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WE recently marked six months since the military coup that removed Bolivia’s elected President, Evo Morales, from office. With the coronavirus crisis reaching the country, Bolivians continue to suffer violent repression and savage austerity measures under an illegitimate regime, which is now putting lives in danger through its response to the pandemic.
It is important to restate that Evo Morales was ousted after being declared the winner of October’s election with a lead of 10 points over his nearest challenger, Carlos Mesa.
Claims of irregularities by the Organisation of American States (OAS), which is 60 per cent US-funded, were used to justify the coup but have been rejected by studies into the election.
A report by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research found: “There is not any statistical evidence of fraud that we can find… the OAS’s statistical analysis and conclusions would appear deeply flawed.”
The new coup regime wasted little time in turning on its critics and opponents to silence them. Under coup president Jeanine Anez, whose party’s electoral alliance secured only 4 per cent in October, dissent has been violently repressed.
A decree signed in secret by her is shielding security forces from criminal prosecution when dealing with protesters, many of whom are Indigenous.
A report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found that at least 36 people were killed after the coup, including in two events it categorised as massacres. Former ministers and trade unionists have been arrested, and journalists harassed and tortured.
The IACHR has called for an international investigation into these and other alleged human-rights abuses in Bolivia. In January it announced the establishment of an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts with a wide-ranging, six-month mandate to investigate human-rights violations in Bolivia.
The coup regime has focused particularly on leaders from Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, who are being criminalised and face various charges. The regime reportedly has a list of nearly 600 officials from the MAS government whom it has in its sights.
Having seized power, the regime has begun to unpick the economic and political reforms made during Morales’ tenure in office. Central to this has been to overturn Morales’s strategy of reversing neoliberal policies and retaking control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations.
State-owned companies are being privatised or handed over corruptly to coup supporters who are taking full advantage of the opportunity.
The directors of Bolivia’s airline, BoA, for example, have been replaced by close associates of Fernando Camacho, the right-wing opposition leader in the Santa Cruz region who facilitated the coup by urging the police as well as the military to join the protests against Morales.
Anez’s trusted supporters, Herland Soliz and Elio Montes, have embezzled large sums from Bolivia’s largest oil and gas company (YPFB) and Bolivian Telecommunications (Entel).
The coup’s aim is to roll back the political and economic advances secured by Morales for indigenous peoples in the new plurinational state.
Anez, a Christian fundamentalist, revealed this clearly when she announced in January that “savages” must not be allowed to win in the elections that were at that stage scheduled for May. Repression of dissent has fallen most heavily on Bolivia’s indigenous peoples, in a further indication of the racist nature of the coup.
Anez’s woeful ineffectiveness in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic has increased resistance from sections of the population to the de facto government.
At the forefront of this, Bolivian health workers and their trade unions have denounced the lack of medical supplies and conditions in public hospitals and facilities.
Coupled with incompetence, and a clear policy of putting profit before health and people, is growing concern from Bolivia’s popular movements that there is a surge in corruption that is becoming a defining characteristic of the regime. Where donations from various countries and organisations and credits from the IMF have ended up is unknown, and there is a lack of transparency about the purchasing of supplies that fuels suspicions about the contracts and who is benefiting.
For a population heavily dependent on the informal economy, the failure to ensure regular deliveries of a food basket promised to 1.6 million households in quarantine led people in Riberalta city to demonstrate for food and greater health security. On May 11, security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets against hundreds of protestors in the Bolivian K’ara community located in Cochabamba city.
Protests are being held in every area of the country, with calls for Anez’s resignation growing stronger during the daily “cacerolazos” pots-and-pans-banging protests.
The authorities’ response is to step up repression, conduct airforce flyovers of areas of unrest and issue harsh fines.
Anez and the coup supporters have clearly seen in the current crisis an opportunity to consolidate further their position with the proposed May elections postponed. The MAS-controlled legislature has passed a law giving the Supreme Electoral Tribunal a window of 90 days in which to set a new date.
But Anez — although reportedly willing to end the quarantine in order to restart economic activities at the behest of her supporters in big business — is seeking to postpone the elections until September 27 at the earliest.
With the quarantine in force, Anez has also shown no scruples in taking advantage of the situation to flood the cities with advertising for her party, attracting criticism from the right-wing Pagina 7 newspaper which has asked her to give up her candidacy in the postponed elections.
Before the health emergency broke, the MAS candidate for President, Luis Arce, was reckoned to be in the lead over a divided right-wing opposition.
But the delays and the regime’s invitation to both USAID (expelled by Morales in 2013 for meddling in internal affairs) and the US-led Organisation of American States to be involved in the planning of the elections raise fears that the elections — whenever held — will be neither free nor fair but steered to ensure the outcome is a new government that follows a neoliberal course that meshes conveniently with US interests.
The millions of Bolivians opposed to the coup regime deserve our support in their struggle for public health, democracy and social progress.
Sign the Friends of Bolivia solidarity statement at bit.ly/boliviarepression.
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