Race, class and the coup in Bolivia

In October of last year, Bolivian president Evo Morales was ousted in a coup despite having just won a majority of the vote share in the general election. Until that point, Morales and his party, a socialist outfit named MAS, had been at the helm for nearly fifteen years. According to the Washington Post, under Morales, Bolivians were ‘happier, wealthier, better educated, living longer and more equal than at any time in its history’.

That was true. Morales’ government nearly halved unemployment from 7.7% to 4.4% and ballooned the government’s revenues into the billions of dollars with an effective nationalisation scheme. Foreign investors, imperialists whose only designs are to enrich themselves by impoverishing and exploiting the working-class in developing countries, were chased off Bolivian soil and important industries, like natural gas, came under the control of the state and better conditions for workers were secured. The success of Morales’ socialism is undeniable. The population of those living in extreme poverty was halved to 17% and the average income per household increased. Unlike some of the other socialist projects that have been launched in the global capitalist system, Morales’ was able to increase working-class power and undermine the authority of Bolivia and the world’s imperialist economic elite who stop at nothing to increase their profit margins.

It would be a mistake to see Morales’ administration as one which has only improved the life of the working-class, as when looking closer at this demographic, it is impossible to ignore that the population is mostly ethnically indigenous. Natives have suffered a long and unjust history of prolonged systematic oppression, facing large socio-economic disparities with their fellow citizens of European descent, until Morales stepped in to promote equality and indigenous culture. The admistration popularised the Wiphala flag, a flag representing the indigenous population of the Andes Mountains, making it Bolivia’s dual flag, and fought to preserve the indigenous population’s economic stability in the country’s rural and urban regions. During his premiership, citizens from predominantly indigenous neighbourhoods in La Paz told American newspapers how their quality of life improved under the Morales administration. 

However, all this was not enough to save Morales from being the victim of a coup. He and other MAS officials were forced to flee the capital, and eventually the country, in a bid for their and their families’ safety. On what grounds was Morales ousted? Those grounds are the suspicious claims made by his opponents to protect democracy. Alleged vote counting irregularities accompanied with Morales’ challenge on the constitution’s limit on a presidential term were at the core of the arguments made in favour of the coup. The American anti-socialist organisation OAS (no danger of bias there) have created the western media’s favourite weapon of choice against Morales: an election monitoring report which claims MAS tampered with the vote count to ensure a Morales victory.

The White House corroborated this report with an official statement that declared the ‘stepping down’ -notice the reluctance to admit a coup- of Morales ‘persevered democracy’. Elon Musk, that well-known benevolent foreign diplomat, was quick to take to Twitter and announce that ‘we coup who we want! Deal with it.’. Although not being the most formal of foreign policy bulletins, Musk’s tweet and support of the coup reveals its sinister nature and ulterior motive which is not to preserve democracy, but the global capitalist hegemony which Morales threatened.

It is no surprise that the US, a capitalist superpower, has been meddling in Bolivia and trying to grow its hegemony in South America, a continent some Americans refer to as their ‘backyard’. But Musk’s involvement reveals something important in these imperialist tactics. His interest can be accounted to being in opposition to one of Morales’ most famous economic policies. Nationalising Bolivia’s salt flats, which house most of the world’s lithium, and looking to trade this resource with the East and neglect the guidance of an imperialist organisation known as the IMF which would aim to ‘liberalise’ Bolivia’s trade, would have threatened Musk and the US. Musk’s car manufacturing company, Tesla, builds cars which run batteries. Lithium is needed to create these batteries. With a capitalist authority in Bolivia and the guidance of the IMF, Musk and the US would have been able to farm these resources at their delight with little to no regulation or accountability. Morales destroyed this possibility.

You would be forgiven then for now growing suspicious of America’s intentions to ‘preserve democracy’ in Bolivia. Suspicion grows when reading a Washington Post and MIT study which was published soon after the coup. The report confirmed that the OAS’ allegations against Morales are ‘unfounded’ and that their analysis found nothing irregular with the victory. Furthermore, the coup’s choice of leader, Jeanine Añez, gained only 4% of the popular vote. It seems strange she is the one chosen to preserve Bolivian democracy considering Morales gained 47% of the vote (the highest out of all the presidential candidate. It is clear that America’s involvement in this coup was to reinstate the imbalance of power in Bolivia between the working-class and capitalist elite, whilst also ensuring its hegemony over the region grew.

The effect of the coup on class and race issues in Bolivia cannot be ignored. Añez, the now president, represents Bolivia’s religious far-right. She has a history of prejudice against Bolivian natives as she has been recorded to have tweeted racial slurs where on one occasion, she called Morales a ‘poor Indian’. Her prejudice was confirmed when Upon entering the presidential palace, she waved a bible and the traditional Bolivian flag, something that unsettled much of the indigenous population who largely do not subscribe to a religion introduced to their country by colonialism. Furthermore, her new cabinet contained no politicians of indigenous descent and the parliament’s representation of indigenous peoples has slowly declined since her premiership.

Those who backed Añez, such as Luis Fernando Camacho, are Bolivian economic elites and members of far-right activist groups. It would not be hard to imagine that Camacho, who’s family’s gas company owes the Morales administration nearly $3 million in tax, will fare much better under their family member’s preferred government than Morales’. This marks a radical change in domestic policy which sees the state protecting the capitalist elite, rather than the working-class. Not only then will class warfare has been reinstated in Bolivia, but so to the systemic racism that plagues the native population.

To conclude, the removal of Morales from power in Bolivia remains completely unjustified and was a product of the country’s far-right, the supranational capitalist elite and the imperialist American state working together to remove a socialist party from power. The quality of life for those who benefited under Morales, namely the working-class and the indigenous population, will inevitably worsen under the new leadership which does not care for those groups concerns.

George Shealy

6 Sept 2020

POLSIS in Colour /

Race, class and the coup in Bolivia

Natacha Pisarenko