Social movements in Bolivia: from power to resistance?

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La resistencia continúa: movilización de los maestros rurales de Potosí (18/11/2019)
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In the present situation in Bolivia, we attest that on November 10, there was a civic-Christian-military Coup d’État promoted by the government of the United States.


Otherwise, what else could we call the breakdown of Constitutional Order through the civic-military insubordination that obliged the democratically elected government to go into exile in Mexico? What else can we call the unconstitutional self-proclamation and de facto exercise of power as President, by Jeanine Añez, who was never elected for this office?


Once the Coup d’État was completed, a violent regime was installed that, in one week, massacred over 30 indigenous people who were protesting against the Coup, while hundreds of people suffered bullet wounds, and a juridical-military persecution was initiated against anyone who looks like a social leader. All the media that were broadcasting the people’s actions of resistance to the Coup were closed, occupied and/or expelled. Thus, a civic-military dictatorship was installed in Bolivia.


Once the popular resistance in the streets was “suffocated”, the de facto government of Jeanine Añez obliged the Legislative Body of the Plurinational State (with a parliamentary majority of MAS) to nullify the recent general elections (of October 20), obliging them to sanction the Law to call new elections (without Evo Morales or Alvaro Garcia as candidates) and ordering them to organize the selection of new delegates to the electoral tribunals who will organize the next general elections in Bolivia.


Simultaneously with this action, the de facto government, with Decree (N 4078) in hand that justified the indigenous massacre, invited the majority of the leaders of indigenous movements, peasants and workers of the country to “dialogue” and obliged them to remove the blocks on the highways. What was the cost of this subordination of leaders to the de facto government? History will tell us.


Within a few hours, they dismissed the principal public functionaries and administrators of public enterprises, and installed families and friends of the Coup d’État, mostly from the private sector, in these posts. And these people have already begun to echo the well-known neoliberal discourse: “public enterprises are inefficient, they are in deep debt, we must privatize them...”


Before Evo Morales landed in Mexico as a political exile, the well-known advisor of what had formerly been the US Embassy in Bolivia had entered the Palace of Government as the principal advisor of the self-proclaimed Añez, and she restored diplomatic relations with the United States and Israel. Where are the social movements that a decade ago expelled the US Embassy from the country?


And what of the powerful social movements that brought Evo Morales to power?


For nearly 14 years, the government of Bolivia was claimed as a government of social movements. Morales was politically a product of the social movements that had created their own political instrument: MAS-IPSP.


The indigenous and peasant movements, allied with others, not only brought to power the first indigenous President in creole Latin America (and maintained him there), but also undertook the “nationalizations” of privatized natural assets, and promoted and concretized the drafting and approval of the new Political Constitution of the Plurinational State.


What happened to that tremendous people power that even expelled the US Embassy and the DEA from Bolivia? After all, their leaders such as Morales were State officials…


Didn’t the 14 years in power allow them to accumulate sufficient symbolic and material (economic) resources to organize-train-communicate-mobilize all of Bolivia? Why did Evo Morales and Garcia Linera (ideologue of the Bolivian process of change) have to take refuge in the Province of Chapare, Cochabamba, more solitary than 14 years earlier?


At first sight, it seems that almost 14 years in power of the strong social movements of Bolivia (CSUTCB, Bartolinas, CONAMAQ, CIDOB, Interculturales, COB) has eroded their capacity as sociopolitical actors.


The leaders of the social movements were politically subsumed by the “political instrument” MAS-IPSP. And this, in turn, became an electoral apparatus and a “job exchange” in non-electoral periods. The political arm almost completely absorbed the social body (social movements) to the point of immobilizing them.


Why was Evo Morales “isolated” at the moment of the Coup d’État?


When the Coup took place, the social movements no longer controlled the political instrument. MAS was in power. And MAS, as a political organization, at the time of the Coup, was almost completely demoralized/burnt out by the denouncements of alleged electoral fraud. In many Departments, the structures of social movements were dissatisfied with the MAS leadership due to the vertical designation of candidates.


Added to this is the “communication cordon” surrounding Evo Morales with relation to the turbulent and coup plotting situation of the country. His close allies and advisors not only prevented social movement actors from approaching him, but they “sketched” a fictitious version of Bolivian reality, making him believe that “Evo Morales was unmovable from the Presidency of Bolivia”.


This was the fertile social terrain that the coup plotters took advantage of in order to psychologically defeat the government of Morales, in the streets, in public entities, in the National Police, and finally in the Armed Forces.


Therefore, when Morales gave his last press conference as President, he was practically alone, together with his vice-President. He was accompanied by only a few actors of social movements. The (middle class) public officials that had sworn loyalty to him had already disappeared “before the Bible arrived at the Palace.”


What about the powerful State media and public enterprises?


Before and during the Coup d’État the coup plotters, through social networks and private media, installed in the collective Bolivian imaginary the narrative that “Evo Morales is a dictator, the enemy of social peace”. Then once in power, they occupied the powerful state media outlets, established by Morales over 14 years (State TV Channel, Patria Nueva radio network, the Cambio newspaper), and from there, together with private corporate media “well reimbursed with public funds”, they convinced the Bolivian audiences that “Morales is a narco-terrorist”, “the MAS and the social protests are criminal.”


So Morales not only left powerful state media outlets from which the coup perpetrators can now ridicule him and the social movements, but he also left sufficient public savings to finance this campaign. In addition, dozens of economically solvent public enterprises, created by Morales, are being handed out like booty to the “families/friends” of the main authors of the coup.


Thus, the vigorous indigenous social movements of peasants and workers –that barely a decade ago made the neoliberal system recede, putting one of their leaders as the first indigenous president in Latin America under the slogan “from resistance to power”— now, with the violent removal by the usurping government of anything that appears as an emancipatory social movement, are withdrawing to their territories under the watchword: “From power to community resistance. We will return and we will be millions”.



(Translated for ALAI by Jordan Bishop)


- Ollantay Itzamna, Latin American Defender of the Rights of Mother Earth and Human Rights.

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