Checking In On Bolivia’s Coup Government

The writing was already on the wall when the Organization of American States (OAS) decided to step in. President Evo Morales had just sailed to re-election, solidly defeating his eight electoral opponents with over 47% of the vote and winning by enough to avoid a run-off. The Bolivian electorate had rewarded Morales for delivering on his promises of structural change.

Under his stewardship, Bolivia’s per capita GDP tripled. Morales totally transformed the Bolivian economy, lifting millions out of poverty and introducing a number of popular social programs. Even the average height of Bolivians had gone up during Morales’ tenure. By any metric, the lot of the Bolivian people was drastically improving.

But certain powerful interests, feeling threatened by Morales’ populist reforms, were not going to allow the duly-elected head of state to serve a fourth term. Before the Morales campaign could even plan a victory party, the OAS began levying accusations of election fraud. The charges were ostensibly based on higher-than-expected totals for President Morales on the second day of vote-counting. This ignores the fact that many areas reported on the second day were known strongholds for the Movement for Socialism (MAS) (President Morales’ party). The allegations proved so outlandish that even corporate media outlets like The Washington Post dismissed them and accepted the incumbent’s victory.

Nevertheless, it was on these spurious grounds that a coup was promptly instigated. To prevent the country he loves from descending into civil war, Evo Morales stepped down from his post and fled the country to avoid assassination. Now that the democratically-elected president had been deposed — all under the guise of “restoring democracy”, mind you — a rather notable vacancy had opened up.

Who would succeed Evo Morales? Would it be his runner-up in the most recent election, Carlos Mesa? Of course not. That would make too much sense. Instead, in similar fashion to Venezuela’s Juan Guiadó, far-right legislator Jeanine Áñez just declared herself the new leader despite never being in line for presidential succession.

Áñez belongs to the relatively marginal Democrat Social Movement. The party holds just 1/36 seats in the Chamber of Senators, and 4/130 in the Chamber of Deputies. Despite its lack of popularity, the Democrat Social Movement’s constituency of wealthy landowners and business magnates proved enough to propel the party to Bolivia’s highest office — albeit, without ever having to win election.

Since taking office, Jeanine Áñez has surrounded herself with, according to political commentator Michael Brooks, “an assortment of what could only really be described as Christian fascists.” Áñez herself has said she dreams of a Bolivia without “satanic” Indigenous rights. More recently, Áñez’s Mining Minister said he is not a MAS supporter because “I have green eyes, curly hair, and I’m white” — a crude reference to MAS’ overwhelming popularity with Bolivia’s indigenous.

In addition to their racism, the coup government has become notorious for political repression. While paying lip service to democratic ideals, the Áñez regime has engaged in a campaign of censorship rivaling that of Bolivia’s former military dictatorship. To date, the government has forcibly shut down more than 50 progressive radio stations. Anti-establishment print media is under serious attack as well. Many journalists have been driven underground, tortured, and even killed.

The right to protest has also been effectively done away with. Almost immediately upon assuming the presidency, Áñez issued the now-infamous Presidential Decree 4078, which prevented soldiers and police from facing any legal consequence for violence committed in the name of “civilized society”. Multiple massacres of civilians have since been perpetrated under the decree. In total, 36 protesters and innocent bystanders have been murdered by the coup government.

The coup government has most recently made headlines for its appalling response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Bolivia has one of the lowest testing rates in the Americas, breaking quarantine is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and the coup government has provided nothing in the way of financial assistance or job security measures. Also, in the midst of a pandemic, the coup government is doing everything in its power to dismantle Bolivia’s universal healthcare system, which was started by Evo Morales and has been called “an important model for the world” by the United Nations.

Áñez and her cronies are even using COVID-19 as an excuse not to hold elections. This is just another in a long line of moves the self-appointed “president” has made to consolidate power. A presidential election is supposed to be held this year, but the coup government has repeatedly refused to set an official date. And with MAS candidate Luis Arce leading big in the polls, it is no secret as to why.

Despite Jeanine Áñez’s best efforts, Evo Morales’ party and legacy are still quite popular. The will of the Bolivian people is clear, but their future remains uncertain. One thing is for sure, though: the coup government has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster. In these historically tough times, Bolivia needs the decency and ethics symbolized by Evo Morales now more than ever.