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A military coup in Bolivia?

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Although about half of the Bolivian population is of indigenous origin, the election of Evo Morales as president in 2005 represented the first time that a member of the indigenous community occupied the presidency of Bolivia. The election of Morales was always considered by a large proportion of the white population of Bolivia as a threat to their privileges. The economic and political elite of Bolivia has always looked down on the indigenous communities, which, until the Morales presidency was overwhelmingly poor, and socially excluded.

During the 14 years that Morales was president, extreme poverty was reduced from 38 to 15 %, and the GDP of Bolivia grew from 9 to 42 billion USD. No other Latin American country in the last two decades can show such an impressive expansion of the economy and such a drastic improvement in wealth distribution. The economic expansion was in part due to the decision of the Morales government to nationalize many of the natural resources, including oil and gas.

Yes, the presidential candidacy of Morales for a fourth term was controversial in light of the two-term constitutional limit. Nevertheless, regardless of the opinion that one could have about his candidacy, his forced resignation represents one more of the large number of military coups that Bolivia has suffered. One of the excuses used by the supporters of the coup was that the recent election in which Morales won almost half of the popular vote was fraudulent. However, fraud has never been proven. The audit of the election by the Organization of American States (OAS) (an organization in which the USA has a leading influence) determined that elections displayed “irregularities” but it never indicated that fraud was committed. Based on these “irregularities” the OAS had called for new elections under a new Electoral Tribunal, and Morales had accepted this call. However, at this point the police started an insurrection, and the military demanded Morales’ resignation.

After Morales’ resignation, Janine Anez, the vice-president of the Senate, declared herself “interim president”. She was immediately recognized by the Army and the Police, which started to repress the supporters of Morales. By November 18 at least 20 protesters had been killed, and more than 300 wounded. Morales, who obtained political asylum in Mexico, had his home vandalized and looted while the home of his sister was burned down. It should also be noted that the designation of Janine Anez as president violated all the constitutional norms of Bolivia. According to these norms, the “interim president” is to be elected by Parliament, in which MAS, the political party led by Morales, has a majority.

As usually happens in such cases, the military coup was immediately recognized by the USA. It has been speculated that the Trump administration was not happy with the decision by Morales to establish a partnership with China to extract the vast reserves of lithium that Bolivia possesses. Sadly, the Canadian government has followed the USA in recognizing the de facto government.

Jorge Filmus is a medical researcher and SfP board member.


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