Civil rights, Democracy, Human Rights, Politics, Racism, Violence

“A Blow Against Neoliberalism”: Socialist Wins Bolivian Election a Year After Coup

Oct 20 2020

By Amy Goodman* – Democracy Now!

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales’s political party MAS has claimed victory in the country’s presidential election, with Morales’s handpicked successor Luis Arce securing over 50% of the vote, according to exit polls. If confirmed, the result will put the socialist party back in power almost a year after a right-wing coup that ousted Morales and installed Jeanine Áñez as president. The election was postponed twice, and protests rocked Bolivia for months leading up to the vote, calling out the government’s use of military and police repression and violence against Indigenous communities. “It’s an extraordinary election,” says Ollie Vargas, a reporter for Kawsachun News. “In 2019, Evo Morales won by a margin of just over 10%, and now we have a margin of over 20% with which the left is ahead.” We also speak with Leonardo Flores, Latin America campaign coordinator of CodePink, who calls the election results “a huge, huge victory” for Bolivian people and for democracy itself. “It’s a blow against neoliberalism and fascism in this country,” says Flores.


Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We’re beginning today’s show in Bolivia, where former President Evo Morales’s political party, MAS, is claiming victory in Sunday’s presidential election. The results of the twice-postponed election have not been officially announced, but the centrist former President Carlos Mesa conceded defeat Monday as exit polls show Luis Arce has won over half of the vote, giving him an outright win. If confirmed, it will put the socialist party back in power, putting an end to the far-right government which overthrew Evo Morales in a coup November 2019. Protests have rocked Bolivia for months now, calling out the right-wing government’s use of military and police repression and violence against Indigenous communities.

At a news conference Monday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, former President Evo Morales responded to the election’s outcome.

EVO MORALES:

[translated]

Sooner or later, we are going to return to Bolivia. That’s not up for debate. And yes, there are many processes which are part of a dirty war and so many lies. … Bolivian brothers and sisters, with experience and with Lucho president, once again will bring Bolivia forward, will pick Bolivia up. In a short time, Bolivia will once again be enshrouded in economic growth, like we had. This is the only political movement, the Movement Toward Socialism, the political instrument for sovereignty for the people, that has a vision for the country, has a program. That’s why we won easily.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Bolivian President Evo Morales. This is President-elect Luis Arce of the MAS party responding to the election results.

PRESIDENT-ELECT LUIS ARCE: [translated] We have recovered our soul. We have recovered the mysticism of this process. The people have made this possible with their discipline. We recovered this process of change for all.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s President-elect Luis Arce speaking to journalist Ollie Vargas, who joins us now from La Paz, Bolivia.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Ollie. Can you talk about the stunning victory that has come outright after Sunday’s election? Explain who Arce is and what this means for the MAS party and for the ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales.

OLLIE VARGAS: Thank you for having me on and helping to shine a light on what’s going on here in Bolivia.

It’s an extraordinary election. In 2019, Evo Morales won by a margin of 10%, of just over 10%. And now we have a margin of over 20% with which the left is ahead. So it’s an extraordinary election.

And Luis Arce, I think you mentioned at the beginning of the show, is the handpicked successor of Evo Morales. That’s because he was the economy minister for almost all of the period — almost all of the past 14 years of Evo Morales’s government, in which Bolivia went from being the region’s poorest country into its fastest-growing economy. Even sort of more right-wing outlets, such as the Financial Times, the BBC, institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, talked about a “Bolivian miracle” during Evo Morales’s period. For the past — before Evo Morales’s ouster, for the past six years, Bolivia was the fastest-growing economy in the region.

So I think what the MAS will want to be doing is picking up where they left off. However, a huge challenge now will be the economic crisis caused both by COVID-19, the lockdown measures, or also a series of neoliberal reforms, privatizations, paralyzations of state projects, that was taking place before the pandemic hit and has carried on since. So, the MAS, the Movement Toward Socialism, the left, the key, key challenge is rebuilding the economy, as they did in 2005.

We have to remember that Evo Morales and Luis Arce took power in 2005, swept to power on a wave of popular protest, in which former President Carlos Mesa, and current centrist neoliberal candidate, was overthrown, and Bolivia was in a dire economic crisis at the time. When Carlos Mesa was president, he was taking out IMF loans to pay public sector salaries, to pay teachers’ salaries. And out of those — out of that disaster, actually, Luis Arce built what he calls the social communitarian, productive economic model, based on the nationalization of natural resources and strategic industries, and then using those profits to invest in infrastructure, public services, social benefits for the people. So, he will be looking to rebuild that model that was, you could say, destroyed this past year under the current far-right government led by Jeanine Áñez.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ollie Vargas, I wanted to ask you — specifically, you mentioned Carlos Mesa. He was the right-wing candidate. But could there have been a more clear choice for the people of Bolivia, given the fact that Mesa had previously been both the vice president and president before Evo Morales came to power? Could you talk about Mesa’s record, that the voters had any ability to judge when they went to the polls?

OLLIE VARGAS: Yeah. In some ways, Bolivians were kind of lucky insofar as the two main candidates in the election had both been in power pretty recently, within the living memory of most voters. As [inaudible] Carlos Mesa government, where he took — he was elected as vice president in 2002, together with the widely hated former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who fled to Miami in 2003 after trying to privatize the country’s natural gas and after carrying out a series of massacres in the Indigenous city of El Alto. He flees to Miami. Carlos Mesa takes power, 2003.

And 2003 to 2005 is a period of complete paralysis in Bolivia, because Carlos Mesa pledges to not use repression, to not mobilize the military against protesters as his presidential partner did. However, he insists on the plan of privatizing the country’s natural gas and exporting it through the port of Chile. And that, of course, meant that the social movements, some of which led by Evo Morales, continued, continued their general strikes, continued popular uprising, and the country became ungovernable. And the economic crisis became extreme, as I said. The IMF were brought in to — IMF loans had been taken out to pay for the basic costs of the state, not for investment, but to pay public sector salaries — as I said, the basic costs of the state. So, Bolivia was in an incredibly disastrous moment in the two years in which Carlos Mesa ruled, with the backing, I should say, of the United States.

So, people have that in their memories. But people also, you know, lived through, experienced the past 14 years under Evo Morales in which the size of the economy tripled, the incomes of most people tripled at the very least. For those on minimum wage, it skyrocketed even further. Unemployment was the lowest in the region. And Bolivia had the highest rate of GDP growth than any other country in the region. So people have both of those experiences, some more recently. So, Bolivians had the information with which to make a choice. And 52, 53% of the country voted for Evo Morales’s party, the Movement Toward Socialism.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, you posted a short video on Twitter, writing, quote, “I want to denounce that Bolivian coup supporters tried to assault me just now while I filmed … at a polling station in Ciudad Satélite. They know they’ve lost the vote so they resort to violence against journalists. This is how Camacho & Mesa supporters operate.” This is the clip.

OLLIE VARGAS:

[translated]

I have the right to film. I’m a journalist. I’m a journalist. Sorry, friend, I am a journalist. I’m a journalist. And this man — this is violence on behalf of the right-wing groups.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what happened to you, Ollie, but also what Jeanine Áñez tried to do? She herself said she wouldn’t be running for president. She got others to pull out of the race so that the other side — so that they could consolidate and have a chance to win. But even still, Arce won outright with over half the vote.

OLLIE VARGAS: Yeah. Starting with what happened to me on Election Day, I think what I experienced on Election Day was a microcosm of what this country has gone through this past year. I started my day following Luis Arce, where he went to vote, in the middle-class neighborhood of Miraflores in La Paz, at which those going out to vote were being incredibly aggressive, challenging us to a fight, throwing eggs, throwing water. But, OK, tensions, polarization. We left there, and we went to Ciudad Satélite with the president of the Senate, of the MAS, who belongs to the MAS, Eva Copa, when she went to vote. And when we arrived at the polling station, there was a large group of people already there who were not in the queue to vote, who immediately began being incredibly aggressive, began chanting a number of things. And I began to film what they were chanting. And it was at that point when two men began trying to take my filming equipment. I had a press credential around my neck. They were trying to pull that off. I was punched in the chest. You know, and that sort of hostility continued whilst Eva Copa was voting and as we left.

But then, what happened at the end of the day? We got the exit polls, and what we found out was that the country doesn’t belong to that violent far-right minority. The country belongs to Bolivia’s social movements, to the popular movements, who fight for equality, who fight for democracy, liberty, for national sovereignty, against U.S. interference. And I think the fact that the MAS would win this — the fact that the left would win this election has been very clear for a number of months, and that’s why those who support the current regime have increasingly turned to violence.

And another sign of desperation, you know, for a long time now has been the pressure on the other right-wing candidates to step down so as to consolidate the right-wing vote behind Carlos Mesa. As you mentioned, Jeanine Áñez, she declared her candidacy in January, despite pledging not to, and then had to withdraw her candidacy just a few weeks before the elections. She didn’t do it in time, so, on Election Day, when I went to vote, she was still on the ballot. But any votes for her counted as a spoilt ballot. And there was a huge amount of pressure, both from the regime, from the mainstream media — even CNN presenter Fernando del Rincón joined in — calling on the other smaller right-wing candidates to step down because it is the only way in which the pro-coup candidate Carlos Mesa could have any chance of forcing the MAS into a second round.

But even if they had all united, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Luis Arce won — well, there’s been two exit polls. One shows he won with 52%. Another shows that he’s won with 53%. So, the victory of the MAS is overwhelming. Even with the unity of all the right-wing forces, the MAS would have still won.

So, it shows us, as well, actually, what happened in 2019, when it was — I think, in a number of U.S. outlets, mainstream media outlets, it was portrayed as a sort of popular uprising: The people have rejected Evo Morales. Well, what people were they talking about? They weren’t talking about the 53% of the country that voted yesterday. Well, the people they’re referring to is a whiter, middle-class, upper-class elite, based in the inner circles of the big cities, who, yes, did protest in large numbers against Evo Morales. But, actually, the voices of the majority of the Bolivian people, in the Indigenous rural areas, in the working-class areas of the cities, those voices were completely ignored. And those areas never joined in the protests against Evo Morales. It is those areas that have now taken back power after voting for the MAS and after winning, taking back the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ollie Vargas, I wanted to ask you about the situation with the military. Obviously, the military was able to force Evo Morales from power back then. What is your sense of where the military is right now? Are they going to accept this result, or do you expect increasing — will the new government expect increasing confrontation with the military, or will there be an attempt to remove military commanders by the new president?

OLLIE VARGAS: Well, that’s a very interesting question. Throughout the past year under Áñez’s government, there’s actually been a reorganization of the military to further entrench the sort of right-wing forces into the top brass. There’s been a number of promotions — illegal promotions, I might add, because in Bolivia military promotions have to be approved by the legislature, and because the legislature is elected, the MAS has a majority in there, and they rejected these promotions because they were political moves. They were placing the most right-wing, the most pro-U.S., the most corrupt sections of the military, and promoting them into positions of generals, etc.

So, what’s going to happen now, obviously none of us know. But something very interesting happened yesterday, in that the top military general, Sergio Orellana, who is one of the most right-wing figures within the military and who was promoted to that position by Áñez’s government, he raised quite a bizarre public letter attacking the current regime for supposedly insulting the military at some event. Apparently, the interior minister referred in a derogatory manner to some ranks in the military. But what this means, really, is he’s looking for a reason, looking for something with which to distance himself from the current government so as to curry favor with the MAS, with the left. And that shows the strength of the victory, in that the armed sections of the state, that turned against Evo Morales, now feel that they have to swim with the tide, swim with the popular tide, that is so overwhelming at this point. It speaks to the power and the sort of momentum behind the left here in Bolivia.

Going forward, it’s going to be incredibly difficult. It’s clear that there needs to be a reorganization, at least in some level, within the military. I said earlier, I mentioned earlier, that there’s been a reorganization, a number of right-wing figures being promoted. There’s a huge base of support for the MAS within the military, and those people are incredibly upset about the promotions that happened a few months ago. So, I’m sure those factions of the military will want now to have their place at the top. But in this transitional period between the coup government and the restoration of democracy when Luis Arce takes power, the MAS will have to depend on the military as it’s currently constituted to not carry out a second coup. That’s a concern, obviously, that if they alienate the military too much, then there could be even more violence between now and sort of early December, when Luis Arce officially takes power.

AMY GOODMAN: Will the military be held responsible for massacres that took place of Indigenous people and their supporters during this brief period of the coup, with Jeanine Áñez herself, where she’ll be held accountable? And then, what about the return of Evo Morales to Bolivia, Ollie?

OLLIE VARGAS: Absolutely. That’s been a key demand from day one of the popular movements that are the MAS, that form the coalition that is the Movement Toward Socialism, is justice for the massacres of Senkata, El Alto; Sacaba, Cochabamba; Pedregal, La Paz; Yapacaní, Santa Cruz.

And they’ve got three key figures they want, they’re looking at the moment — Áñez herself; the interior minister Arturo Murillo, who ordered the massacres; and Defense Minister Fernando López — as well as some of the generals who were there on the ground. As well, actually, MAS lawmakers have been filing criminal charges against some of the generals who were coordinating with far-right paramilitary groups during the coup, such as the Resistencia Juvenil Cochala, sort of a motorbike gang that was used — that was working with the police to repress Indigenous protest just after the coup in November.

So, I think that Luis Arce and the MAS and all the candidates of the MAS have been very clear, even Evo Morales himself, that the MAS is not looking to take revenge, is not looking to polarize society once again, but there will be justice for the people who gave their lives just after the coup in the fight for democracy. So, that’s a key demand, justice for the massacres.

AMY GOODMAN: Ollie Vargas, I want to thank you for being with us from La Paz, Bolivia, with Kawsachun News. And I wanted to bring in for a moment Leonardo Flores, who is the Latin America campaign coordinator of CodePink, who was part of an election observer delegation that was in Bolivia for these elections.

Leonardo, your observations about what happened, and the significance? Can you put the significance of this MAS victory, this socialist victory in Bolivia, in the context of what’s happening in Latin America today?

LEONARDO FLORES: Yes. Thank you for having me on, Amy.

First of all, I would say that my delegation witnessed a free and fair vote, very few irregularities, certainly no trends at a national level in terms of irregularities. So, this was a huge, huge victory, not just for the Bolivian people, but for democracy in general. And it’s a blow against neoliberalism and fascism in this country.

In terms of the broader context, certainly, we have upcoming elections next year in Ecuador and in Chile. There’s already talk of kind of a new pink wave coming to Latin America. That pink wave refers to a period in the early 2000s when progressive governments took power, everywhere from Brazil to Argentina to Venezuela and in other places.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you mentioned the pink tide. Clearly, the pink tide had tremendous setbacks over the last decade or so in places like Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina. What gives you a sense that what happened in Bolivia this week is an indication that the right-wing governments that have been coming to power in many of these countries can be turned back?

LEONARDO FLORES: Well, in the past year, we’ve seen massive protests in Ecuador, in Colombia, in Chile, of course. And here in Bolivia, the fact that so many people turned out on the streets over the summer, hundreds of thousands, that’s what really — that was what led them to set the date for the elections, to fix the date for the elections. And I think that’s going to inspire people around the region, and it’s going to show them that people’s power really can overcome these neoliberal and fascist governments that have taken power over the past five or six years in Latin America.

But another thing we have to mention also is really the role played by the OAS in this coup last year and in destabilizing all of Latin America, particularly during the tenure of Luis Almagro, the current secretary general of the OAS.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what do you see as the Trump administration’s attitude now with the results in Bolivia?

LEONARDO FLORES: Well, to be honest, I don’t think the Trump administration is going to be paying much attention to Bolivia. Their attention in Latin America is based mostly — almost exclusively — on Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua. And that has to do a lot with the vote in Florida, with expats from Venezuela and Cuba who have donated a lot of money and can turn out the vote in Florida, which is obviously a very key state in the upcoming elections.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the role of the United States in the coup that ousted the Bolivian President Evo Morales, who will soon be returning to Bolivia?

LEONARDO FLORES: Well, that’s a very important role played by the United States. USAID, the U.S. Agency for International Development, has been funding Bolivian groups, Bolivian right-wing groups, since the early 2000s. And in particular, we know that — because of WikiLeaks, we know that the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia had an eye on Evo Morales way before he became president, when was a social leader, when he was a union leader. And they identified him as a possible person that could coalesce the masses, coalesce the bases and the different social movements in the country, and eventually came to power. They were certainly right about that.

But one of the other things they did was to come up with a plan to undermine Morales. And that plan was put in effect basically in 2019 with the help of the OAS, which played a key role, as I said before, through Luis Almagro, the secretary general. The OAS basically put in a narrative in the media in Bolivia that there had been a fraud in the elections. Later, we find out from CEPR, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an MIT analyst and many others that there was no such fraud, that the OAS result was — the OAS analysis was completely flawed. And for that reason, CodePink is calling for Luis Almagro to resign. If people want to join that call, go to CodePink.org/OAS.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much, Leonardo Flores, for joining us, Latin America campaign coordinator of CodePink, joining us from La Paz, Bolivia, where he’s been leading CodePink’s election observation team all week. Again, the stunning news out of Bolivia right now, an outright victory for the ousted Bolivian President Evo Morales’s MAS party. Now the president-elect, that has been conceded by both sides, is Luis Arce.

—————–

*Amy Goodman es la conductora de Democracy Now!, un noticiero internacional que se emite diariamente en más de 800 emisoras de radio y televisión en inglés y en más de 450 en español. Es co-autora del libro “Los que luchan contra el sistema: Héroes ordinarios en tiempos extraordinarios en Estados Unidos”, editado por Le Monde Diplomatique Cono Sur.

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