By Owei Lakemfa
THE political events and turmoil in Bolivia were expected. I was convinced about this far back in 2012. That year, I was in Washington and a childhood friend introduced me to one of his neigbours, a Bolivian. He was surprised I knew about his country and its history including its 1825 bid for independence and the country naming itself after Simon Bolivar, the Venezuelan revolutionary.
Bolivar had led the anti-colonial war against Spain and militarily defeated the colonialists at the Battle of Carabobo in 1821. With that, he secured the independence of Venezuela. Rather than stop, he continued routing the Spaniards in other countries and secured independence for five of them: Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Bolivia. The first three countries joined Venezuela to be ruled by Bolivar.
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My new Bolivian friend in Washington became antagonistic and quite hostile when I mentioned President Evo Morales whom I said had significantly transformed Bolivia by successfully combating poverty and building huge infrastructure. He had contempt for Morales and felt indigenous Indians like him had no business in politics, not to add the insult of being called President of Bolivia. Morales, the country’s first indigenous President knew the contempt he and the his race were held. On this, he had said: “Bolivia’s majority Indian population was always excluded, politically oppressed and culturally alienated. Our national wealth, our raw materials, was plundered. Indios were once treated like animals here. In the 1930s and 40s, they were sprayed with DDT to kill the vermin on their skin and in their hair whenever they came into the city.”
On another occasion, he said: “As an indigenous leader from Bolivia, I know what exclusion looks like. Before 1952, my people were not allowed to even enter the main squares of Bolivia’s cities, and there were almost no indigenous politicians in government until the late 1990s.” Morales who was first elected President in December 2005 and re-elected two more times in 2009 and 2014 remained President of Bolivia until last Sunday.
He had again ran for the Presidency on October 20, and been declared winner. However, the opposition candidate, Carlos Mesa protested. Morales then pledged to allow a neutral body do a vote audit promising to get the elections cancelled and call for a re-run if fraud was discovered.
On Sunday morning, the continental body, the Organisation of American States, OAS, said it discovered some fraud in the election results. Morales true to his pledge, got the elections cancelled and ordered a rerun. However, Mesa, who came second in the polls while agreeing to a rerun, said President Morales is not eligible to run! The opposition called for street protests. Morales has the capacity of turning out far more people on the streets, but his support base is in the rural areas and countryside, and it would take time for them to march on the cities like they did on previous occasions.
The conspirators knew this, and went for a coup. First, units of the police rebelled and declared for the opposition. Then the Chief of the Armed Forces, General Williams Kaliman, announced that President Morales should resign for peace to reign. The President abandoned the cities for the rural area where he weighed the options and thought it better to resign and head for exile in Mexico. The Bolivian Vice-President Álvaro García, Senate leader Adriana Salvatierra and House of Deputies’ leader Victor Borda were also pressured to resign.
Not unexpectedly, American President Donald Trump applauded the coup as a “significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere” and praised the Bolivian military: “for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.” However, people like Trump who argue that democracy is taking its course in Bolivia cannot but be mistaken or mischievous; a coup is not an ingredient of Western democracy. Even if Morales were to be ruled unfit to recontest, it should not be by his fellow candidate, the police or army but by a constitutional authority like the courts. In any case, he should have been allowed to serve out his constitutional term in office, not forced to resign.
Morales, a rural coca farmer had risen to national prominence as leader of Bolivian coca farmers who resisted American-backed moves to ban the planting of coca on the basis that it is used to process cocaine. Coca he said is medicinal and cultural and that it is the developed world that processed it into cocaine.
The Morales government apart from massive school, road and hospital construction, lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, redistributed land to the landless and diversified the economy by concentrating on agriculture and industrialization. From 2010 to-date, he increased public spending by over 750 percent. His government made cash transfer “bonos” to all parents who agreed to send their children to elementary schools, pregnant women, mothers with children under two years and the elderly. Despite these spending, inflation and the currency, the Boliviano were stable. In fact, he built huge foreign reserves for the country which gave it a lot of economic stability. For instance, where Bolivia had received $173 million from hydrocarbon extraction in 2002, by 2006 with Morales in power, it jumped to $1.3 billion. His government rejected financial aid from the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank and their various regulations. Prices of many foodstuff were controlled by government and food export banned to ensure food self-sufficiency.
Personally, I think despite his sterling performance including moving Bolivia from a Low-Income country to a Lower-Middle-Income country, Morales should not have run for a fourth term in office especially after losing a February, 2016 constitutional amendment to remove term limits. But the irony is that the same groups and countries condemning Morales for seeking a fourth term in office are the same who endorse Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu for a fifth term in office.
What is going on is not about ‘democracy’ but an ideological war to reverse the pro-people policies and programmes championed by Morales who sees himself in the mold of Simon Bolivar the revolutionary who won the country for the mass of the people rather than the rich. The events in Bolivia is an attempt by the transnational companies to retake the oil and gas fields which the Morales administration had taken from them and given to Bolivians as a collective. The coup in Bolivia is also about race; the old ruling class trying to seize political control from the 9.8 million indigenous Indians who constitute over 60 percent of the population.
The coup may be a temporary setback or a serious hemorrhage for Bolivia. Whatever the case, the world might not have heard the last of a great man called Evo Morales.