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Bolivia – putting people and planet before private profit

We must keep up solidarity with Bolivia, as the right-wing campaign of destabilisation has not abated, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

AS HAS been widely covered in the Morning Star, October 2021 marked a year after Bolivia’s Movement for Socialism party (MAS) gained a decisive victory in the 2020 presidential election, ending the illegitimate regime of Jeanine Anez, but there are now sustained and serious concerns about right-wing anti-democratic destabilisation in the country.

How seriously the government is taking this ongoing threat is shown by numerous communiques it has issued in recent months to alert the international community about the development of a “destabilisation process” and numerous Labour MPs were among those who signed a letter expressing international support for democracy and social progress in Bolivia.

Having removed Evo Morales and the MAS from power, the coup regime moved quickly to seek to turn the clock back to implement a neoliberal and racist agenda.

This involved a wave of human rights abuses, targeting trade unionists, indigenous activists and MAS supporters.

Shockingly, it included the racist massacre of indigenous protesters at Sacaba and Senkata by military and police forces.

In the 11 months that Anez’s regime lasted, it was characterised by widespread repression, corruption and incompetence.

The results were soaring poverty and inequality, and a crisis in healthcare as the regime mishandled the Covid pandemic. 

But throughout this time, a heroic coalition of trade union, peasant and indigenous movements, together with neighbourhood organisations, unions of informal workers and the MAS, resisted the repression and called for fresh elections to be organised. 

When finally held in October 2020, MAS candidate Luis Arce scored a decisive victory with 55 per cent of the votes against the 29 per cent of his nearest challenger, former president Carlos Mesa. MAS also retained control of both houses of congress.

In his first year in office, President Arce has made huge progress in tackling the worst economic and unemployment crisis in the country’s recent history and in implementing a strategy to deal with the pandemic. 

The Bonus against Hunger cash payment initiative, increased pensions and a tax on the very rich have all helped to revitalise the economy, which grew by 5.3 per cent in the first four months of 2021.

The country’s new health programme has seen 54.4 per cent of the over-18 population completely vaccinated against Covid-19.

But it is the government’s commitment to bring to justice those responsible for the Sacaba and Senkata massacres and other human rights abuses that has prompted right-wing opposition groups to come together to mount a destabilisation campaign. 

Anez is in prison awaiting trial and some 23 former military and police commanders are currently under arrest.

Right-wing political leaders such as Luis Camacho, Carlos Mesa and Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga have been called to appear in court in the trial relating to the events of October 2019. 

The first sign of the opposition’s campaign was the open disrespect shown at Santa Cruz’s anniversary celebrations in late September by its right-wing governor, Luis Camacho, to the Wiphala flag representing Bolivia’s indigenous heritage.

This resulted in widespread counter-protests, but the opposition followed this up by calling for a day of national action against President Arce in October.

This both failed to disrupt everyday activities across the country and was opposed on the streets by social organisations defending the government and the MAS party.

Undeterred, the right-wing opposition called for another day of action on November 8, despite the fact that the government had acceded to its demand to withdraw a Bill before the legislative assembly that sought to control illicit earnings, money laundering and terrorism financing.

Bolivian Vice-President David Choquehuanca’s denunciation of the call to action as an attempt “to generate chaos … to generate instability” was borne out a few days later by a far-right paramilitary organisation’s ambush of a group of Bolivian indigenous farmers in Potosi that left one of them dead and dozens requiring hospital treatment. 

In 2019 this organisation and other paramilitaries were linked to the US-backed overthrow of Morales and engaged in the repression against indigenous people during Anez’s regime. 

As the right-wing opposition continues its action, its true intent is revealed by one of its leaders openly saying that “the government of Lucho Arce must be overthrown.”

In response, President Arce explained to a massive rally called by Cochabamba’s six farmers’ federations that “the right-wing politicians want to seize with violence and not with a democratic spirit what the people won in the October 2020 elections.

“The violent opposition wants to government to fail and lose its popular support.”

While massive rallies in support of the government have taken place across Bolivia, trade union organisations and dozens of social organisations launched a “March for the Homeland” in defence of democracy and stability in Bolivia.

Led by former president Evo Morales, some 50,000 Bolivian workers, farmers, and indigenous people arrived in La Paz on Monday walked for six days to arrive in La Paz in late November.

Along the 200-kilometre route through towns and cities, the march was joined by indigenous farmers, students and workers.

Nearing the capital, the march was also joined by the president who declared: “We join the People’s March in defence of our legitimate government elected at the polls. We march in defence of democracy in Bolivia.”

President Arce has warned that the problem Bolivia is dealing with is actually an issue for progressive governments across the whole of Latin America. 

As recent events in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua reveal, the hand of the United States lies at the root.

In Arce’s words, the ties of the domestic ruling class “with US interests are stronger than ever. That union makes then speak the same language, set the same priorities and act the same way.”

What is required here is the widest possible condemnation by all progressives and democrats of the ongoing attempts by anti-democratic, extreme right-wing groups to destabilise the elected government in Bolivia. 

As part of this campaigning — and given that the British and US governments backed the Anez regime — the British government should be urged instead to engage constructively with the Bolivian government under President Arce.

Follow Ken at www.twitter.com/Ken4London and www.facebook.com/KenLivingstoneOfficial

Follow Friends of Bolivia at www.twitter.com/BoliviaFriends and www.facebook.com/BoliviaFriends.

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