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BOLIVIA: A COUNTRY IN CONFLICT

Bolivia is a country in intense dispute. A culture of ancient indigenous traditions in confrontation with a Christian fundamentalism that is growing in size and influence; a leftist party criticized for having moved away from the base that elected it in dispute with bourgeois justice and its opposition parties; a strong dispute between plurinationality and democracy with the growth of authoritarianism: there are several ways to understand what is happening in this Andean country today.

This text was based on two interviews I conducted with Bolivian activists David Inca, who organizes the Permanent Commission of Human Rights in the city of El Alto (one of the main ones in indigenous resistance to the coup) and Mino Muñoz, a young man and rapper from the district of La Paz, who actively participated in the recent mobilizations in January.

 

What is at stake in Bolivia?

On November 10, after a “suggestion” made by the commander in chief of the Armed Forces to resign, Evo Morales officially resigned and went into exile, as a way to avoid a soon-to-be-arrived persecution. Shortly thereafter, Jeanine Añez, who was, until then, the leader of the opposition in the Senate, declared herself president and began to exercise this de facto power. But how did we get there?

Bolivia has been experiencing changes for years that are very different from those previously experienced in the country. After the mobilizations that stopped the country in defense of natural resources such as gas and water, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), managed to put Evo Morales, the first indigenous person in the country, as president in 2006 and begin what they would call a “type of change process”. In his first term, along with important measures such as agrarian reform and the nationalization of strategic resources that were previously exploited by multinationals, his main achievement was to found the plurinational state of Bolivia, recognizing the 36 peoples that live there and reconstructing the state from a perspective that theoretically would include the Andean peoples’ way of “living well” as part of the logic of the state, including granting autonomy to indigenous peoples to exercise their way of life in their territories.

The existence of these conquests is remarkable in a country marked by the exploitation by white elites of the indigenous peoples who make up more than 70% of the country. However, in spite of this, MAS, by not deepening these changes, entered into several contradictions in recent years. A strategy in agreement with the bourgeoisie, led by Alvaro Garcia, former vice president, strengthens the common sense that drove MAS away from the base that allowed it to win. The misuse of the Indigenous Fund, the little progress made in implementing the autonomy of the indigenous communities, the equipment of the social movements, and the attempt to carry out important works in places where the native peoples live were examples of the deepening of this rupture.

In this sense, in a short time Evo had been losing space and hegemony in society. In 2016, MAS lost its first national vote in a referendum that removed the limit that we presidents have to run again. This was a crucial moment for understanding the current scenario in Bolivia, because, even so, MAS decided to maintain Evo’s candidacy, which is accepted by the justice system and makes Evo a different candidate in the 2019 elections. Previous elections A more divided and unsatisfied society, a more domesticated set of social movements, and a political narrative that the law could use to delegitimize the government provided a consistent basis for the coup.

From that moment on, the Pititas movement emerged. A real mass movement led by young people who held small picket lines and strikes in different parts of the country demanding the resignation of Evo Morales and that the elections be disregarded, which would have been manipulated. In this process, the Civic Committees, existing organizations in many cities where the local bourgeoisies are organized, played an important role. In particular, the figure of Luis Fernando Camacho, considered a Bolivian Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing businessman who, at the time of the coup, brought the Bible to the national palace along with a letter of resignation to be signed by the president.

In addition, years of MAS bureaucratization prevented a response at the height of the movement created by the right. Despite indigenous resistance, the plurinational identity of a large part of the country against the ideas of Camacho or Añez, the figure of Evo was wearing out in a considerable social parcel and his own base no longer had the same capacity for mobilization, after more than a decade of domestication of the social movements and no attempt to renew their leadership spaces. The right wing had the social strength to pay its way into power without further formalities, so it seized this opportunity.

However, its entry into power was not peaceful: several protests and mobilizations were responded to with attacks on militant homes and more direct repression by the police and army. In El Alto, particularly in the Senkata neighbourhood, around 10 protesters were killed during a demonstration. Despite the fighting, Añez assumed the presidency and began a campaign to normalize violence in the streets and begin a more official and judicial process of persecution of the country’s former political leaders.

 

And since then, what has happened?

The political climate remains tense in Bolivia, with elections scheduled for May 3, the current interim president, Jeanine Añez, announced her candidacy. Camacho will try the job, as will Carlos Mesa, Evo’s former president and main rival in last year’s elections: There is a real dispute over which alternative to the right will prevail after the coup.

Meanwhile, MAS announced Luis Arce, one of its most moderate ministers, as its candidate, showing a repetition of an institutionalized and hegemonic logic of the party, in recent weeks a demand from various sectors for the launch of Andrónico Rodríguez, a young man from Cochabamba, who has a strong social base and was one of the most active names in the post-coup resistance. However, the possibility of a MAS candidacy is being questioned in the courts, after the political persecution suffered by the party’s leaders.

Within the sectors of the left and the social movements, according to David Inca and Mino, there is a debate and a balance of the last years of the MAS government and a reflection on how there can be a reorganization of the indigenous and popular struggle, an important debate in a country where, unlike Brazil with PSOL, there is no alternative to the left of the formed MAS. On January 22, the commemorative date of Bolivia’s plurinationality, the mobilizations and acts against the Añez government and the post-coup political persecution, part of an important process of continuous resistance, returned.

Bolivian society, like Brazil a few years ago, saw a real growth in the social weight of the right wing. The evangelical churches and the businessmen took advantage of the wear and tear and dissatisfaction with a MAS government that was increasingly distancing itself from popular demands and distorting its initial proposal for social change. Similar to the experience of the PT, it showed the difficulties of an option of conciliation, even with one of the fastest growing economies in Bolivia and with an important part of society with reference to its figure, Evo weakened by stopping the process of change and prioritizing commitments to those powerful people who today find a more “pure blood” path to support with Añez or Camacho.

Bolivia is another example of a turbulent moment in Latin America with many conflicts and also much resistance. Whipala has not become a symbol for the entire Andean region and continues to be an image contrary to all that those in power represent. Although the OAS Human Rights Commission is questioning the Bolivian government even for its persecution and for the murder of activists, we see that much of what happens there, with all its particularities, is similar to Brazil.

For this reason, our active solidarity is an urgent task. Just as the Bolivian right wing is inspired by Bolsonaro and his allies, the Latin American peoples have much to support and strengthen themselves. Together with Chile, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Haiti, Puerto Rico, among many others, Latin America continues to show its popular strength. Like ours, Bolivian history has no end, and if its history of revolutions and popular struggles, with important symbols such as Bolivar and Tupac Katari, says anything, it is that the people still have much to tell.

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