Luis Arce, center, Bolivian presidential candidate for
the Movement Toward Socialism Party, or MAS,
and running mate David Choquehuanca, second right,
celebrate during a press conference where they claim victory
after general elections in La Paz, Bolivia, on Oct. 19, 2020.
(AP Photo/Juan Karita)
tried to destroy one of Latin America's
most vibrant democracies.
Voters just restored it...
Installed in his place was an unelected right-wing coup regime, led by self-declared "interim President" Jeanine Áñez, who promptly presided over a military massacre that killed dozens of Morales's Indigenous supporters and then granted immunity to all the soldiers involved.
But after the Áñez regime twice postponed scheduled elections this year, Bolivians went to the polls on Sunday.
They delivered a resounding victory to presidential candidate Luis Arce, Morales's former finance minister and the candidate from his Movement Toward Socialism, or MAS, Party.
Although official results are still being counted, exit polls from reputable firms show Arce with a blowout victory - over 50 percent against a centrist former president and a far-right coup leader - and Áñez herself conceded that MAS has won:
It is difficult to remember the last time a U.S.-approved military coup in Latin America failed so spectacularly.
Even with the U.S.-dominated OAS's instantly dubious claims of electoral fraud, nobody disputed that Morales received more votes in last October's election than all other candidates (the only question raised by the OAS was whether his margin of victory was sufficient to win on the first round and avoid a run-off).
Despite Morales's election win, the Bolivian police and then military made clear to Morales that neither he, his family, nor his closest allies would be safe unless he immediately left the country, as Morales detailed in an interview I conducted with him just weeks after he was driven into exile in Mexico City.
In that interview, Morales blamed not only the U.S. for giving the green light to right-wing coup leaders but also attributed the coup to Western anger over his decision to sell some of the country's valuable lithium supply to China rather than to the West.
After 12 years in office, Morales was not free of controversy or critics.
As the first elected Indigenous leader of Bolivia, even some of his core supporters grew wary of what they regarded as his growing reliance on quasi-autocratic tactics in order to govern.
Several of his most prominent supporters - both in Bolivia and in South America - were critical of his decision to secure judicial permission to seek a fourth term despite a constitutional term-limits provision of two terms.
Even Morales's long-time close Brazilian ally, former President Lula da Silva - who correctly predicted in a 2019 interview with me that,
But none of those criticisms changed a central, unavoidable fact:
And in a democracy, that is supposed to be decisive; for those purporting to believe in democracy, that should be the end of the matter.
That is why Lula, in his Guardian interview shortly after the coup where he criticized Morales's bid for a fourth term, nonetheless emphasized the far more important point:
And whatever critiques one can legitimately voice about Morales - it is hard to imagine any leader ruling for more than a decade without alienating some supporters and making mistakes - there is no question that Morales's presidency, by almost every metric, was a success.
After decades of instability in the country, he ushered in a stable and thriving democracy, presided over economic growth that even western financial institutions praised, and worked to ensure a far more equitable distribution of those resources than ever before, particularly to the country's long-oppressed Indigenous minority and its rural farmers.
That success is what was destroyed, on purpose, when the Bolivian presidency was decided in 2019 not democratically but by force.
The West's reaction to the 2019 Bolivian coup featured all of its classic propaganda tropes.
Western officials, media outlets, and think tank writers invoked the standard Orwellian inversion of heralding a coup of any democratically elected leader they do not like as a "victory for democracy."
In this warped formula, it is not the U.S.-supported coup plotters but the overthrown democratically elected leader who is the "threat to democracy."
Depicting U.S.-supported coups as democratic and democratically elected leaders disliked by the U.S. as "dictators" has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy propaganda for decades.
That is the rubric under which the Obama administration and its Secretary of State John Kerry somehow celebrated one of the world's worst despots, Egyptian Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as "restoring democracy" following the brutal military coup he carried out.
But thanks to Sunday's stunning rebuke in Bolivia, the standard tactics failed.
Ever since Morales's election victory almost exactly one year ago today, Bolivians never stopped marching, protesting, risking their liberty and their lives - even in the middle of a pandemic - to demand their rights of democracy and self-governance.
Leading up to the election, the coup regime and right-wing factions in the military were menacingly vowing - in response to polls universally showing MAS likely to win - that they would do anything to prevent the return to power of Morales's party.
At least as of now, though, it looks as though the margin of victory delivered to MAS by the Bolivian people was so stunning, so decisive, that there are few options left for the retrograde forces - in Bolivia, Washington, and Brussels - which tried to destroy the country's democracy.
Anyone who believes in the fundamentals of democracy, regardless of ideology, should be cheering the Bolivians who sacrificed so much to restore their right of self-rule and hoping that the stability and prosperity they enjoyed under Morales expands even further under his first democratically elected successor.
Media Responds with Apathy
from MintPressNews Website
Former Bolivian President Evo Morales
attends a press conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina,
after general elections in his home country,
Oct. 19. 2020.
Marcos Brindicci - AP
corporate media has endorsed
last year's rightwing takeover of Bolivia,
refusing to label it as a coup.
Coverage of Sunday's historical elections
hasn't been much better...
Although official vote counting is far from over, exit polls show an overwhelming triumph for the socialists, and a repudiation of the right-wing military government of Jeanine Añez, who has ruled since the coup last November.
At the same time, the corporate press appears less than pleased about the return to democracy for the Andean country.
In order to win outright in the first round, the top candidate needs at least 40 percent of the popular vote and a lead of 10 points over their nearest rival, and multiple polls have indicated that the MAS ticket of Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca has won more than 50 percent, and have achieved a lead of over 20 points on their nearest challenger, Carlos Mesa (president between 2003 and 2005) - quite a feat in a five-way election.
The MAS is also expected to have won a large majority in the senate.
Añez, who came to power in a coup overthrowing President Evo Morales last November, and whose government has constantly postponed the election throughout the year, knew the game was up and lauded the MAS on their remarkable achievement.
Añez decided to drop out of the election herself last month in an attempt to boost Mesa's chances of stopping Arce.
However, today Mesa accepted defeat as well.
Media disappointment at return of democracy
Across the spectrum, corporate media endorsed the events of November, refusing to label them a coup...
The New York Times editorial board claimed that the,
The Washington Post did the same.
Despite this, The Wall Street Journal's board decided the events of November constituted,
Today, therefore, the corporate press is in a very tough spot, as they have to explain to their readers why the Bolivian people have just handed an overwhelming, landslide victory to a party they have been presenting as an authoritarian dictatorship who were overthrown by popular protests last year.
A number of outlets solved this by simply fastidiously avoiding reporting on the events of November or using the word "coup" to describe them.
NPR's Philip Reeves, for example, claimed Morales,
The word "coup" only appears in the mouth of Morales, someone whose credibility the outlet has spent months undermining.
The Associated Press, meanwhile, referenced the coup, but did not use the word, instead describing it as when,
It takes great linguistic skill to refrain from using by far the most appropriate word to describe events in Bolivia for what they are:
Indeed, the linguistic gymnastics necessary to avoid using the word would be genuinely impressive were not an exercise in deceit and manufacturing consent for regime change.
CNN at least included the phrase,
But these two things are nothing like the same.
One is a statement of fact while another is a debunked, discredited talking point used to overthrow a legitimate government.
Meanwhile, the BBC's article on the election had an entire section called "why is the country so divided" which did not mention,
Instead, it presented Morales himself as the prime agent of polarization, a common tactic among media discussing enemy states.
The New York Times also published a long, in-depth article on the election, yet it appeared that the only MAS "supporters" it was willing to quote were ones who constantly badmouthed Morales, the article also suggesting that MAS' figures might be inflated, despite the fact they have now been accepted by Añez and Mesa as essentially accurate.
As such the corporate press refused to cover the incredible story of nationwide nonviolent resistance to authoritarian rule, forcing a government into accepting its own defeat, reminiscent of Gandhi's campaign against the British in India.
A year of political turbulence
Last October, Morales won an unprecedented and not uncontentious fourth term.
Yet the U.S.-backed opposition refused to accept the results, claiming that they had been rigged. The Organization of American States immediately backed them up, producing a flawed report on election meddling, something that was almost immediately disproven.
Nevertheless, the right-wing mobilized and began a widespread campaign of terror, targeting, attacking, and kidnapping MAS politicians.
On November 10, police and military commanders joined the coup, demanding Morales resign or else they would take matters into their own hands. Morales decided to flee to Mexico but made clear he was only leaving to prevent a bloodbath.
The military picked Añez, a little known senator from a party who gained only four percent of the public vote, to become president. She immediately granted security forces total pre-immunity for all crimes committed during the "re-establishment of order."
Her new interior minister, Arturo Murillo, oversaw the creation of masked, black-clad paramilitary units specifically aimed at political subversives, foreigners, and human rights groups.
Morales himself was charged with crimes against humanity and faces spending the rest of his life in prison if he returns to his home country.
Other MAS leaders on yesterday's ballot also face long prison terms on dubious charges.
She also reorientated her country's foreign policy away from an independent path towards one completely in line with U.S. foreign policy aims, pulling out of multiple regional alliances and entering new ones.
Under Morales, for example, Bolivia had declared Israel a "terrorist state."
Yet less than a month after the coup, Añez and Murillo were inviting IDF troops to the country to train their police forces in dealing with "leftist terrorism."
The government's response to the coronavirus pandemic has also taken on a decidedly right-wing tone.
Cuts to health provisions and the expulsion of hundreds of Cuban doctors (whom the government labeled as "terrorists") caused the public health system to crash just before the pandemic became worldwide news.
As a result, Bolivia has the third-highest COVID-19 death per capita rate in the world, comfortably surpassing the United States in severity.
Añez used the intensity of the pandemic as justification to continually suspend the elections she claimed she would hold, calling herself merely an "interim president."
Yet many inside the country felt the coronavirus was being used as an excuse to keep herself in power indefinitely.
Throughout the year, Bolivia was engulfed in near continual protests, shutting the country down. As a result, the summer was marked by the rise of the virus and by a weeks-long peaceful general strike calling for elections.
Fearing a potential revolution, Añez conceded and agreed to hold them in October.
After months of organized popular struggle in the face of a coup government that had been massacring them, Sunday's result has been widely interpreted as a repudiation of the coup and a vote for socialism.
MintPress' Ollie Vargas, who has never made a secret of his political persuasions, said in the wake of the results:
Morales celebrated the ascension of his former minister of finance to Bolivia's top job.
Arce himself was in an equally joyous mood, telling Vargas last night that,
MAS supporters took to the streets to celebrate their victory, made all the more unlikely given the repression they have been subject to under Añez's military regime.
Fears of violence and vote rigging against the MAS were rife, especially as the government had blocked foreign election observers from overseeing events, threatening to jail them.
On Saturday, Argentinean congressman Federico Fagioli, an official observer representing his government, was arrested by police at El Alto airport.
Video of the incident shows Fagioli shouting "I am being kidnapped" as multiple officers pick him up and forcefully carry him away.
If Añez's government does indeed step down, it will represent only the second time in Latin American history that a U.S.-backed coup against a progressive administration has been overturned.
However, in Venezuela in 2002, the countercoup took less than 48 hours. In Bolivia, people have organized for nearly a year to achieve the same ends, giving the government far more time to embed and establish itself.
The Bolivian people have a long history of organized struggle bringing down governments.
In the early 2000s, nationwide protests against gas and water privatizations rocked the country, toppling unrepresentative regimes (including that of Mesa's in 2005), setting the stage for Morales to become the most influential figure in Bolivian politics of the last 15 years.
The first indigenous president in the majority indigenous country's history, Morales ran on the idea of 21st-century socialism, using his country's considerable mineral wealth to fund social programs that cut poverty by half and extreme poverty by three-quarters, halving unemployment and increasing the country's GDP by 50 percent.
Yet his nationalization program and his outspoken criticism of capitalism and American imperialism on the world stage made him a prime target for regime change in Washington, who strongly supported the events of November, immediately recognizing and supporting Añez's legitimacy.
Despite the fact that the MAS' electoral victory looks certain, it is far from clear what sort of resistance they will face from other sources of power.
And how will the MAS deal with the coup plotters themselves, clearly guilty of serious human rights abuses.
Are they really in any position to exert authority over the situation?
Of late, wherever there are governments critical of U.S. power (Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Iran, etc.) they are met with crushing sanctions in an attempt to destroy their ability to oppose Washington.
Bolivia under Morales had already been labeled by some in the U.S. as a "narco-dictatorship."
For MAS supporters, however, those are questions for a different day.
Today, they are celebrating a stunning and historic victory cheered by progressives the world over but angering Washington and corporate journalists in equal measure.