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A Coup? A Debate on the Political Crisis in Bolivia That Led to Evo Morales’s Resignation

StoryNovember 13, 2019
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In Bolivia, right-wing Senator Jeanine Áñez declared herself president Tuesday night despite a lack of quorum in Congress, amid a deepening political crisis in the country. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, left the country Monday after being granted asylum in Mexico. Morales announced his resignation Sunday shortly after the Bolivian military took to the airwaves to call for his departure. His Movement Toward Socialism party is refusing to recognize Áñez as president, calling her claim illegal and decrying Evo Morales’s resignation over the weekend as a military coup. Last month, Morales was re-elected for a fourth term in a race his opponents claimed was marred by fraud. He ran for a fourth term after contesting a referendum upholding term limits. On Tuesday, the Organization of American States held an emergency meeting in Washington, where U.S. Ambassador Carlos Trujillo read a statement from President Donald Trump applauding Evo Morales’s resignation and warning it should “send a strong signal” to Venezuela and Nicaragua. Mexico, Uruguay, Nicaragua and the president-elect of Argentina have all denounced Morales’s departure as a coup. Morales’s departure has sparked demonstrations and clashes across Bolivia. We host a debate on the political crisis in Bolivia with Pablo Solón, former ambassador to the United Nations under President Evo Morales until 2011, and Kevin Young, assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the author of “Blood of the Earth: Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia.”

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to the deepening political crisis in Bolivia. On Sunday, Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned in what he described as a coup, shortly after the Bolivian military took to the airwaves to call for his departure. On Tuesday, Morales flew to Mexico, where he has received asylum. On Tuesday night, right-wing Senator Jeanine Áñez declared herself Bolivia’s new president despite a lack of a quorum in the Congress to approve her ascension to that post.

SEN. JEANINE ÁÑEZ: [translated] We are facing here a presidential succession originating from the vacancy of the presidency of the state. Due to the definitive absence of the president and vice president, which means that according to the text and meaning of the Constitution, as president of the Chamber of Senators, I immediately assume the presidency of the state as foreseen in the constitutional order. And I commit myself to accept responsibility for all necessary measures to pacify the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Jeanine Áñez held a Bible when announcing her claim to the presidency, declaring, “The Bible returns to the presidential palace.” Evo Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism party is refusing to recognize the new president, calling her claim illegal and decrying Morales’s resignation as a military coup.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, President Morales was re-elected for a fourth term in a race his opponents claim was marred by fraud. He ran for a fourth term after contesting a referendum upholding term limits. Morales stepped down soon after accepting the Organization of American States’ call for new elections. On Tuesday, Morales spoke in Mexico.

EVO MORALES: [translated] I also want to tell you, brothers and sisters, as long as I am alive, we will stay in politics. As long as I am alive, the fight will continue. And we’re sure that the people of the world have all the rights to free themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Morales’s departure has sparked demonstrations and clashes across Bolivia. In La Paz Tuesday, his supporters took to the streets.

MORALES SUPPORTER: Remember, the opposition will never be able to govern as Evo Morales has done. It hurts us. Evo Morales was our leader. Viva Evo! We miss and love you, Evo. We have been left orphaned.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we host a debate on the political crisis in Bolivia. In La Paz, we’re joined via Democracy Now! vidoe stream by Pablo Solón, former ambassador to the United Nations under President Evo Morales until 2011. He’s former chief negotiator on climate change for Bolivia. And in Amherst, Massachusetts, we’re joined by Kevin Young, assistant professor of history at University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s the author of Blood of the Earth: Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia. Young is also the editor of Making the Revolution: Histories of the Latin American Left.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Bolivia with Pablo Solón. Do you describe what happened as a coup?

PABLO SOLÓN: I think it’s very complicated to say it’s a coup, because I think there was a popular rebellion, because this issue started in 2016, when Evo Morales didn’t recognize the result of a referendum that said that he couldn’t run for a new re-election. If he would have respected that referendum, he would have finished his third term as probably the best president in Bolivia. But he didn’t do that. He forced that the Constitutional Tribunal did a statement saying that it was a human right to run for new elections.

And then we have the elections of the 20th of October, where there was definitely fraud. We have so many evidences here, so many reports from different institutions, not only OAS saying it, that, of course, the population went to the streets. It was massive, and it has lasted for 20 days.

So, to say this is a coup d’état planned by the White House, the right-wing forces, fascist forces, I think it’s to make a caricature of what is really happening. Now, who’s going to take advantage of the situation are going to be right-wing forces, is going to be the imperialists of North America. But who created this crisis, I think, was this addiction to power that Evo Morales and his party began to have during the last years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask Kevin Young to deal with the same issue of whether this was a coup or not, and also to deal with the reality that the majority in the Congress is still of the — is the political party of Evo Morales. So, to what degree can whoever becomes president be able to move forward with a political agenda, given the enormous strength still of the Evo Morales forces in the country?

KEVIN YOUNG: A coup has a simple and straightforward definition. It’s the unconstitutional removal of a sitting president before that president’s term in office is up. And in the case of Bolivia, Evo Morales is the elected president. His term isn’t due up until January 21st of 2020. And in this case, on Sunday, you had the lead commander of the Bolivian Armed Forces directly intervening and ordering Evo out of office. So that’s a coup. And I think that’s pretty straightforward. That shouldn’t be controversial.

What makes this coup particularly dangerous is that it is being supported by the most racist and reactionary elements in Bolivian society, as well as by the United States. Now, all of that being said, the overall political situation in Bolivia is complex. All of the opposition is not the same. The opposition is not monolithic. There are opposition protesters who are much more progressive. Many indigenous groups, working-class Bolivians have become very disillusioned with Evo’s government and have turned against it. So, those voices are important to recognize. We shouldn’t be painting the entire opposition with the same brush or insinuating that it’s all some conspiracy by the United States.

But at the same time, it is important to recognize, as well, that almost half of the Bolivian population voted for Evo Morales on October 20th. And whether you think that’s 47%, as the government said, or maybe it’s only 46 or 45%, the fact remains that almost half of Bolivians still supported Evo on October 20th. And those voices also need to be counted and recognized. They may have criticisms of the government — many of them do, and I know some of them — but they’re not supporting the coup, because they fear that a right-wing government is really going to roll back some of the progressive gains that have been made in the last 13 years. And in an immediate sense, they’re fearful of right-wing violence in the streets, which is happening and which is targeting particularly indigenous Bolivians.

Now, what’s going to happen with the Congress? Because despite the fact that many MAS legislators and officials have resigned, sometimes under threat of violence from the right, it is still true that a majority of the Congress is controlled by the MAS party. They have signaled — they have said that they are interested in finding a constitutional resolution to the crisis. Now, what exactly that’s going to look like is still very unclear. It’s not clear what new elections are going to look like or under what conditions they’re going to be held. The MAS party is somewhat in disarray the last several days. So, we really don’t know what’s going to happen at this point.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Pablo Solón, I wanted to ask you about this issue of — Evo Morales had agreed, as a result of the protests in the streets and the recommendation of the Organization of American States, to hold new elections. So, shouldn’t the opposition have at least waited until his term was up, until new elections were held, before attempting to remove him completely? And also, the issue of the military. The military, on the one hand, said they were not going to intercede when the police officers began rebelling against the government, but then has interceded to join the police in now attempting to quell protests of Morales supporters.

PABLO SOLÓN: OK. So, the first thing, Evo Morales called to new elections — well, he said he was going to call to new elections. And he said he was going to change the Electoral Court, which meant that he agreed that the Electoral Court was involved in some case of fraud in the elections of the 20th of October, because, I mean, Evo Morales didn’t say, “I call with elections, and I respect this Electoral Court.” No, “I will change it,” because the evidence were too big. There was fraud. And, of course, you had, in the population — not the right-wing forces — the population said, “Watch out. Your saying that, new elections with a new Electoral Court, means that there was fraud.” And fraud is something that you cannot accept. It’s a crime. So, you cannot say, “OK, well, you know, there was fraud. Now I’m going to call for a new elections. Nothing happened in Bolivia. Now I guarantee you that everything is going to be OK.” It’s impossible.

And what happened then? Did the military do a coup and went out to the streets that day and force Evo Morales? No, they said, “We are not going to go out to the streets. The situation is terrible. People don’t accept new elections after you are recognizing that there was fraud.” That is what they said. “And we suggest that you resign.” And they didn’t went out to the streets.

And Evo Morales, why did he resign? My point of view is he resigned because he was not able to sustain this idea that the elections of the 20th of October were clean. And if they weren’t clean, he was involved, because you cannot do that fraud without the involvement of the government. So, he resigned, and he went to El Chapare, because he thought that his resignation was going to create an uprise, because it’s true, what the other person says, he has the support of more than 40% of the population. And he was suspecting that there would be an uprise, and then his sector would mobilize.

But then what happened? There was that mobilization, but that mobilization was a mix of supporters of MAS but also of vandalic groups that began to assault, burn. There were more than 70 buses of the public service system here in La Paz that were burned, drugstores. And it was the night — the night of Sunday and Monday was terror in many cities. And the police, the police stations began to be attacked by this combination of MAS — of supporters of the political party of the government, what’s called MAS, and this vandalic group. So, the police was not able to stop this. Neighborhoods began to organize to defend themselves, not only in rich areas, but also in poor areas. At that moment, the police said, “We need to have the support of the military to stop this, this violence, these vandalic groups.” And you had the military coming out. I’m not in favor of that, but those are the facts. And then you had the military coming to the streets. And you have seen they have intervened, and in places where there are vandalic groups, huge violence. But, for example, yesterday, you had the big mass demonstration from El Alto.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Can we bring in Kevin Young? Your response to the description of Pablo Solón of what’s been going on?

KEVIN YOUNG: Sure. So, I do want to briefly address the question of the October 20th elections. There is this widespread narrative that’s been uncritically embraced in the media in the United States that there was a fraud in the October 20th elections. And that’s largely based on the preliminary audit of the Organization of American States, which was released this past weekend, which does contain allegations of widespread irregularities. On the other hand, we have the authoritative report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which last week released a detailed study of the October 20th election and found that there was no evidence of fraud, or at least if there were irregularities, there was no evidence that they were decisive in determining the outcome. Now, is it possible that there were irregularities? Absolutely. I’m not denying that. But as you said, Juan, on November 10th, earlier in the day, Evo Morales actually offered to hold new elections, as a major concession to the protesters. He even offered to replace the entire electoral monitoring body. And I don’t see that — I disagree with Pablo here. I don’t see that as necessarily an admission of fraud. I see it more as a concession that was intended to keep the peace. But the fact is that the opposition, most of them, didn’t want new elections because they doubted that they could beat Evo at the ballot boxes. They wanted a coup. And that’s exactly when the military steps in and orders Evo to leave.

Now, I agree with Pablo that the situation on the streets is extremely concerning. There is violence being committed, not only by the right, but also by many MAS supporters who are, justly, terrified of what’s going to happen. So, the situation is complex. It shouldn’t be reduced to simple good versus bad, or left versus right. But that doesn’t change the fact that this was a coup. It’s a complex situation, and it’s a coup with some popular support, but it’s still a coup.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Solón, are you concerned about, you know, the woman who has just declared herself president saying she’s bringing the Bible back into government; opposition protesters kidnapping Mayor Patricia Arce, the mayor loyal to Morales, forcibly cutting her hair, dousing her with red paint, parading her through the streets? And then you have, for example, Luis Fernando Camacho, who is the far-right multimillionaire, who arose, many say, out of fascist movements in Bolivia, saying, “Pachamama will never return to the palace. Bolivia belongs to Christ.”

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, first, let me answer. You are not right. Before the OAS, we had here in Bolivia reports. We were able to see different reports from the voting places where they were — where they changed signatures. They changed figures, numbers.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo, we have 30 seconds.

PABLO SOLÓN: OAS didn’t created this because of them. They had to see the evidence that we have here. And you have other reports before the OAS report. Second thing, when you —

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo, we have 30 seconds.

PABLO SOLÓN: One of the — excuse me. I mean, because you say it is a coup. A coup means the military went out to the streets. Why did Evo Morales, when Evo Morales resigned, said this is a coup from the police and the civil? He didn’t want to mention the military. Now, going to your question —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to go to that question in Part 2 of this discussion.

PABLO SOLÓN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank Pablo Solón, former ambassador to the U.N. under President Evo Morales until 2011, and Kevin Young, professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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