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Regime change agents are still hard at work in Bolivia

Fake news and destabilisation attempts have a long history in the Latin American country, writes DENIS ROGATYUK

THE Bolivian far right has wasted no time in building a new opposition movement to the government of MAS and the presidency of Luis Arce.

Even before Arce’s official inauguration as president on November 8, numerous attempts were made by the various elements of the far right to either delegitimise or otherwise complicate both the inauguration and the transition process. 

Romulo Calvo, the leader of the far-right Santa Cruz Civic Committee, was calling for protests against the validity of the elections and the new MAS government during the entire period leading up to the innaguration. 

The road blockades set up by them around Santa Cruz have followed a similar pattern, with similar messages and demands, with the ones in Cochabamba also being enforced by the paramilitary group Cochala Youth Resistance (RJC). 

Some of the protesters have also been setting up camp outside barracks and military bases around the country (mostly in Santa Cruz), demanding that the military intervene. 

Although none of these actions came into fruition, they demonstrated the hysteria and the parallel reality thinking of the right-wing opposition in the country. 

The assassination of Orlando Gutierrez, a prominent mining union leader and one of the most important trade union leaders supporting both MAS and the new presidency of Arce and David Choquehuanca, is another reminder of the extent to which the far right is likely to use violence to destabilise the socialist government in Bolivia.

The opposition to the new government has not been isolated to just the far-right civil committees and the paramilitaries. 

One of the most prominent organisations in the mix is US-funded “NGO” Rios de Pie (Standing Rivers) its main regime change agent, Jhanisse Vaca Daza.

At the time of the writing of this article, the organisation has been involved in three major campaigns against MAS:

• Continuing to claim that the October 18 election was either fraudulent or that the Bolivian Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) somehow favours the outcome of a MAS victory. 

This is a claim is still being perpetrated by Luis Fernando Camacho, one of the key participants of the November 2019 coup against the government of Morales and one of the losing right-wing candidates in the October 2020 election.

• Falsely claiming that MAS eliminated the use of the #Patuju symbol representing the indigenous peoples of the eastern provinces. 

This claim emerged out of a fake news campaign that alleged that the flag of the indigenous nations of Santa Cruz has been withdrawn from display in major government institutions. 

Rather, President Arce has incorporated that symbol into the presidential sash, along with the Wiphala flag representing the 30 indigenous nationalities of Bolivia, thus demonstrating that the concept of plurinationality has returned as the central pillar of governance in the country.

• Finally, and most prominently, Vaca Daza and Standing Rivers have been claiming that MAS has eliminated the requirements for a two-thirds majority in the Plurinational Assembly to pass certain laws. 

Rather, it eliminated the need for a two-thirds majority for dealing specifically with promoting and demoting members of the armed forces and the police forces, as well as the ability to initiate legal processes against officers involved in the massacres in Sacaba and Senkata. 

Thus, Vaca Daza’s campaign is indirectly aimed at ensuring impunity for members of the regime of Anez who took the lives of more than 32 indigenous activists in El Alto and Cochabamba.

Both Vaca Daza and Rios de Pie have a long history of attempted destabilisation and regime change in Bolivia. 

From July through to September 2019, it ran the intense social media campaign, #SOSBolivia, in order to implicate the presidency of Morales in the wildfires that raged in the region of Chiquitania in Santa Cruz. 

The organisation also played a prominent role in legitimising the coup and the government of Anez, as well as the violence perpetrated by her.

Strangely, despite their “environmentalist” outlook, the group has been almost completely absent in any efforts to contain the mass forest fires that raged across Santa Cruz throughout 2020 (even bigger than the ones in 2019), and has instead focused its efforts on attempting to delegitimise the results of the 2020 elections and protesting against MAS legislative measures.

Most recently, a group of Rios de Pie activists attempted to hold a protest against MAS at Plaza Murillo in front of the presidential palace in La Paz, only to be dispersed (ironically enough) by police forces previously armed by the Anez regime.

Vaca Daza is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, whose alumni also include individuals like Venezuelan far-right coup leader Leopoldo Lopez and neoliberal economist Ricardo Hausmann. 

Vaca Daza’s CV, however, is more impressive than her academic history. 

The organisations that she has worked for include the Human Rights Foundation (founded by the libertarian cousin of Leopoldo Lopez, Thor Halvorssen), the National Endowment for Democracy-funded Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (Canvas), and most prominent of all, the Atlas Network. 

The latter is comprised of right-wing, libertarian and far-right political movements from around the world, and has been linked to the creation of hundreds of thousands of fake social media accounts either supporting right-wing regimes, as in Bolivia; destabilising left-wing governments, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua; or attempting to intervene in electoral processes on the side of the far right, as in the Chilean national plebiscite of October 25 2020.

One of the organisation’s most prominent backers and funders is Spain’s former premier, Jose Maria Aznar, at the centre of that country’s post-Francoite right. 

Vaca Daza also became one of the key spokespeople for the coup process in Bolivia, as well as one of the most vocal supporters of the regime of Anez, appearing during the December 14 OAS meeting and dismissing the existence of a “coup” in Bolivia or any massacres that took place during November 2019. 

Such claims also played their part in the regime change operation.

Vaca Daza and her crew are likely to continue playing a prominent role in the next several years in Bolivia.

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