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After Evo: As Right-Wing Senator Declares Herself President, What’s Next for Bolivia?

Web ExclusiveNovember 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.

We continue our conversation with Pablo Solón and Kevin Young about the political crisis in Bolivia. Solón, who served as Bolivia’s United Nations ambassador under former President Evo Morales, says Morales’s ouster was not a coup. Young, who teaches history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, disagrees.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. In Bolivia, right-wing Senator Jeanine Áñez declared herself president Tuesday night despite a lack of quorum in Congress. The same day, longtime Bolivian President Evo Morales landed in Mexico, where he received political asylum. This is Jeanine Áñez.

SEN. JEANINE ÁÑEZ: [translated] 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.

AMY GOODMAN: 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 Áñez as president, calling her claim illegal and decrying Morales’s resignation over the weekend as a military coup.

We continue with Part 2 of our discussion about the political crisis in Bolivia. In La Paz, Bolivia, we’re joined via Democracy Now! video stream by Pablo Solón. He is the former ambassador to the United Nations under President Evo Morales, until their split in 2011. He’s the former chief negotiator on climate change for Bolivia. And in Amherst, Massachusetts, we’re joined by Kevin Young, assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He’s the author of Blood of the Earth: Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia, also the editor of Making the Revolution: Histories of the Latin American Left.

Pablo Solón, in Part 1, we talked about whether this is a coup, something you don’t quite believe at this point. But are you concerned about the woman who has now declared herself president, sworn in, saying, “I’m bringing the Bible back,” and Camacho, who comes out of this fascist movement in Bolivia?

PABLO SOLÓN: Of course I’m concerned. They are right-wing groups. Our state cannot be under only one religion. But also you have to mention the other side. This new president has said that she will respect the Wiphala, the flag of indigenous people. And the flag of indigenous people has came back to the main square of the government. If you ask me, do I believe that what we are going to see is more and more racist attitudes from the government against indigenous people, I believe that the government and the entire society wants peace. And what we will see, what we hear more and more, is, “OK, we will respect all the symbols, and we want to have peace.”

So, now the main question is to Evo Morales, because Evo Morales — the situation in Bolivia is that he has two-thirds in the Parliament. So, if he doesn’t want to go forward to a new election, then the whole situation is going to be very complicated. So, you have to go to an agreement. You have to come to an agreement between the forces of Evo Morales and the opposition in order to have those new elections in the next two, three months, or even less. But what happens if Evo Morales keeps blocking any kind of agree solution? We will have more conflict.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Young, your response?

PABLO SOLÓN: And more people dead, killed.

KEVIN YOUNG: Sure. So, I’m actually in agreement with Pablo’s argument that Evo Morales does bear some share of the responsibility here. But that doesn’t erase the fact that this is still a coup. When the military intervenes and orders the the elected president out before the end of his term in office, that’s a coup. So, whatever one thinks of Evo and the MAS, even if we have strong criticisms of their policies, even if we have strong criticisms of Evo’s insistence on running for a fourth term, the solution is not a right-wing coup. And that’s exactly why many progressive Bolivians are so concerned about what’s happening.

Take for example one of the leading feminist organizers in the country, Adriana Gúzman. She has often been a very critical voice, critical of the MAS and some of its policies. But she’s come out since the coup in, in no uncertain terms, denouncing what has happened, and warning very strongly that this really could end up empowering the right wing, and people like her, indigenous women, are going to be some of the primary victims of that. So, and when she says that, she may well have in mind some examples from Bolivia’s own history, when the left, or parts of the left, joined forces with the right wing to depose sitting governments, thinking that it would bring about a better result, and it ended up unwittingly empowering the right wing.

So, I’ll give one or two quick examples. In 1946, there was a government in power at the time. The U.S. didn’t like it. The U.S. supported a coup. The right wing in Bolivia supported it. And significant portions of the left supported that coup, as well, thinking that it was going to lead to a better result. And they did — like today, they did have some legitimate grievances with the government. But the result was disastrous. It was six years of very repressive governments. The same thing happened in 1964. Part of the left joined the right in deposing the elected government of Víctor Paz Estenssoro, and the result was 18 years of military rule. The left, at that moment, in 1964, actually thought that they would be allowed to share some of the power. They were very quickly disabused of that notion. The military closed the doors to them and said, “No, we’ll take it from here, guys.”

So, we do need to be careful about the unintended consequences of our political positions here. And that’s precisely what people like Adriana Gúzman and many other indigenous and working-class Bolivians are warning us about right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Solón, I wanted to ask you about what’s happening right now in Washington, where you have the OAS holding an emergency meeting. The U.S. ambassador to the OAS, Carlos Trujillo, read a statement from President Trump applauding Morales’s resignation, warning it should, quote, “send a strong signal to Venezuela and Nicaragua.” Pablo Solón?

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, as I said before, this situation is going to be used — they are going to take advantage of it. It’s clearly. The risk that you will have more right-wing forces, a change of balance of forces, it’s absolutely true. But the main thing that we have to learn as activists that come from the left is: Why did this happen? This would have not happened if we wouldn’t have forced a new re-election and go to a situation where there is fraud. That is why we are in this situation. It’s tragic. I am not saying that I am — I have a lot of hope on what is going to happen. There is going to be a lot of conflict and probably violence here, and people are going to be killed. We have already seven people that have been killed during the 20 days of protest, some of the opposition, but also some on the other side. And this is terrible.

So, what do we do? The question is: Do we say, “Oh, because there is the risk that the right-wing forces can come, we have to sustain Evo Morales, even we know that what he’s doing is absolutely wrong”? And it went against the Constitution, because the Constitution says you can only be re-elected once. So, that is the concrete issue, is — Evo Morales can come back to Bolivia? I don’t think so, not at all. After what he did, it’s impossible, at least in the next months, years. A different situation would have been if a government that comes from an indigenous people and the left says, “OK, I finished my term. Now I’ll go to my whole house, and in five years I will come back.” Of course. And even the political party of MAS could have won the elections without Evo Morales.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Young, your response?

KEVIN YOUNG: Well, again, I do partially agree with what Pablo is saying. One of the legitimate, I think, critiques of the MAS over the years has been that it has been too centered on Evo as a leader. They haven’t sufficiently opened the door to new leadership from the grassroots level. So that is, I think, a fair critique of Evo Morales. But the fact remains that the situation facing people on the ground right now in Bolivia is extremely dangerous. And that’s why so many progressive Bolivians are condemning this as a coup. And we need to listen to those voices, as well.


PABLO SOLÓN: Can I say something?

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Solón.

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I mean, I respect the opinion of — I don’t know who you quoted, but I can list you several activists that were part of the government, that were part of this process of change, more active than the person that you just mentioned, that are saying, “No, this is not a coup.” So you have to be more balanced in what you’re saying. And you have to see that there is risk, yes, but there is risk also on the other side, too, because if this situation continues, you have violence against also from these groups that come assault, burn houses. You have to see also this other side. It’s not only, “Oh, the military, the right-wing forces are going to come and smash indigenous people.” You have groups of MAS, vandalic groups also coming and smashing people, not only of the middle class, but also popular sectors, some that also supported MAS. So, we have to see all the complexity of the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Young, do you disagree on that?

KEVIN YOUNG: So, I do agree that there is a risk of violence from MAS supporters, as well. That much is true. But it’s very important to recognize that Bolivian popular sectors — working-class people, indigenous people, small farmers, feminists — are not speaking with a unified voice here. They’re not monolithic. Some of them are supporting the change in government. They have been organizing large protests, because they do have legitimate grievances against the MAS. But on the other hand, you have very large — probably larger — portions of those same sectors who are calling it a coup and who aren’t willing to support the change in government. So, you know, it’s true that there have been a number of figures who served in Evo’s government who have then turned against him. It’s perfectly true that there are a number of very important indigenous organizations who have turned against the MAS. But we need to be careful about elevating those voices above the voices of the 47%, nearly half of the population, who voted for Evo on October 20th. So, Bolivian popular forces are not monolithic. They’re not speaking with one voice. So we need to be mindful of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Solón, are you concerned about — and you are very aware of this history. Your family, your father, the great muralist, comes out of a very progressive tradition in Bolivia. You were close to Evo Morales until your split in 2011. Are you concerned about the CIA involvement in coups in Bolivia in '52, in ’64, in 1970 and 1980, and what the U.S. will do with what's happening today?

PABLO SOLÓN: Yes, of course. I must tell you that my brother was enforced disappeared by the dictatorship of Banzer in the year 1972. I am totally against the military. So, I am very concerned. And I fully agree that if we want to find a solution, we must take into account those people that support MAS. They are a very important part of the population, almost half. We have to take them in account, of course.

But we have to bring peace. And you cannot bring peace if you don’t come to an agreement in the current situation. Or is there another way? If you say, “OK, we are going to support MAS and go against the other sector of the population,” then you will have violence from this other side. And that violence has happened already. It’s not a superstition; it’s something that has happened, this burning houses of also persons from the opposition. So, now, is Evo willing to come to an agreement to bring peace and say, “OK, we’re going to go to elections, with an electoral court, where — that is totally independent from political parties from the government. And let’s hear, from that election, the result”?

I think that from the side of the right-wing forces that are in the opposition, even from the current president, there is the willingness to have peace and have an electoral court. And they are going to put some figures that probably are very transparent. But they have to be also accepted by MAS, and MAS has to put some figures that are also transparent, and we have to go to the new elections. If we don’t do this, of course, the CIA, of course, the more right-wing forces, fascist forces, are going to say, “See, there is nothing to discuss anymore. We cannot discuss anymore with the people of MAS. We just have to go and and beat them.”

So, this is the situation where we are. How do we stop these right-wing forces? By blocking any kind of possible new election, hoping that the majority of the people will suddenly change, and 80% of the population will say, “OK, Evo Morales, come back,” and everything will be peaceful? I don’t think so.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Young?

KEVIN YOUNG: So, I would go back to November 10th, again. Evo did actually offer to conduct an entirely new election, did offer to replace the entire electoral monitoring tribunal. And, you know, what Pablo is describing might actually be a good scenario here. I’m not quite as optimistic as he seems to be about the willingness of the right to go forward with that, because, after all, on November 10th, they did reject Evo’s offer, and that’s when the military commander came out and ordered Evo to leave office.

Now, Amy, since you mentioned the U.S. role, I think that for those of us in the United States, we need to be especially focused on that. Our primary task, for those of us, like myself, who live in the United States and spend most of our time here, is the role of our own government. And, of course, the United States has a very sordid history of intervening abroad, a history and a present of intervening abroad, including in Bolivia right now. We don’t know the details of exactly how the the U.S. is intervening right now, but we do know that Trump and Pompeo and Marco Rubio have been very vocal in support of the coup. We do know that the United States government continues to fund the right-wing opposition groups. So, those of us in the United States do, I think, need to take that as our primary responsibility, is to stop U.S. intervention in Bolivia and allow Bolivians to have these complex debates — and they are complex — among themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Pablo Solón, you have said that you thought Evo Morales could go down as perhaps one of the greatest presidents in Latin America. Explain why you feel that way, and why, first, you split with him, when formerly you were his ambassador to the United Nations.

PABLO SOLÓN: Well, I was very close to Evo Morales, and we were friends. And the reason why I broke with him was because there was this repression to the indigenous march of TIPNIS, an indigenous territory and a national park, that happened in 2011. Five hundred policemen went and beat 1,000 indigenous people. And the government said, “Oh, we didn’t order that.” But nobody has been punished. The minister of government at that time was — went now to the — went at that time to the U.N. So, for me, that was terrible, because you can make mistakes, but there are principles. An indigenous government cannot use repression against another indigenous group or anyone. And this happened in 2011. For me, I can have disagreements before and after, but this was really very, very, very key. It’s something that you cannot accept. And the left accepted that. Most of the left internationally just said, “OK, it happened.”

Second, Evo Morales began to change when he was in the government. At the beginning, the situation was very different. We were fighting against the right-wing forces that didn’t allow the Constitutional Assembly to finish. But then, once we were able to have the new Constitution, once Evo Morales won the second election, and he got two-thirds in the Parliament, he began to control all the other institutions — the Supreme Court, the Electoral Court, the Constitutional Court — all the institutions. The ombudsmen that were appointed by him or by the Parliament, with his support, that began to criticize him were changed, because he didn’t want nobody to criticize him. So, for me, this is a huge problem.

And, of course, he did very good things, renegotiated the contract with the oil companies, that allowed more money for the state. And you had better programs in terms of health, education and other sectors. And that’s why he has support from popular sectors. But he, at the same time, began to do alliances with right-wing forces, the same right-wing forces that now are against him. For example, all the laws that benefit the big agribusiness in Santa Cruz were approved by the government and by the opposition. That is why, when we had these forest fires in Bolivia this year of 5 million hectares and we began to see what laws allowed the situation, it was clear that the laws had been approved by both the government and the opposition. He tried to give them some concessions in order to have their support. And that was what he did for the past, I would say, eight years. And that’s where we are now.

And, of course, we always said, “Come on, those sectors someday are going to just say to you, 'OK, thank you, but now we want to go back into the government.'” We expected Evo Morales to change, really, the economic structures of Bolivia, not to be dependent only on gas export, not to have big agribusiness that exists because we, as the state, give them subsidies. We wanted a real respect to indigenous rights, to the environment. But that was not the case. We went back to GMOs. We went back to biofuels. Evo Morales had plans of building new big megadams. So, you you had these problems. And that is why Evo Morales began to be very much criticized. And you had also cases of corruption, that didn’t involve him directly, but involved very high-level persons in the government, and also in indigenous and social organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Young, as we wrap up this discussion — we’ll also have this debate in Spanish — if you could respond to what former Ambassador Pablo Solón has laid out?

KEVIN YOUNG: Again, I actually agree with most of what Pablo has just said. The government of Evo has by no means an unblemished record. On the one hand, there were enormous gains in poverty reduction. Poverty was reduced by 42%, extreme Poverty reduced by 60%. And that was made possible mostly by the raising of taxes on natural gas companies. So, those are major gains that we need to emphasize. On the other hand, the criticisms — most of the criticisms that Pablo has just enumerated, I think, are valid. And the repression of the TIPNIS indigenous march in September of 2011 is one example. That was — I agree that that government repression was completely inexcusable. And, you know, I think we need to be able to hold nuance and complexity here. We need to recognize that the government of Evo Morales was mixed in terms of its record. But those complexities shouldn’t make us lose sight of the fundamental truth. And the fundamental truth of what happened on Sunday was that it was still a coup. And, you know, the situation is not simple. It is complex. But it’s still a coup.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Pablo Solón, do you think what happened has anything to do with what this person tweeted: Shortly before the coup against Bolivia’s Evo Morales, the government announced plans to nationalize the highly profitable lithium industry? Your thoughts?

PABLO SOLÓN: No, absolutely, I think whoever wrote that — I have seen it — is absolutely, totally wrong. I follow, personally, the issue of lithium. It is totally the opposite. Evo Morales did a very bad contract with a German company, that’s a very small company of 20 employees. We criticized that. It was a contract for 70 years, that wasn’t going to pay royalties for the lithium hydroxide that was going to be exported. And the city of Potosí mobilized for several months, asking the government to stop that contract. The government, at the end, almost — I don’t remember the exact day, but before they resigned — and in an attempt to calm down the mobilizations in Potosí, said, “OK, we will annul this supreme decree that has approved this contract with this German company.” They were not having a plan to nationalize, because it is already nationalized. What they did was a very bad contract. It’s one of the examples of the things that Evo Morales began to do that were wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Kevin Young, what you think needs to happen right now? And do you think Evo Morales can return from Mexico to Bolivia?

KEVIN YOUNG: Well, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. But from my vantage point here in the United States, I would reiterate a point that I made earlier, that those of us in the United States need to be primarily focused on stopping our government from intervening. We need to be pressuring our government, including Congress and political candidates, to be condemning the coup that has taken place in Bolivia, so that Bolivians can hash out their own debate.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Kevin Young, assistant professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, author of Blood of the Earth: Resource Nationalism, Revolution, and Empire in Bolivia. And thanks so much to Pablo Solón, former Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations and chief negotiator around climate change, speaking to us from La Paz, Bolivia.

To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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