Support the resistance to the coup in Bolivia

By Sam Ordóñez
November 17, 2019

Nov. 15 – On Nov. 10, Evo Morales, president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, resigned, along with the vice president and the majority of his cabinet. This happened after the national police abandoned their defense of the elected government and joined right-wing protests, and the Armed Forces announced on television that they were calling for Morales’ resignation, thus also joining the coup d’état.

It didn’t matter that the government had already accepted what the protesters were supposedly asking for: new elections with a new Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

Fernando Camacho, ultra-rightist leader of the opposition movement, entered the Palacio Quemado to take a photo kneeling before the flag and the Bible. At his side, a pastor declared, “Bolivia belongs to Christ.”

In the following days the situation developed that should not surprise those who know the history of Latin America: The police forcefully repressed protests in working-class neighborhoods and killed at least six people, persecuted civil servants and elected officials of the ruling party Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), and arrested union, peasant and Indigenous leaders.

The coup became a reality when the army and various sectors of the police joined it, but it was also the result of a campaign of terror against the Indigenous majority of the country and all those who supported the “process of change” of MAS. Those who carried out this terror are, apart from the business sector, groups of the extreme right. They have a neocolonialist ideology and include the worst characteristics of evangelism.

After he resigned, Evo Morales first retreated to the Cochabamba region. There he was protected by the coca growers’ union he had led before becoming president. After sheltering 20 MAS members in its embassy, the Mexican government offered asylum to the president, and at the time of this writing Morales is in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, in the streets of Bolivia a great resistance to the coup is developing — to defend democracy and also to reject and resist the racism unleashed by the coup victory.

In the city of El Alto, near the administrative capital of La Paz and famous for its history of overthrowing dictators, the inhabitants, mostly Indigenous peoples, forced the withdrawal of the national police, who had to ask for reinforcements from the army.

In the rest of the country, unions, Indigenous organizations, peasants, feminists and other social movements began to mobilize as well. From various points in the country they are now arriving in La Paz, where marches and roadblocks are increasing.

Members of the coup

“The sign of the cross on the handles of swords.” That is the title of the first part of “The Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano, and it fits the coup in Bolivia. By its own public comments, the “civic” movement led by Camacho — which is really a fascist movement — demands the “return of Bolivia to Christ.”

The core of this movement is the alliance between the country’s old colonial elite, businesspeople and evangelical churches. These groups overlap, and their objective is the restoration of the criollos — European-identified settlers — and their neocolonial version of Christianity.

The initial acts of the coup leaders, after Evo resigned and before appointing an interim president, were to remove the Wiphala, the flag of Indigenous Andean peoples, from government buildings and to take photos kneeling before the Bible and the national flag. In their celebrations this movement’s members burn the Wiphala and attack the original peoples’ symbols, which they call “satanic.”

When the coup plotters finally named a senator, Jeanine Añez, “interim president,” she proclaimed herself president while surrounded by the military. She did this in a nearly empty legislative chamber with no quorum or majority political bloc present. They were absent because two-thirds of the elected representatives are from MAS and the police prevented them from entering.

Añez is linked through her husband to Colombian Uribism — named after the death-squad former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. She entered the palace holding a Bible larger than her head.

On the other hand, the coup needed, and received, the collaboration of the National Police and the Armed Forces to materialize. This collaboration was the key difference between the Bolivian coup and the failed coup attempt in Venezuela earlier this year.

It is proof of the idea that Russian revolutionary leader Lenin elaborated: the bourgeois state — and in the Latin American context one can also speak of the neocolonial state — at the critical moment will serve only bourgeois interests.

It was obvious that the country’s police forces did not sufficiently change their character during the years (2006-19 of Morales’ presidency) of MAS’ process of change. At the critical moment, they served their old oligarchic masters. After the coup materialized, they removed the Wiphala from their uniforms and began a campaign of anti-popular terror in the streets.

Williams Kaliman, who was then commanding the Bolivian armed forces and who “suggested” to Morales that he resign, was trained at the School of the Americas — which has since changed its name without changing its character. This is the U.S. military academy that trains Latin American officers and has produced the worst dictators, war criminals, and facilitated genocide on the continent.

Bolivian media also discovered that a group of graduates of that academy, including several members of the high command, had already conspired to overthrow the government. (

Morales’ government had closed the foreign military bases in the country, and in 2008 stopped sending its military to train in the United States. Morales even started an anti-imperialist school, but apparently it wasn’t in time, and the lackeys of imperialism were able to stay in high command.

The only good thing is that these lackeys are now unmasked, and their true intentions are undeniable. It falls to the people, in the process of organizing resistance to the coup, to develop their own armed forces originating from the masses of people. Only then will these armed forces be able to serve as the basis of state power free from oligarchic and imperialist influence.

The Constitution of 2009

The fascist movement that formed the vanguard of the coup could not have generated the necessary chaos for the coup without a social base. As was evident, this base was motivated by strong racism and a desire to massacre the Indigenous peoples and destroy their cultures.

In this context, it must be understood that one of the most important achievements of the process of change, perhaps over and above economic growth, was the establishment of the Plurinational State with the Constitution of 2009.

The first clause that provokes the anger of the heirs of the colonial elite is that for the first time it established a legally secular Bolivia. That is why the coup plotters now enter with the Bible in hand.

Along with the separation of religion and the state, this Constitution decrees the equality of 36 Indigenous languages and Spanish as official state languages. Every territory has at least one official Indigenous language in addition to Spanish. Indigenous nations gained explicit representation in the legislature. Under it, judicial offices are elected by vote.

This Constitution breaks with centuries of colonialism and neocolonialism that have dominated the entire continent, and for the first time created a framework for a state that was not controlled by colonial elites.

Lithium, other natural resources, economic factors in coup

The 2009 Constitution decrees that the country’s natural resources are the exclusive domain of the Bolivian people, administered by the state. It also declares a maximum limit on private land ownership.

Bolivia has one of the largest reserves of lithium, whose value is on the rise because it is the essential raw material for batteries used in electric cars. In general, it is indispensable for solutions to the climate change crisis proposed by “green capitalism.” A few weeks before the coup, Morales had cancelled an agreement with a German firm to develop its lithium reserves and had begun negotiating with China.

There is no doubt that the climate crisis requires technological solutions that depend on lithium, but the question is who should benefit from its development: the people who with their labor extract it from the earth and — according to the government’s industrialization plans — process it, or the transnationals, in this case mainly German imperialist corporations?

The oligarchy of the country, even if it manages to put aside its racism, becomes enraged again when it remembers the mines lost in nationalization. It shouts and prepares its coup when it sees what it considers its profits “wasted” on educational programs, a universal health system and financing the “emancipation” of the country by the International Monetary Fund.

Lithium is only part of the wealth of the Bolivian subsoil. Hydrocarbons and minerals are also important. The same can be said of Bolivia’s agricultural products.

But whatever the resource, the desire of the oligarchy is the same throughout the continent: to sell mineral and agricultural resources to the transnationals, to lower salaries and therefore the quality of life to its minimum level, and to keep the difference for themselves.

Consequently, the resistance that is being organized in the face of the coup, in addition to defending the rights of the original peoples, represents the class struggle and the opportunity to create a new state power outside the control of the oligarchy. This resistance thus deserves the support of the working class around the world as well as all anti-racists.