The coup in Bolivia: why was Morales targeted?

What lessons can workers learn from the events in Bolivia?

Proletarian writers

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Supporters of Evo Morales demonstrate after he announced his resignation, along with the indigenous flag and a placard that reads: ‘Evo you are not alone’.

Proletarian writers

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It hasn’t even been a month since the tragic and criminal overthrow of Bolivia’s progressive former president Evo Morales and his MAS (Movement for Socialism) party.

The coup against the popular government of President Morales was spearheaded by one Luis Fernando Camacho, the millionaire leader of an explicitly fascist paramilitary group. The motivations for his US-sponsored overthrow have been steadily accumulating over the 13 years of Morales’ tenure, but appeared to come to a head when the government signed a deal to let China exploit Bolivia’s massive lithium deposits.

In this article, we will look at some of the key achievements of the MAS government, for it is not only vital to understand the specificities of what motivated US intervention – aside from the latter’s goal of full-spectrum dominance – but also to demonstrate the urgency of giving all possible support and solidarity to the Bolivian people.

Trotskyist and social-democratic dominance over the working-class movement is a primary obstacle in this all-important task of the working classes in the imperialist core countries. Their ‘left-wing’ pro-imperialist propaganda condemns the Bolivian revolution as ‘bureaucrat capitalist’ and ‘tyrannical’, unworthy of support and solidarity because of its lack of ideological ‘purity’.

Such chauvinistic slander is not the product of a meaningful anti-imperialist analysis. It erodes genuine anti-imperialist solidarity with the masses of Bolivia and manufactures consent (although less overtly expressed) for US intervention.

It is therefore vital that we highlight the progressive actions of MAS and the perilous drives of the Bolivian opposition so that progressives worldwide can see through imperialist, Trotskyist and social-democratic slander alike, and engage in meaningful anti-imperialist solidarity actions.

Bolivia’s opposition

Coup ringleader Camacho is the organiser of the fascist Union Juvenil Crucenista (UJC). He is a member of Bolivia’s elite (Camacho was even named in the Panama Papers), which lost out through MAS’s nationalisation programmes. His own family’s gas company stands to gain considerably, owing as it does 20 million bolivianos ($2.9m) to the government for tax evasion. (‘It’s now or never’: Bolivian elite destroying the country by Edu Montesanti, Telesur, 7 November 2019)

The renationalisation by the Morales government of key resources and utilities such as natural gas, hydropower, electricity and telecoms has been pivotal in bringing about a drastic reduction in poverty amongst ordinary Bolivians over the last decade, but the advancement of such progressive policies has also led to the intensification of the class struggle, as the super-rich and their US masters have employed the most backward fascistic subversives in their relentless battle to bring down the MAS government.

Though the UJC played an invaluable role in the reactionary coup, its members are footsoldiers, not the leaders of the opposition force:

“While Camacho and his far-right forces served as the muscle behind the coup, their supposedly more ‘democratic’ bourgeois political allies waited to reap the benefits.

“The presidential candidate Bolivia’s opposition had fielded in the October election, Carlos Mesa, is a ‘pro-business’ privatiser with extensive ties to Washington. US government cables published by WikiLeaks reveal that he regularly corresponded with American officials in their efforts to destabilise Morales.” (Bolivia coup led by christian fascist paramilitary leader and millionaire – with foreign support, The Grayzone, 11 November 2019)

Although your run-of-the-mill neoliberals represent the main body of anti-socialist opposition in Bolivia, the ‘moderate’ leadership of the counter-revolution does not quell the threat of fascism in Bolivia. On the contrary. history has shown that the moderate wing of counter-revolution can only keep its most reactionary partners in check for so long, especially under such crisis situations as Bolivia is now undergoing.

Karl Marx demonstrated in his enlightening work The Eighteenth Brumaire of Luis Bonaparte – his summary of lessons on the state and counter-revolution – how willing the bourgeoisie is to capitulate liberty and democracy to the most backward elements of reaction in order to maintain its rule. (1852)

The Bolivian people are fighting back against the reactionary coup; against the reimposition of the unbridled dictatorship of the imperialist-backed comprador bourgeoisie. So long as it exists, the reactionary bourgeoisie will always be ready to unleash fascist paramilitary forces such as the UJC to try to quell the rising proletarian tide, securing the class interests of the imperialists and Bolivian compradors no matter what the cost.

Lithium trade

To understand the most proximate cause of the coup, it has to be realised that Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats are thought to contain as much as 50-70 percent of known global lithium deposits – a metal that is central to the manufacture of phones, laptops, car batteries, and so on.

Competition over access to this vast supply of lithium has been intense, given the importance of the commodities that need it for their production – items which define and run today’s computer-led consumer society.

It looked as if the primary access was going to be given to Russia and China – countries that have helped tackle underdevelopment in the oppressed countries through equitable loans and trade deals, in stark contradiction to US imperialism, which is the primary instigator of global underdevelopment.

Russia had intended to supply Bolivia with mineral extraction equipment, developed as a result of its vast experience in extracting oil and natural gas, whilst China was hoping to become the biggest customer of Bolivian lithium. (Russia’s Bolivia gambit is a bold economic move, Global Research, 16 July 2019 and Bolivia begins lithium exports to China, Telesur, 11 August 2016)

Bolivia’s close economic ties with Russia and China were a serious impediment to the US’s ongoing attempt to crush the rise of both countries. Not only that, but they were vital in promoting the growth of a multilateral world order that breaks from the US’s unilateral model of full-spectrum dominance, offering breathing space to oppressed nations to pursue their own course of development without imperialist interference.

People-centred reforms

Ever since Morales’ ascension to the presidency, Bolivia had taken a total U-turn from former president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s pro-IMF (International Monetary Fund) agenda, replacing it with a socialist-leaning anti-imperialist one.

This resulted in Bolivia attaining the second-highest rate of economic growth of any Latin-American country in 2018. Using the funds gained through exports to diversify the economy and reduce the country’s reliance on the imperialist-controlled world market, the MAS government carried out social programmes that reduced moderate poverty from 66 percent to 39 percent of the population and absolute poverty from 45 percent to 17 percent. (Bolivia’s economic wonder video, Telesur, 23 October 2018)

According to the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the achievements of the Morales government were staggering:

“By 2018, real GDP per capita had increased by 50 percent above its 2005 level. While the region overall has experienced a sharp slowdown over the last five years, Bolivia’s per capital GDP growth was the highest in South America. Since 2006, Bolivia’s real per capita GDP has grown at double the rate for Latin America.

“In the first eight years of the Morales administration, national government revenue from hydrocarbons increased nearly sevenfold, from $731m to $4.95bn. Most of the increased revenue resulted from nationalisation and associated policy changes, including a doubling of production by 2013. These revenues were central to allowing the government to achieve macroeconomic stability and accomplish most of its other goals.

“Bolivia’s unemployment was nearly halved (from 7.7 percent to 4.4 percent) in 2008, and has continued at roughly around that level through 2018.

“Bolivia has recently held investment at very high levels as compared to the past, with investment averaging 21.8 percent of GDP annually in the past five years (2014–18).

“Public investment has increased with the growth of Bolivia’s economy, even during periods of unfavourable terms of trade. Bolivia has had the highest public investment, as a percent of GDP, in the region.

“Starting in 2010, Bolivia’s central bank has applied unconventional monetary policy through a quantitative easing programme, in order to purchase financial instruments issued by state-owned enterprises as well as government bonds. In December 2018, almost half (44 percent) of the central bank’s balance sheet was invested in domestic assets (up from 12 percent in 2010).” (New report reviews changes in Bolivia’s economy under Evo Morales’s presidency, CEPR, 17 October 2019)

These advances for Bolivia’s people only registered as heinous crimes and mortal threats in the eyes of imperialism – and quite rightly so. Imperialism, as a socioeconomic system, relies on the prolonged underdevelopment of oppressed countries to maintain its global dominance and draw superprofits from exploiting the labour and resources of such countries.

When the people of an oppressed country successfully challenge such underdevelopment through independent action, it threatens not only the superprofits of billionaires, but the entire existence of imperialism.

Every victory attained by the oppressed, exploited, wretched of the Earth, from Bolivia to Venezuela, from Syria to Korea, and even here at home in Britain, brings imperialism closer to total crisis. Progressive workers in the imperialist heartlands must give meaningful solidarity to the masses of Latin America in their efforts to safeguard their interests against the IMF-sponsored ‘opposition’ dragging much of Latin America under the yoke of ‘neoliberal’ imperialism.

Bolivia’s MAS government also made great efforts to settle the issue of ethnic disparity amongst the population – provoking resentment amongst the privileged European-descended elite.

“Colour revolutions and the hybrid wars that they oftentimes lead to are commonly driven by the external exploitation of pre-existing identity differences in diverse states, with Bolivia being no exception.

“The country is still mostly inhabited by its indigenous people, though severe socioeconomic disparities exist within this demographic and between it and the non-indigenous minority, a state of affairs that was institutionalised for decades until Morales’s rise to power rectified this historic wrong and sought to promote equality among the population.

“The non-indigenous people are predictably much better off than the indigenous ones, and it’s they who historically formed the core of the anti-Morales opposition.” (Bolivia’s boiling with colour revolution unrest, Global Research, 31 October 2019)

Even the Washington Post, an impeccable imperialist mouthpiece, has admitted that President Morales’s progressive policies had been extremely effective in Bolivia:

“Thirteen years after his Movement for Socialism won at the ballot box, it’s indisputable that Bolivians are healthier, wealthier, better educated, living longer and more equal than at any time in this South American nation’s history.

“As Morales seeks a fourth term in elections Sunday, his Bolivia is serving as a counterpoint to Venezuela in the hemispheric ¬debate over socialism – a now-loaded word that has become a flash point in the US presidential race.” (Socialism doesn’t work? An emerging middle class of Bolivians beg to differ, Washington Post, 16 October 2019)

In the same article, the Washington Post made an interesting juxtaposition between Bolivia and Argentina, Ecuador and Chile, the former following a progressive anti-imperialist path at the time the article was published, and the latter three countries, a path of neoliberalism:

“Bolivia’s economy is closing the gap with the rest of the continent, growing faster than most neighbours over the past 13 years. Meanwhile, governments that have embraced market policies – notably, in Argentina and Ecuador – face economic and political chaos.

“Chile, the South American model for capitalism’s success, still reigns as the region’s richest and most stable economy. Yet even the International Monetary Fund, that champion of the free market, concedes that Bolivia’s socialists have been more effective in combating extreme poverty than any other South American government, slashing it from 33 percent of the population in 2006 to 15 percent in 2018.”

No doubt the Chilean model of neoliberalism brought it up to be ‘the region’s richest and most stable economy’ for American corporations and the Chilean comprador elite. But is this really a stable course of development?

Chilean neoliberalism was brought about via a militarist coup – the 9/11 of Latin America – enforced by a fascist dictatorship. Chile is now dealing with a nationwide insurrection. ‘Economically stable’ – for a time, but politically a powder keg.

Bolivia is undergoing dark times in the aftermath of the coup. Washington’s lackeys have seized power, and the Bolivian masses are not taking their usurpation lying down. Huge nationwide demonstrations against the coup forces are providing a serious challenge to the self-appointed ‘transitional government’ in La Paz.

Since these demonstrators are being met with the most brutal force, in which many protestors have been killed, along with leaders and supporters of MAS, it is to be hoped that the Bolivian people will refuse to become victims of another Chile and instead follow the example of their well-armed comrades in Venezuela, whose determination to defend themselves has foiled many attempts to overturn the popular government of Hugo Chávez and his successor Nicolás Maduro.

As with the attempts to destroy socialist Cuba and Bolivarian Venezuela, workers in Britain must make common cause with our brothers and sisters in Bolivia, under attack for no other crime than that of trying to determine their own affairs and make use of their own resources as they see fit. A blow against freedom anywhere is a blow against freedom everywhere, while a victory for imperialism abroad is a shot in the arm to the profiteering bandits here at home.

And workers everywhere must learn the lessons of the Bolivian counter-revolution and of the attempted counter-revolution in Venezuela. We must study the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the state so that we are armed with an understanding that can guide us to victory; vanquishing all enemies of the people as they struggle for a decent and secure life.