Bolivia: perspectives of the coup resistance

We publish here a translation of an article written by Lucha de Clases, the Bolivian section of the IMT, originally published 18 November after the Sacaba massacre in which nine peasants were killed. Since then, there has been another massacre, in which eight people were killed by the army and the police as they forcibly lifted the blockade of the Senkata gas plant near the capital La Paz. Yesterday, the MAS parliamentary group made a deal with the coup government of Añez to elect a new presidency of the chamber and moved a draft law for the calling of new elections, which starts with a recognition of the legitimacy of the coup government.

Read the original in Spanish here |

We have to go back in history to the final days of Goni's government to find a precedent for the Sacaba massacre in which nine coca growers lost their lives in clashes with the police and armed forces. However, the similarities with October 2003 end with the death count.

Añez has passed a supreme decree that frees the military from criminal prosecution for repression. Not even Goni went that far. This shows that the armed forces are willing to stay on the streets in exchange for impunity, a common word being used in the solutions to the crisis. On 29 October 2003, the armed confrontation between the Red Ponchos of Warisata and the army ended with the death of a soldier and four civilians. The next day, the COB called the general strike, in which the poor and working people of different organisations (unions, transport, small artisans, etc.), the left and the bulk of the urban middle class joined the protests. Today, we have nine dead in a single day and only on one side, but it has deepened the divisions in the resistance to the coup.

The masses confront the coup

The following screenshot of the latest report of the Bolivian Highway Administration (ABC) shows 94 roadblocks in the country that are concentrated where there is greater support for Evo, that is, around the city of La Paz, among the ayllus [peasant communities] from the government headquarters [in La Paz] to Oruro and around Cochabamba, mainly in the coca-growing area. But outside the main highway there are only sporadic blockages and signs of demobilisation. The latest statement from the COB [Trade Union Confederation] outrageously calls for “social peace”, “pacification” and stepping down mobilisations, while [COB Executive Secretary] Huarachi has declared that Evo "is part of the past."

Among the peasant-indigenous organisations throughout the country, the declarations of local and regional bodies that reject mobilisation has increased. Only in the southern area of Cochabamba was there a march demanding the withdrawal of the military after the Sacaba massacre. Under these conditions, the military is encouraged to continue the repression.

Unions and associations of civil servants of many public service companies (ENTEL, EPSAS, BOA, Banco Unión etc.) and also production companies (Vinto Metallurgical Company) have mobilised, but only to reject managers and trade unionists of the MAS, denouncing abuses, deductions and all the repressive measures that the government had subjected them to. Among the miners, only one delegation from Coro Coro is in El Alto participating in the mobilisations. In the crucial Huanuni and Colquiri mines, not even fear of attacks on job security by the right is enough to mobilise the rank-and-file miners. On the other hand, in Potosí, Sucre, Beni and in all the municipalities of Santa Cruz, civil servants, the opposition and MAS have reached peace agreements to elect new mayors and governors, from MAS or the opposition, replacing the government officials who had resigned. Similar agreements are being developed to unblock the roads to Sucre. Moreover, the MAS governor of Chuquisaca, in response to a direct question about whether he recognised Añez as president, has declared that "Evo left, the work now is for social peace."

The situation in El Alto

Although the press tends to exaggerate, it is clear that in El Alto the movement is weakening as it becomes more radical. People from several neighbourhoods and from some of the 14 districts of the city, have gone out to the streets to unblock them. The neighbours applauded the military that unblocked the road to Copacabana. All the indigenous collectives that swelled the ranks of the wiphalas uprising now distance themselves from a movement that “would restore power to the whites” who, they say, “ruled using Evo as a screen”. This radicalised the sector that is mobilised for the return of Evo, digging ditches to prevent access of deliveries of food, and gas and fuel from the Senkata plant, and bringing reinforcements from some other provinces.

In an opinion piece in Telesur, the journalist Marco Teruggi, who covered the mobilisations of El Alto, has summarised the situation in an acute way, stating:

“[T]he figure of Evo Morales, his defence and his return, are not unifying demands, at least for the moment. Secondly, the leadership in the movement is suffering, in many cases, from exhaustion and divisions.”

In fact, amongst the demands of the last cabildo [council] of El Alto there is no mention of the return of Evo, which is instead the main demand of the coca growers [in Cochabamba]. It is appropriate to ask how this is possible, in relation to what was known yesterday as the "government of social movements", and under what conditions this scenario favours the coup d'etat.

A prior defeat

In October 2003, the call for the nationalisation and industrialisation of natural resources unified a broad movement. It included the indigenous rebellion led by Felipe Quispe, the political and social opposition embodied by Evo and MAS, the instinctive anti-imperialism of the masses, the rejection by the middle class of a corrupt regime, servile to foreign capital, and the struggle of miners, like those of Huanuni. That revolutionary uprising, which overthrew Goni and Mesa, could have led to a revolutionary victory, but a leadership with that perspective was missing (see here). The movement achieved a partial victory, stopping the export of gas, but the seizure of power failed.

Evo channelled this genuine insurrection into the framework of a Constituent Assembly to restructure the bourgeois state. That meant that the state nationalised a dozen service companies and the permanence of multinationals was agreed under the new conditions of state co-participation. While the income of the state multiplied and social programmes were implemented, the limits of Evo's policy were evident only to small groups in the vanguard, which in most cases were locked in the sterility of sectarianism.

To the extent that the absence of a political leadership (a labour party or a left-wing tendency in MAS) did not allow the unification of the peasant, regional and workers’ struggles that have taken place throughout these years, demanding (with confused programmes or sometimes only by shouting) the deepening of the "process of change", Evo acted without real pressure from his left flank, seeking to come closer to the bourgeoisie. These approaches intensified when the price of raw materials began to fall and concessions to multinationals were paid with cuts to government, municipalities and universities budgets. In order to do this, the MAS, as we often denounced, became a police persecution apparatus against unions and social leaders.

With unions and organisations under strict control, with the bourgeoisie reinforced and brought closer to the government and the MAS bureaucracy wielding a level of power and reserves of money never seen before in our history, corruption cases inevitably proliferated. All this has made us talk about a bourgeois coup in the form of a "colour revolution" (as the overthrowal of a series of Eastern European regimes were known throughout the 2000s). In these instances, mass movements, with the participation of the working class – or unimpeded due to their apathy – when the possibility of a leftist way forward was not available, raised slogans for "freedom and democracy" and "against corruption" that allowed the rise of the bourgeoisie to full control of the state.

Evo's strategy

In an interview with La Jornada de México, Evo said:

“Right now I realise […] that with our economic policies we have fed the private sector so that some of them conspire. I don't think all of them are doing it.”

It is the first time that he has recognised the role of the bourgeoisie in the coup and his own role in strengthening the bourgeoisie. Later he expressed concern that the country is heading towards a civil war by stating that “if institutions such as the armed forces do not guarantee democracy, that means that the people will be forced to arm themselves. We would not want that. I do not want that personally.”

A week before Evo's forced resignation, we raised the perspective of arming the people as a slogan, together with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie who are carrying out the coup. However, Evo is stirring up the fear of violence (which he does not want) in order to offer himself as the only one who can avoid it through negotiation. It is nothing more than the continuation of the same strategy of threats and dialogue that has led him to exile in Mexico.

Evo Morales Image PoREvo's mistakes in government led to the coup, and his mistakes afterwards are inhibiting the resistance / Image: PoR

Lucha de Clases Bolivia were the only ones to anticipate the coup by the armed forces when, with subtle differences, all the organisations of the Bolivian left were sure that they were going to stay loyal to the government. Our warning came, among other reasons, from the fact that Evo himself had repressed a movement of low-ranking officers in 2014 who demanded the “decolonisation” of the military high command.

A break in the armed forces along class lines in general is possible only if the working class or the peasantry have a determined leadership and are seen as winning the battle. This is not the situation we have in Bolivia. There have been cases of fraternisation of the military with the wiphalas uprising and mobilisations that chanted "military yes, police no". But other than signs of discontent among the troops, they seem to be able to control the situation, avoiding, where possible, the use of weapons, using a certain authority that the armed forces maintain within the peasantry, given that it is common in Bolivia to employ military personnel in public works and other tasks in support of peasant communities. This lower profile in El Alto, in relation to the brutal repression in Sacaba, shows that the military is leaving open the possibility of intervening, but only to consolidate the coup with a military government without Añez – if Añez proves unable to control the situation.

The bourgeoisie in government

Evo's attempt to divide the bourgeoisie between coup plotters and patriots interested in doing business, which restates his strategy of punishing the former and "wooing” the latter as he did after 2008, demonstrates that he is making the worst strategic mistake, which is to not know his enemy. If all the business associations have recognised Añez, it is because the “progressive bourgeoisie” never existed and because the bourgeoisie knows that, given this extreme polarisation, the only promise Evo could not fulfill is precisely the only one he makes: achieving social peace on terms that benefit the bourgeoisie. Only if Añez proves unable to crush the mobilisations will the bourgeoisie open up to a return, with conditions, for Evo to bring his supporters under control. But they would do so reluctantly and with the fear of future convulsions against any government that follows the current one.

At the moment, Evo's strategy slows the development of resistance to the coup and exposes it to the dead ends of the brutal repression of Sacaba, or a radicalism that divides El Alto. In San Julián, the peasants are continuing one of the few blockades in Santa Cruz, but without any measures against the agricultural companies who, a few days before the coup, had threatened to take over in a statement. The occupation of companies in itself would not be a sufficient slogan to remove the obstacles to a mobilisation of the working class. So that the working class understands that it is fighting for its interests and not simply for a return of the MAS bureaucracy to power, actions such as these should be accompanied by the establishment of popular assemblies and forms of self-management. However, it is indicative that not even where the seed of a revolutionary counteroffensive had been planted has it been allowed to flourish.

Thus, the eastern bourgeoisie that controls the government is only minimally affected by the situation in the country. As you can see from the transport report, there is movement and regular work in the east. The multinationals in hydrocarbons, mining and food in Tarija, Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca and Potosí are still fully operational. Agribusinesses and ranchers will have more difficulty with the domestic market, but the minister who has been appointed to the economy department has already announced the total liberalisation of exports, which they were asking for from Evo, and the rail, river and land routes to Brazil, Argentina and the Atlantic are open. This sector has not suffered significantly, and especially as the bourgeois faction is in command today, Evo's strategy to wear down Añez with the siege of La Paz and Cochabamba weakens.

Evo against MAS

Although it seems counterintuitive, Evo's first target is the MAS and its parliamentary group. From Mexico, in different interviews, Evo said that “MAS is not a party, it is a social movement”, that he is the only one that can negotiate with these movements and that a dialogue without him has no value. This discredits the negotiations that have been carried out by the MAS parliamentarians and those that have allowed the replacement of governors and mayors of MAS in almost the entire country. In Yapacaní, the mediation of the departmental assembly member of MAS in Santa Cruz, Edwin Muñoz, had reached an agreement to unblock the roads with the simultaneous withdrawal of the military. But, half an hour after the agreement, Evo supporters had blocked the road again.

As he told CNN, Evo proposed his return to Bolivia without ambitions of being reinstated in the presidency, nor to be a candidate for the next elections, but only to participate in a “national dialogue” with movements, parties, civil servants, international mediators and the de facto government to pacify the country. This dialogue starts from the recognition of Añez as an interlocutor, and therefore gives legitimacy to the regime that emerged from the coup. Evo has the sole objective of returning to Bolivia, because he knows that if he does not achieve it now, with the guarantee that he will not be prosecuted by the coup plotters, he may not be able to return for a long time. He wants to keep hold of the reins of MAS, taking away its party cover to explicitly convert it into a private army of the leader and use it to prepare for his return in 2025.

What will the parliamentary group do?

The MAS legislators at all levels are, however, under a lot of pressure: from their divided support base, from the calls for "pacification", from the threats made by the government and the armed forces and from the latent danger of civil war. A high-ranking peasant leader of MAS in Santa Cruz told the regional television station that one must assume defeat, resolve the contradictions of the process from which the opportunists surrounding Evo fed on and take the MAS in a new direction. Such a process, if it happened, would be productive. The next few days will be very important to understand which current will prevail and, consequently, what the MAS will become and in which ways this struggle will evolve.

Evo says that until the legislature discusses his resignation letter, it is not yet effective. In fact, the mechanism of constitutional succession that has been used has been that of the “definitive absence” of the president, exiled in Mexico. These statements by Evo serve rather to put his parliamentary group to the test. MAS [which has a two-thirds majority in the chamber of deputies and the senate] has called a session on Tuesday to discuss the call for new elections. They should discuss a series of issues that outline a possibility of MAS negotiating with Añez. The government for its part has “found” in the jurisprudence mechanisms of formal legality that would allow it to call the elections by decree. Combining this with direct threats of repression and international pressure, the government wants to force the MAS parliamentary group to negotiate, but thus Evo's strategy would be greatly affected.

MAS parliamentarians and senators have a two-thirds majority but very few options. If they seek to support their actions with meetings with local party authorities and mobilisation leaders, this could mean that they do not comply with Evo's line. But if they do this there will be consequences. The most immediate is to leave in the hands of the government all tasks for preparing the new elections. In Bolivia today the colonialist bourgeoisie is in charge, accustomed to using agricultural hitmen, colonial abuse and with little inclination toward strategic subtleties. Evo would like to delay the whole process so that he could return acclaimed as a peacemaker, but Añez’s own strategy is one of relying on the fatigue of the public, so that exasperated people call for harsh measures from the military. The appointment of a general to the management of the National Hydrocarbons Agency, to guarantee the supply of fuel, is a clear step in this direction. MAS parliamentarians all reflect the bureaucratic relationship we have described between the party and the social movements. None of them are fiery militants. And as the days go by, this will determine their attitude.

Class independence

It is criminal that the COB has joined the coup-plotters’ game. Calling for social peace is already having the effect of demobilising the masses. But to meet with the government, as Huarachi did on 17 November, is to move towards active collaboration with the coup. Worst of all, while calling for a peaceful end to the coup, the union bureaucracy is declaring war on the workers. The last pronouncement of the COB warned that it will not allow “radical sectors or groups” to “fracture the trade union movement”, by adopting positions contrary to the line dictated by Huarachi and his supporters. Those who follow us know that we have long defined the current leadership of the COB as the most shameful in the history of the Bolivian trade union movement. But this evaluation falls short now.

Alto protest deaths Image fair useThe COB's participation in the coup-plotters' game is a scandal, as is the MAS' slogan for 'social peace' / Image: fair use

Our comrades have intervened in some grassroots union assemblies and, given the refusal to consider our proposals in favour of a revolutionary solution to the crisis and for fighting the bourgeois coup, we decided to participate in the debate on social peace and proposed that a strike should be called for the withdrawal of the military from the streets. This is a minimum objective for which we have received open harassment from this wrecking bureaucracy.

An independent intervention of the working class would completely change the situation. Significantly, Añez has not yet been able to appoint the ministers of mining, labour and education. The bourgeoisie and the military cannot allow the working class to "misunderstand" the issue of democracy in the sense of freedom to fight, nor can it make concessions or attack the working class now – at least not without the support of the union bureaucracy, which has just been guaranteed. Only by combining the workers' struggle with the indigenous struggle, to which the plurinational state has not given clear answers, can the coup be effectively fought.

The working class is not cynical or blind. The mistakes of the past and the crimes of the present bureaucrats and opportunists prevent them from mobilising, and even less if the mobilisation is “for Evo”. However, by combining minimum objectives such as military withdrawal with sectional demands such as, for example, that public companies are managed by the workers themselves and not by new auditors appointed by Añez, the working class would respond. Beyond the analysis and recognition of the situation, we are committed to this perspective, because it is here that the cadres that will lift the labour movement out of the largest debacle of the union bureaucracy and the left in the history of our country will emerge.