Between an illegitimate self-proclamation and a popular uprising in Bolivia

By Marco Teruggi
November 17, 2019

Published in La Haine/Telesur on Nov. 13. Translation by John Catalinotto.

Yesterday’s [Nov. 12] street action in La Paz once again showed the power of El Alto [Bolivia’s second-largest city], while at the same time revealing a leadership quandary [in the resistance].

“If it is possible,” [right-wing Senator] Jeanine Áñez said at the end of her speech after proclaiming herself president of Bolivia. As she spoke, someone whispered to her what she should say. Then she went to the presidential balcony and greeted everyone with the tricolor banner [the Bolivian flag]. This is how one of the most important phases of the coup d’état in Bolivia ended: the construction of institutional fiction.

Áñez proclaimed herself president outside of the [process defined in the] Constitution and without a quorum in the legislature. This was the only way to do it, as the majority in both chambers belong to the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) and that party’s decision was not to participate in that session.

Áñez, therefore, first proclaimed herself president of the Senate — a figure who must assume the position of interim president after the resignation of the president and vice president — and then proclaimed herself president. The applause of the few people present followed.

This step was essential in the strategy of the coup d’état leaders, who always aimed to present the seizure as democratic. This presentation had from the beginning the support of the United States and the Secretary of the Organization of American States Luis Almagro, who this Tuesday [Nov. 12] accused Evo Morales of having committed a coup d’état and of using a protective media machine.

However — while the real state powers always continued to act — even with the backing of the U.S. and the OAS, the absence of a formal presidency gave rise to a government vacuum in Bolivia. That vacuum had to be resolved. The bloc of political actors at the head of the coup then decided to accelerate the steps by skipping all legality to place the presidential sash on the shoulders of the chosen person.

None of this would have been possible without the participation of those who hold the real power. Morales, who arrived in Mexico [yesterday] morning with [elected Vice President] Álvaro García Linera, made this clear when he denounced Áñez for proclaiming herself president while “surrounded by a group of accomplices and escorted by the Armed Forces and police forces that repress the people.”

Police repression

It was not just political imagery: The police and the military repressed the people while Áñez and the entire right wing celebrated in Bolivia. This happened in the center of La Paz around Plaza Murillo, where all afternoon all the [pro-Morales] protesters descended from the [Indigenous] city of El Alto, one of the points in the country where the country’s biggest protests took place.

The mobilization of El Alto was one of the points of greatest conflict. On Monday [Nov. 11], the first phase of the uprising took place — although its genesis had been on Saturday night — with thousands of men and women joining, the great majority belonging to the [Indigenous] Aymara nation. That day ended with three dead, according to [protesters]. The images in the streets were of blood stains on parking meters.

Tuesday [Nov. 12] the announced arrival from El Alto of the Indigenous march to La Paz took place. The residents of the center locked themselves in their houses, while others went out to applaud the massive mobilization of people with the [Indigenous] whipala flag in their hands.

The street action again showed the power of El Alto, at the same time that it showed a leadership quandary. This problem is similar to the one that occurred in the last days before the coup d’état was consummated and in which now the different parts of the process of change [in Morales’ movement] find themselves.

The actions in El Alto, where daily town meetings are held, are not the only ones in progress.

Resistance beyond El Alto

The Coordinator of the Six Federations of the Tropic called for mobilization starting Thursday [Nov. 14], and the Unique Trade Union Confederation of Peasants of Bolivia proclaimed a plan of struggle to block the country’s highways and generate a siege on the city of La Paz.

Now, 48 hours after the coup, this capital city is beginning to experience difficulties in the supplying of gasoline and food because many stores are closed.

In this context of the growing shortages, the announcement came from the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB) that it was giving “48 hours notice to reestablish constitutional order.” Will the COB accept what happened with Áñez as a reestablishment of constitutional order? Or will it go on general strike?

The situation in Bolivia continues with many unanswered questions. There have been advances by those who lead the coup bloc. There has also been growth of resistance in a situation where information channels are few.

It is difficult to find out what is happening, both in the political epicenter of the debates, as well as in different areas of La Paz, El Alto and the countryside, particularly in the most remote, rural areas.

There are many reports of deaths, repression, humiliation, persecution caused by those carrying out the coup offensive. Even before overthrowing Morales, this offensive displayed a wave of violence by armed shock groups. Now in power, with or without a government, it maintains its offensive with the objective of decapitating the process of change [by the popular movement].

(Credit: Sputnik)