Bolivia: the people still stand by Morales and socialism

The right-wing coup government is repressing and criminalising the country’s progressive and popular movements — but their resistance endures, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

CAMPAIGNING for the “elections” to be held in Bolivia on May 3 is already under way, amid growing evidence that the current coup government is set on “winning” them through manipulation and repression.

Last October’s elections, which Evo Morales and his Movement for Socialism party (MAS) won convincingly, were annulled following the right-wing coup supported by the military and the Catholic Church that deposed Morales and installed Jeanine Anez as self-proclaimed president of Bolivia.

The coup regime has wasted little time in starting to overturn Morales’s strategy of reversing neoliberal policies and retaking control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations.

It has begun 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 multi-national corporations.

At the same time, it has savagely repressed dissent against the imposition of the coup government, aiming to neuter and dismantle the mass movement and indigenous political forces grouped around the MAS.

Self-proclaimed President Jeanine Anez and her coup supporters are hell-bent on removing left-wing organisations’ leaders from national political life. A key MAS leader, Gerardo Garcia, has been arrested and is now a political prisoner, and some ministers and former ministers have had their homes attacked and lives threatened, leading them to request asylum in the Mexican embassy in La Paz for safety.

In early February, Bolivia’s Former Mining Minister, Cesar Navarro, and former Agriculture Minister Pedro Dorado were arrested at the El Alto airport when they were about to board a plane as political refugees, despite having an official safe-conduct pass to allow them to leave the country.

In response to these and a host of other examples of harassment and imprisonment, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, tweeted:

“I am concerned about the use of judicial and fiscal institutions for political persecution purposes. The number of illegal detentions is growing…. I request respect for the due process and the independence of institutions.”

Above all, the coup government is pursuing Evo Morales. In December the Bolivian Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant against Morales for the alleged crimes of “sedition,” “terrorism” and “financing of terrorism”.

In response, Morales tweeted: “Those who carried out the coup d’etat intend to criminalise me by announcing my arrest. They fear the inevitable; that we will return and retake our plurinational project and Bolivian dignity.”

To shield himself from these and other threats and his fear that the US is targeting him, Morales has sought to register as a Senate candidate, despite the coup government’s attempts to prevent him from doing so.

The Bolivian police arrested his legal representative, Patricia Hermosa, in charge of carrying out the procedures for the application, and tried to stop MAS representative Wilfredo Chavez from doing so, forcing him to take refuge in the Argentine embassy in Bolivia.

Morales’ candidacy papers, along with those of MAS’s choice for president, Luis Arce, are “under observation” and not yet been approved by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

TSE president Salvador Romero announced recently that the electoral body had barred 365 candidates for the next presidential and legislative elections, allegedly for failing to comply with legal requirements.

While MAS have 57 candidates disqualified, Luis Camacho’s “We Believe” (Creemos) coalition has only five refused candidates and the Civic Community alliance, whose presidential candidate is Carlos Mesa, is the only political party with no rejected candidacies.

Remarkably, and showing the level of resistance in the country, MAS currently has the greatest support in terms of voting intentions, with a reputable survey giving it a solid 26 per cent since the party still has extensive support in the countryside and areas adjacent to cities, especially among the Indigenous and farmer populations unlikely to vote for anyone else.

This advantage is further underpinned by the fact that the right wing have been unable to agree on a unified bloc to run against MAS.

Currently, there are four candidates from the far-right to the traditional conservatives, but all of them were part of the coup against Morales: Carlos Mesa, Jorge Quiroga, Luis Fernando Camacho, and the self-proclaimed President Jeanine Anez, who originally was not going to stand.

Unable to achieve a consensus for a coalition, the candidates have reportedly agreed to not attack each other, to maintain a clean and peaceful electoral campaign and to present a common front in the next Plurinational Legislative Assembly.

But in early February both Mesa and Camacho accused Anez of abusing her position to benefit her political ambitions, and further arguments call into question whether the four candidates will be able to maintain this agreement.

At the same time, around the country indigenous movements, progressive political parties, trade unions and others are organising against the coup government and (to the extent they can) in support of left-wing candidates.

In the first round of voting on May 3 a candidate needs to win an absolute majority or gain at least 40 per cent with a minimum 10-point lead over the nearest challenger. If not, there will be a run-off for the top two candidates on June 14.

But as the aforementioned examples make clear, these elections will be far from free and fair. Our duty must be to support all those resisting the right-wing, Trump-backed coup government in Bolivia and fighting for social progress, equality and democracy.

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Originally published in The Morning Star