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THE Movement Towards Socialism’s (MAS) victory in Bolivia’s presidential election, the first held since a military-led coup ousted legitimate President Evo Morales last November, offers a new way forward for the country out of the nightmare of the last year.
Under the coup regime led by Jeanine Anez, a wave of human-rights abuses took place, targeting trade unionists, indigenous activists and MAS supporters, with large-scale violation of people’s rights and the loss of lives.
The decisive scale of the victory, in which MAS candidate Luis Arce secured 55 per cent of the votes against the 29 per cent of his nearest challenger, former president Carlos Mesa, meant that no second-round run-off was required.
MAS also retained control of both houses of Congress, which will aid President Arce’s efforts to rebuild the country after the coup interregnum, which was characterised by widespread repression, corruption and incompetence.
Such a resounding win by MAS gave no grounds for any attempt to label the election fraudulent, as the US-backed Organisation of American States (OAS) did in 2019 in what proved to be a baseless fabrication.
This time, the OAS election mission concluded that “people voted freely and the result was clear and overwhelming, granting strong legitimacy to the incoming government, to Bolivian institutions and to the electoral process as a whole.”
However, although MAS’s success at the polls was clear-cut, this did not stop right-wing and pro-coup forces calling for the result to be overturned.
Roads were blocked and protests outside police and military bases called for a second coup, encouraged no doubt by a video of a Bolivian military officer threatening to “act” if the army isn’t “respected” by politicians.
Although these reactionary moves were challenged on the streets and have come to nothing, they illustrate one of the challenges that Arce faces as he takes office.
To counter the possibility of a second coup supported by the armed forces, Arce has sworn in a new set of military generals, removing right-wing personnel who were loyal to the US-backed coup.
Anez’s ally Sergio Orellana has been replaced by Jaime Alberto Zabala, who comes from the air force, as commander in chief of the armed forces.
There is much to be done on the economic front as well. The coup regime of Anez badly mishandled the economy, saddling it with a $300 million loan from the IMF that was unauthorised by the MAS-controlled Senate, and failing to mitigate the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
Under Anez, the regime had also quickly set about overturning Morales’s strategy of taking control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations.
It had began to privatise state-owned companies, as well as tearing up plans to ensure the proceeds of increased lithium production flow to the Bolivian people rather than multinational corporations.
One of Arce’s first acts has been to sign into law the Bonus Against Hunger initiative, previously approved by the MAS-controlled National Assembly but blocked by Anez, which will help over four million people in the country.
The payments, which will start in December, will help reduce the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable families in the country as well help to reactivate the Bolivian economy.
At the other end of the income scale, the new government intends to introduce in 2021 a new tax on those whose wealth exceeds 30 million Bolivianos (about $4.3 million).
Bolivia is one of the countries in Latin America with a considerably low tax base, realising minimal tax revenues.
On the international stage, the new government is also reversing the coup regime’s recognition of the self-titled Venezuelan “interim president” Juan Guaido and restoring diplomatic relations with the constitutional government of Venezuela headed by President Nicolas Maduro.
The two countries have emphasised their intentions to promote multilateralism in the region.
Arce has also announced that five experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) would be undertaking an investigation into the murders of Sacaba, in Cochabamba Department, and Senkata, El Alto Department.
The Sacaba and Senkata massacres took place amid the wave of violence that lashed out at the country’s indigenous and campesino populations, trade unionists and MAS supporters protesting at the installation of Anez’s interim government.
An earlier investigation by the Institute of Forensic Investigations (IDIF) established that the deaths were caused by weapons of the national police and the armed forces.
The delegation of experts will provide the Bolivian Attorney General’s Office (FGE) with a technical report so it can take legal action against those responsible.
Other moves can be expected to hold to account those responsible for a range of crimes and misdemeanours committed under in the coup regime in the last year, including coup president Anez.
Local residents in the city of Trinidad organised to try to stop her from fleeing the country, to ensure that she faces justice for the massacres and corruption of the US-backed coup.
While MAS’s election victory is a defeat for the Bolivian right and for the US’s stock Latin American policy, the way forward will be by no means easy.
As internationalists, we must give our support for the MAS, the social movements and the Arce government against any attempts by reactionary forces, inside and outside the country, to turn the clock back and restore by force a right-wing government intent on destroying MAS’s efforts to build a better society.
Here in Britain, that means all progressives must support the vital work of Friends of Bolivia — Viva Bolivia! Viva la Solidaridad!
Add your name to a solidarity statement at bit.ly/solidaritywithBolivia.
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