Bolivia: reactionary coup forces Evo Morales to resign

On 10 November at 4.50pm, Bolivian president Evo Morales announced his resignation. It was the culmination of a coup that had been brewing for some time. A police mutiny, sharpshooters firing on mine workers, an OAS report questioning the validity of the elections and finally the army “suggesting” he should step down were just the final acts over the weekend. We have opposed this reactionary coup from the beginning, while at the same time pointing out how the conditions for it were laid.

The immediate sequence of events started with the police mutiny on Friday 8 November. Starting with the Cochabamba UTOP (riot police), by Saturday 9 November it had spread to eight out of the country’s nine departments. Police forces mutinied, refused to continue operating on the streets and locked themselves in their barracks. The national commander of the police tried to minimise the situation and denied there was a mutiny. The police had simply “gone into their barracks,” he said. Shortly afterwards, the army declared that they would “not come out on the streets”. They did not yet call for Evo Morales to resign, but clearly they were not prepared to defend him either. The government had lost control of the state forces of repression.

In this situation, Huanuni miners who had travelled to the capital to oppose the coup decided to withdraw. A caravan, which was marching from Potosí to the capital in opposition to Evo Morales, was ambushed at Vila Vila. In reaction, 2,500 cooperative miners from Potosí decided to support the caravan and remove the blockade. In turn, they were attacked at Challapata by sharpshooters, leaving three miners injured. These incidents provoked indignation in Potosí. The mineworkers’ union at the huge San Cristobal mine issued a statement instructing all off-duty miners to go and support those under attack. The Departmental Mineworkers’ Union adopted the same position.

Then, at 2am on Sunday 10 November, the Organisation of American States issued a preliminary statement of the commission auditing the 20 October elections. The official result of the audit was scheduled for 12 November. The statement declared that it could “not validate the results of the election” and it “recommended” that new elections should be held and that the electoral body should be replaced. This was a serious blow to Evo Morales who had insisted, against the opposition (which demanded either a second round or his resignation) that everyone had to wait for the OAS audit and that he would respect its results. The OAS clearly brought forward its statement in order to precipitate the end of Morales.

A victory for reaction

Evo Morales then called a press conference, by which time he had already lost the support of the COB trade union bureaucrats, who had been loyal to his government all along. At 7am, Morales announced the annulment of the elections and called for new elections to be organised, with the aim of “pacifying the country.'' OAS general secretary Almagro insisted that Morales should stay in power in the meantime and finish his term in office. What the imperialist Almagro wanted was an orderly transfer of power, not to leave the door open to the idea that overthrowing governments by mass action was acceptable. In effect, at this time, Morales was relying on the support of the OAS.

Bolivia coup Image fair useOn 11 November, Evo Morales announced his resignation. It was the culmination of a coup that had been brewing for some time, assisted by Morales' ruinous policy of compromise with capital and imperialism / Image: fair use

Of course, the right-wing opposition led by Camacho, the leader of the Santa Cruz “Comité Cívico” and representative of the reactionary cruceña oligarchy, did not accept these terms. The reaction felt strong, having large numbers mobilised on the streets, well-organised fascist gangs, the support of large sections of the police and the acquiescence of the army high command. They demanded the resignation of Morales and were prepared to obtain it by any means necessary. The forces of reaction knew what they had to do to achieve their aims and were moving forward step by step. Meanwhile, the government vacillated, retreated, offered concessions and was tied up in constitutional and legal knots of its own making.

Mesa, the opposition candidate who had fought Morales in the 20 October election, who represented a more “moderate” wing of the bourgeois opposition, also rejected the call for new elections by Morales, and insisted that he had to resign. The difference between Mesa and Camacho was one of method. While Mesa wanted an “orderly and constitutional” coup under his control, Camacho wanted a sharp clean break under his.

In the early afternoon, the army announced it was intervening in the situation in order to prevent “irregular armed groups from attacking the population”, in reference to the sharpshooters attacking the Potosí miners. They were breaking the chain of command and acting on their own accord, no longer obeying the orders of the president. Shortly afterwards, in an official statement they “suggested” Morales should resign. The coup was completed.

A fatal policy of concessions

Evo Morales’s presidential plane left the El Alto airport. There were rumours that he was heading for Argentina, but that at the last minute he was denied entry into its airspace. In the end, the plane landed near Cochabamba, in the Chapare region where he comes from and which is strongly loyal to him. At 4:50pm, Evo Morales made a statement from Chimoré in the Trópico de Cochabamba region, announcing he was resigning as president. He was followed by his vice-president Alvaro García Linera who also resigned. During the day, dozens of MAS officials had resigned, some as rats abandoning a sinking ship, others as a result of threats by reaction (in some cases their homes were set on fire, or their families threatened or kidnapped). Reaction had won the day.

We have opposed the developing coup from day one and argued strongly that it could only be fought off by revolutionary means (see and The government of Evo Morales has done precisely the opposite.

It is important to understand how we got to this situation. In the previous election in 2014, Evo Morales still got over 63 percent of the vote, but now it had slumped to 47 percent. We need to be clear that it was the policy of class conciliation and concessions to the capitalists, multinationals and landowners that eroded the support for his government on the part of workers and peasants.

Just to give a few examples. Morales had made a deal with the Santa Cruz agribusiness, by making all sorts of concessions (lifting a ban on GM crops, allowing for further deforestation, deals with China for the export of meat). So confident was he that he had won enough support that, at the opening rally of his election campaign held in Santa Cruz, he greeted the “Santa Cruz businessmen… who always propose solutions for the whole of Bolivia”, and boasted about the deals with China for the export of meat, soybeans and quinoa.

In Potosí, we have seen a mass mobilisation against Evo Morales that was not the same in social composition as the reactionary movement in Santa Cruz. There are some reasons for this. Here there was a grievance against the granting of a lithium mining concession to a German multinational. The contract gave ACI Systems (a company with no previous experience in the field) a 70-year contract (as opposed to standard contracts of 30 years in other Latin American countries) and full de facto control over the management of the company, which would be a joint venture with the state. This was seen by many as handing over the country’s natural resources to a foreign multinational, by a government which claims to be anti-imperialist, with little benefits for the local population. The contract was one of the main reasons for mass, anti-government protests in Potosí, which had started before the election. Finally, on Saturday 9 November, Evo Morales issued a decree rescinding the concessions. It was a case of too little, too late.

To add insult to injury, Evo Morales appointed as a top candidate for Senator for Potosí a mine owner and former right-wing politician, Orlando Careaga. He had been a part of the hated MNR of Goñi Sánchez de Losada, overthrown by the revolutionary movement of workers and peasants in 2003. Careaga then became a senator for a different right-wing party in 2004-09, while Morales was already president. His appointment was opposed by local MAS operatives and was received with anger by social movement organisations. In Chuquisaca, MAS candidate Martha Noya Laguna, had been a vice-minister under Goñi. All of this contributed to alienating the MAS from its own social base, as well as allowing for the development of a mass movement against it in departments which had solidly supported Evo in the past.

In a similar vein, Evo Morales linked his fate to the right-wing, reactionary, pro-imperialist general secretary of the OAS, Almagro. Morales lost the 2016 referendum on constitutional reform, which was called to allow him to stand again for reelection. The result, 51 percent against, 48 percent in favour of scrapping term limits, was already an indication of the loss of popular support for his government. Then, the Bolivian Supreme Court argued that standing for reelection was a human right and therefore Evo Morales could stand again. Luís Almagro came out publicly to back this decision, which incurred the wrath of the whole of the Bolivian opposition. In this way, Evo tied his fate to the will of Almagro. The OAS was invited, by Morales, to oversee the elections, and then when the opposition cried fraud, Morales himself called on the OAS to carry out an audit. It was the logical continuation of his policy of concessions to the capitalists and imperialism, and one that cost him dearly.

Workers and peasants: revive your revolutionary traditions!

The victory of reaction in Bolivia will have an impact beyond its borders. It has already emboldened the reactionary opposition in Venezuela. In Bolivia itself, there is an open struggle between different wings of the ruling class. Camacho and the cruceña oligarchy want a clean slate, the arrest and trial of all MAS officials, a transitional government involving themselves, the police and the army, and elections on terms favourable to them. Meanwhile, Mesa is frantically scrambling for a “constitutional thread”, with the current parliament in charge of calling new elections. Whatever the outcome of this struggle, in Bolivia the right wing has taken over and it will form a government (legitimised by elections at some point), which will unleash a wave of attacks against workers, peasants, the indigenous people, and will destroy any of the conquests of the last 14 years that still remain.

Pro Evo demo Image Canal 7 de JujuyPro-Evo demonstrators / Image: Canal 7 de Jujuy

The image of “civico” leaders Camacho and Pumari entering the Palacio Quemado (the former seat of government in La Paz) Bible in hand and with an old-style Bolivian flag (as opposed to the indigenous whipala, which has now been lowered from all official buildings) gives you a clear idea of the character of the forces behind this coup.

Workers and peasants in Bolivia will have to organise the fightback, and in order to do so it is necessary to learn the lessons of the MAS government. It was the policy of concessions to the capitalists, multinationals and agro-business, which eroded the base of support for the government, thus paving the way for the coup. The capitalists, while taking any concessions Morales was prepared to give them, were never fully reconciled with the idea of a government led by an indigenous trade unionist, a government that was a by-product of the revolutionary uprisings of 2003 and 2005. They just waited for the right moment to strike back and reclaim power. The overthrow of the Evo Morales government is yet again confirmation of the bankruptcy of reformist methods.

The conclusion is clear: the only way to guarantee permanent gains for the workers’ and peasants is not through agreements with the capitalists, bankers, landowners and multinationals but rather by the revolutionary mass mobilisation of the oppressed in order to break the economic power of the capitalist oligarchy and imperialism. Only by expropriating the means of production, and the land and mineral resources from the ruling class under workers’ control, can they be used, as part of a democratic plan of production to satisfy the needs of the majority. The Bolivian workers and peasants have proud revolutionary traditions. They need to recover the spirit and the programme of the Pulacayo Theses, adopted by the miner’s union in 1946: “the proletariat of the underdeveloped countries is forced to combine the struggle for bourgeois-democratic tasks with the fight for socialism.”