with Cristina Fernandez de Krichner (a former president) as his running mate. He has defeated the candidate supported by US establishment. In the largest country of the continent, Brazil, former President Lula has been released and will now be leading the opposition against Bolsenaro, whose neoliberal regime is getting increasing unpopular. Lula was projected to be comfortable winner in the last elections before he was jailed on corruption charges and Bolsenaro got elected. Election of Obrador in Mexico has also seen strengthening of these forces in Latin America. Obviously this would decrease pressure on the regimes being targeted by US imperialism- Venezuela, Cuba and Nicargua. Colombian Govt., one of the close allies of US imperialism, has torn down the agreement reached with FARC by the previous Govt. and this has created widespread unrest in that country.
The conflict in Latin America is breaking out on a wider scale for the direction of ruling class politics in the continent. The increasing contradiction among imperialist powers is influencing the developments. Economic role of China is increasing in the continent though China is also trying to increase its strategic footprints in the region. This conflict at present centres around reforms which the section of elite supported by US and other western imperialist powers are determined to thwart and roll back. On the removal of Morales by the military, Brazilian leader Lula remarked, “Latin America has an economic elite that does not know how to live with democracy and the social inclusion of the poorest of the poor.” Obviously he meant within the ruling class framework without changing the relations of production.
As the struggle grows deeper and draws wider and wider sections of the working people into its ambit, the very foundations of the present socio-economic structure are being challenged and this challenge will grow. Revolutionary forces have an increasingly fertile ground to work on.
November 14, 2019