The Nov. 10 removal of Bolivian President Evo Morales was nothing less than a coup d’état. As scholars and as Americans, it should not be as difficult as it apparently is for us to establish this as a material fact. The facts are simple; the duly elected president was forced to resign, and flee the country for fear of more severe retribution, by a coalition of the military and protestors. The millionaire “protest leader,” it should be noted, now directs a Christian fundamentalist paramilitary force with open backing from far-right movements across South America. There is nothing about this situation that appears anything less than the illegal ousting of a president. But was it warranted? Is there, at the very least, a defensible argument behind the seizure of power?
One could make a reasonable argument about the judiciousness of his running for a fourth term, no doubt. That same reasoning could equally be applied to former President Franklin Roosevelt. What is less arguable is whether the election results were even fraudulent in the first instance, which is highly unlikely in view of Bolivia’s unique electoral makeup and the nature of political reporting in the country.
Bolivia’s electoral system requires one of two requirements to be met in order to win a presidential election: a candidate wins a majority of votes, or a candidate defeats the next highest candidate by at least 10 points. The so-called “quick count,” which provides a quick estimate of the voting percentages of each candidate, had Morales with around a 7.9 percent lead over his opponent, Carlos Mesa of the FRI, with around 84 percent reporting. At 95 percent reporting, Morales gained about a 2.1 percentage over his opponent to lead by just above 10 percent. This seemed in accordance with most models; according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Kevin Cashman, Morales was projected to win by between 10.3 and 10.4 percentage points in a 500-imputation model run of the first round of elections. A jump in support would also be likely to appear late in the count, since Morales derives much of his electoral power from rural indigenous groups. However, despite these likelihoods, the Organization of American States — whose Electoral Observation Mission monitored the election to ensure fair and free voting practices — immediately accused Morales’s campaign of election fraud in concert with the opposition, calling the increase an “inexplicable change in trend that modifie[d] the fate of the election” and implying that the increase was impossible. Morales even went as far as to agree to an OAS audit of the election, but by this point the sloppy statistics and antagonism of the organization had already made the “election fraud” narrative a media reality.
In such a context, it is difficult to look at the resulting military intervention as anything less than a CIA-backed and unwarranted coup, especially since its result almost perfectly aligns with the current financial and political interests of the American empire. Professor Noam Chomsky, in his 1977 “The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism,” explains a phenomenon well understood even then; “[s]ince World War II […] the United States has globalized the ‘banana republic’ […] despite some modest ideological strain because these developments serve the needs of powerful and dominant interests, state and private, within the United States itself.” One notes with some conspiratorial cynicism that Bolivia not only holds the second largest reserve of hydrocarbons in South America — nationalized since 2006, to the chagrin of foreign investors and the American government — but also fully a quarter of the world’s lithium, a key ingredient in electric car batteries and a number of other “clean energy” projects. Merely a week before his resignation, Morales also canceled a lithium development agreement with the German company ACI Systems Alemania, which creates batteries for electric car companies like Tesla; the stock of the latter jumped substantially just a day after the military takeover.
In a statement issued shortly before Morales resigned from power, Chomsky himself noted that “the United States government […] has long been eager to remove Morales and his movement from power,” further asserting that “[f]or over a decade, the U.S. embassy’s Center of Operations in La Paz has articulated the fact that it has two plans — Plan A, the coup; Plan B, assassination of Morales.”
The protest and resulting coup has been tinged with religious and ethnic overtones. Morales has long been the champion of indigenous rural communities, directing most of his economic programs towards alleviating the gap between Bolivia’s wealthy, mostly-white-Christian minority and poor rural indigenous communities spread throughout the country. For the most part, these plans have been enormously successful; the Morales regime has seen economic growth at twice the Latin American average, while maintaining a steady level of inflation and nearly halving the poverty rate, and creating a quite substantial and active middle class in the process. This he achieved through massive redistributive and nationalization projects, infuriating both international and domestic investors in oil and other natural resources. In the end, Morales’s terminal mistake was not to appear on the ballot in 2019; it was to advocate for a distressed majority at the expense of an affluent and well-connected minority. Thus we see Bolivian police recorded cutting the whipalas, flags representing Bolivia’s indigenous populations, out of their badges with scissors. We see five dead indigenous people, killed last Friday by police violence outside the city of Cochabamba. And we hear the Interim President Jeanine Añez Chavez, brandishing a Bible and entering the presidential palace after Morales’s resignation, stating plainly that “the Bible has re-entered the palace. Pachamama will never return.” Pachamama is an Andean indigenous goddess of fertility and the earth; our equivalent would be Mother Nature.