Bolivian workers demonstrate power of united action, forcing rulers to hold elections

Unrelenting political pressure from the Bolivian working masses forced the US sponsored coup regime to hold an election it could not win.

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We have reported previously on Bolivia’s November 2019 coup, in which the illegal imperialist-backed junta of Jeanine Áñez seized power. The past year has been one of continuous struggle by the workers and peasants of Bolivia to oust her coup regime and restore popular, democratic and socialist-oriented government to their country.

At last, thanks to the heroic efforts of the Bolivian working and peasant masses, the coup regime was forced into holding long postponed elections. As expected, those elections reaffirmed the results of last year’s ballot, demonstrating clearly that the Bolivian people want the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) to govern and lead them forward toward greater working-class sovereignty and prosperity.

Much of the information in this article has been taken from the Grayzone’s interview.

The past year in Bolivia

In October of 2019, the people of Bolivia cast their vote firmly in favour of Evo Morales and the MAS, who won with 40.08 percent of the vote, a margin of more than 10 percent over Carlos Mesa’s Civic Community Party.

This angered Bolivia’s elite, who, backed by the US state, took violently to the streets, attacking journalists, indigenous peoples and members of the MAS, wreaking havoc and creating chaos in an attempt to terrorise Bolivia’s workers and peasants into submission.

In an effort to quell the violence, and under increasing pressure from military generals and the corrupt police, President Evo Morales stepped down and left the country.

On 12 November 2019, Jeanine Áñez declared herself ‘interim president’, and thus began the terrorist rule of the illegal government.

Though the coup was supported by unsubstantiated claims of election fraud by the Organisation of American States (OAS), Áñez’s illegitimate coup regime was in no hurry to hold a new election.

Elections (which Áñez’s regime claimed would prove widespread electoral fraud by Evo Morales and MAS, and elect a government friendly to the USA and hostile to the Bolivian masses) were scheduled to be held on 3 May, but were then postponed, ostensibly owing to the coronavirus pandemic, until June.

June came and went without any sign of an election, and Áñez declared that the plebiscite would again be delayed until September, at which point – no prizes for guessing – it was cancelled yet again.

In this instance, strange to behold, the OAS remained silent, though it had been quick to denounce the December 2019 elections when the results showed a clear victory for the MAS and Evo Morales.

Breaking point for the Bolivian masses – a lesson in the power of a political general strike

The announcement in August that the scheduled September vote had been cancelled proved to be the final straw for the workers and peasants of Bolivia. It had now become abundantly clear to the popular masses that the government of Áñez had no intention of holding a democratic election.

At a mass meeting held during a workers’ march in the city of El Alto, a consensus was reached among the workers and peasants to hold a general strike.

It was to be a true general strike, not to be limited to the mere stoppage of work but extended to mass protests that would block all key strategic highways, leading to a complete shutdown of the country.

All major social organisations were involved: the Bolivian Workers’ Centre (Central Obrera Boliviana, or COB, the chief workers’ union federation), the Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia (the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia, CSUTCB), indigenous groups, women’s groups and many more, representing the vast majority of Bolivia’s population.

Some more radical elements took up arms and demanded the immediate overthrow of the illegal coup government, leading to their being denounced as terrorists by the coupmongers holed up in the presidential palace, whose occupants mulled the idea of escalating military force to put down the workers’ struggle.

This task would in all likelihood have proved abortive given the massive, overwhelming power of the united workers and peasants who were ready to back their armed comrades. Moreover, the significant influence and support for MAS amongst the rank and file of the military would have made such an operation risky in the extreme.

So it was, through persistent and determined struggle, that the MAS forced the government’s hand and the election was called.

The power of the MAS

A key factor in the massive power and influence of the MAS is its deep roots within the working population of Bolivia. To be part of the MAS, one must first be affiliated with a social movement.

The leadership of the MAS is thus a committee of the leaders of various social groups, which represent and have deep roots amongst the working population: industrial and rural workers, women, indigenous groups and so on.

Unlike many left parties that have existed in Bolivia and beyond, the MAS does not limit itself to the electoral sphere; it understands clearly the necessity of linking the electoral struggle with a wider social struggle against imperialism.

Throughout the history of Latin America, few parties have managed to successfully link the two as successfully as the MAS has done. Contrast the organic strength of the MAS, the only party that has stood in every Bolivian election since 2002, with the country’s various right-wing parties, all greater or lesser servants of imperialism, which so frequently change allegiances and are little more than vehicles for wealthy oligarchs to further their own personal aims, appearing and disappearing with equal rapidity.

October 2020 election

“The Bolivian Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) on Friday [20 October] reached 100 percent of the electoral count, which ratified the victory of Luis Arce’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) with over 55 percent of the votes in favour.

“The MAS got a distance of over 26 points against the right-wing Citizen Community party (CC), presided by Carlos Mesa. CC accumulated 29 percent of the votes.

“We Believe Party, Luis Camacho, came in third place with 13 percent of the vote. It is followed by Front for the Victory, which received 1.55 percent, and Pan-Bol, with 0.55 percent.” (Bolivia reaches 100 percent of vote count, MAS reinforces its victory, Telesur, 23 October 2020)

This landslide victory was combined with massive voter turnout, as “about 6,483,893 Bolivians out of the 7,332,926 registered went to the polls, representing a participation rate of 88.4 percent, the second-highest in Bolivia’s history, and one of the largest in Latin America, according to the TSE,” showing as clear as day the will of the Bolivian masses.

“Telesur’s correspondent Freddy Morales reported that it is expected that Luis Arce would assume the presidency officially on 8 November. During his speech, the TSE’s president Salvador Romero highlighted that the result had been recognised by the other contestants and certified by the international mission and the local platforms.

Results a severe blow to the empty accusations and credibility of the OAS

“The Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) represents the majority in the Chamber and the Senate in 130 deputy seats. Overall, the MAS reached 3,393,978 votes. The Citizen Community, the second-largest party, reported 1,775,943 votes.”(Bolivia’s TSE declares Luis Arce the elected president, Telesur, 23 October 2020)

The people of Bolivia, barring of course the tiny minority of wealthy individuals who actually supported the coup government, are ecstatic and extremely relieved by the result. Their determined struggle, which they were fully prepared to continue, replete though it would have been with hardship and loss of life, has paid off.

In the supposedly fraudulent election of October 2019, the MAS won with a 10 percent margin. This time round, it has secured a margin of more than 25 percent.

In fact, in the rural areas where the OAS had declared fraud to be the most widespread, the MAS received a greater share of the votes in 2020 than it did in 2019, dealing a severe blow to the empty accusations and credibility of the OAS.

Crimes of the right-wing coup regime

Bolivian workers remain vigilant, knowing full well that while the enemy has been severely weakened it is not yet dead. The crimes and repressions of the last year serve as a warning that the coup plotters will sink to any depths to get what they want.

Take, for example, the tragic case of Orlando Gutierrez, secretary of the Union Federation of Mining Workers of Bolivia (FSTMB) who died in hospital on 23 October from injuries suffered after a band of so-called ‘pititas’ (militants aligned with Bolivia’s wealthy right-wing, who set the groundwork for the coup of 2019) brutally assaulted him on 18 October, the day of the election.

Thugs from the Union Juvenil Cruceñista (UJC) have taken to assaulting Bolivian workers living in the country’s commercial centre Santa Cruz, where Luis Camacho’s ‘We Believe’ party finds most of its supporters, hurling stones and firecrackers at their homes. Meanwhile, the reactionary Santa Cruz ‘Civic Committee’ has “announced a hunger strike in La Paz and has summoned others to disregard the election result, despite the positive reports made by electoral observer groups following the vote”.

“In both Santa Cruz and Cochabamba, far-right groups have been gathering at police and military bases to ask for a second coup and have made explicit calls for a military junta,” while “second place candidate Carlos Mesa … and the de facto administration have continued to use the airwaves to attack the outgoing MAS legislature and the incoming executive to add to the tense political climate largely centred around Santa Cruz and, to a lesser degree, Cochabamba.”

This band of traitors has been joined by the reactionary Catholic Church, whose mouthpiece, the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, “has vocally supported the realisation of an external audit of the general election in order to clarify the doubts of far-right activists under the argument that there was an alleged fraud”. (Bolivia: Santa Cruz pro-coup gangs terrorise residents, Telesur, 31 October 2020)

Rebuilding the country

The last year has been disastrous for the workers and peasants of Bolivia, with years of progressive gains wiped out by the imperialist pawns of the ‘interim’ government of Áñez.

The coup government did not believe in the state-led, planned development of the economy, instead preferring to allow private entities to make some quick cash and curry favours with the imperialist world, the US first and foremost.

The Lithium factories producing both batteries and cars – a source of great pride to the Bolivian working class – were closed, and ammonia factories were shut down and stripped bare, casting thousands of workers out on to the streets. These economically suicidal moves sent the country into recession.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic. Despite the very low number of cases, the coup government seized the opportunity to impose a total lockdown, neglecting to provide any economic support to workers in informal economy, who constitute the majority of Bolivia’s working class.

By July, unemployment had more than tripled and it was clear that a massive crisis was underway.

The priority for the MAS, therefore, is to tackle the economic crisis that has ravaged the country by renationalising those enterprises that the Áñez regime privatised. “We are going to start rebuilding production, which has also been affected by the measures that [the coup regime] has taken. We will be in line with what we have been proposing to the country,” said the newly elected Luis Arce in a statement.

Arce also affirmed that Bolivia’s poorest, vindictively assaulted by the Áñez regime, will receive financial assistance against the scourge of hunger brought upon them in the past year. (Bolivia: Arce’s first measure: anti-hunger bonds for poor, Telesur, 19 October 2020)

Relations with anti-imperialist nations such as China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela and Iran are to be mended. “We are going to re-establish all relations,” explained Arce, adding that the de facto government “has acted very ideologically, depriving the Bolivian people of access to Cuban medicine, Russian medicine, and advances in China. For a purely ideological issue, it has exposed the population in a way unnecessary and harmful.” (Arce to restore relations with Cuba and Venezuela, blasts OAS, Telesur, 20 October 2020)

Those who have wronged the people of Bolivia must also be brought to justice. The MAS is a party of peace and is not out for revenge, however, in the words of Leonardo Loza, they will “neither forgive nor forget those who made us cry”.

To this end, “a special committee of the Bolivian parliament on Monday [26 October] recommended starting trials against the leader of the coup-born regime, Jeanine Añez, and some ministers for the massacres of Sacaba and Senkata that took place in 2019.”

The painful wounds left by those massacres, in which thirty-seven people were killed at the hands of military forces loyal to the coup-plotters, are still fresh in the minds of the Bolivian masses, who are demanding that those responsible are held to account for their heinous crimes.

“MAS lawmaker Victor Borda pointed out that Añez will have to face a trial of responsibility for the crimes of genocide, murder, attempted murder, serious injuries, injuries followed by death, and criminal association.

“Lawmakers also seek to prosecute foreign affairs minister Karen Longaric, defence minister Luis Fernando, interior minister Arturo Murillo, justice minister Alvaro Coimbra, and former commanders Yuri Calderon and Williams Kaliman for the same criminal offences.” (Bolivia: Parliament’s committee seeks to prosecute Jeanine Añez, Telesur, 27 October 2020)

Evo Morales returns to Bolivia amid scenes of mass jubilation!

Finally, in a move that will serve as a great boost to the morale of the Bolivian working masses, their leader Evo Morales triumphantly returned to the country on 9 November, the day after Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca of the MAS were sworn into office as president and vice-president respectively.

A massive mobilisation welcomed Bolivia’s “historic leader” in Cochabamba, as the culmination of a three-day caravan across the country from the Argentinean border, as Bolivia’s working masses held huge gatherings to celebrate Evo Morales’ return. (A massive congregation of Chimore people welcomes Evo, Telesur, 11 November 2020)

We share in the joy that the election result has brought to the popular masses of Bolivia, and wish them success in their journey to rebuild their country and continue the progress formerly made by the MAS in safeguarding the economic wellbeing, political sovereignty and social dignity of the vast majority while raising the standards of life for Bolivia’s workers and peasants.