President Donald Trump celebrated a military coup in Bolivia that forced President Evo Morales, who recently won a fourth term, to resign on November 10.
“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’ departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” Trump declared. “The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.”
“These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere,” Trump added.
Moments after Trump’s statement praising the Bolivian military, Mexico announced it had granted Morales political asylum. Around two dozen lawmakers and officials from Bolivia already had sought refuge from Mexico.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, and Representatives Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were some of the few American progressive politicians to condemn recent developments, but their statements did not have the same clarity as British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s condemnation.
Corbyn reacted, “To see Evo Morales who, along with a powerful movement, has brought so much social progress forced from office by the military is appalling. I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence.”
General Williams Kaliman, leader of Bolivia’s armed forces, urged Morales to resign on November 10. Nonetheless, the State Department, as well as the vast majority of the establishment press, contend Morales was not overthrown in a coup. They describe current events as a “power void” or “power vacuum.”
On November 10, the New York Times wrote, “A leftist who had served longer than any other current head of state in Latin America, Mr. Morales lost his grip on power amid violent protests set off by a disputed election.” A CNN headline read, “Bolivian President Evo Morales steps down following accusations of election fraud.”
Similarly, NPR went with the headline, “Bolivian President Evo Morales Resigns Amid Widespread Protests Over Election Fraud.” The Washington Post, which has made “opposing” the death of democracy in the darkness a part of their corporate brand, attributed Morales’ resignation to a “scathing election report.”
“Morales’ stunning fall after nearly 14 years in office came hours after the Organization of American States said it had found ‘clear manipulation’ of the vote last month in which the elder statesman of the Latin American left claimed victory,” according to the Post.
But a statistical analysis conducted by the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR) debunked the OAS Electoral Observation Mission’s report, which failed to prove there were “widespread or systematic irregularities in the elections of October 20, 2019.”
News media like the Post unquestionably repeated the allegation that the “last five percent of the vote counting was especially ‘unusual’” because it “showed a significant increase for Morales and a sharp decrease” for right-wing challenger, Carlos Mesa.
As CEPR described, In Bolivia’s elections over the last decade and a half, votes from rural and peripheral areas of the country have tended to disproportionately favor Morales and the MAS-IPSP [Movimiento al Socialismo]. Because of logistical, technological, and possibly other limitations, these votes end up being computed later in the counting process.”
“This is true of both the quick and the official counts, which are both affected by the same geography and infrastructure. Rural and poorer places, which have tended to heavily favor Morales, are slower to transmit data or send tally sheets to the electoral tribunals,” CEPR’s analysis added.
Right-wing opposition forces, and their supporters in the U.S. government, benefited from the sheer ignorance of the electoral process in Bolivia, which was weaponized to further destabilize the country.
Bolivia uses what is known as a quick count. It involves a procedure that was adopted after OAS recommended Latin American countries implement such a system. The quick count allows the civil registry service to count the vast majority of nationwide votes so the public may be swiftly informed of the outcome, however, due to logistical limitations, it is not possible for this count to reflect 100 percent of the votes.
There is an official count—a second vote-counting system—that CEPR notes is the only count that is “legally binding under Bolivian law.” It is precise, more thorough, and takes longer.
To win an election, a presidential candidate “must win 50 percent of the vote or garner at least 40 percent of the vote with a 10 percentage point lead over the runner-up in the first round.”
“In these elections, the results of the official count generally coincided with those of the quick count, which ended once 95.63 percent of tally sheets were counted, with Morales having a lead of 46.86 percent to Mesa’s 36.72,” according to CEPR. “The final official count, with 100 percent of votes counted, resulted in Morales winning the election in the first round with 47.08 percent, to Mesa’s 36.51 percent.”
The Trump administration, OAS, and the right-wing opposition politicized the electoral observation process, despite the fact that the “legally binding official vote count did not stop for any significant period of time,” and trends reflected “well-known voting patterns that occur based on geography.”
Another argument deployed focused on the fact that the electorate defeated a referendum in 2016, which would have allowed Morales to run for a fourth term. The country’s high court later tossed out restrictions against seeking another term, which paved the way for his re-election campaign.
In an article for The Atlantic, Yascha Mounk, who previously was executive director of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change’s “Renewing the Center” team, called the ruling “bizarre” because it allowed Morales to “defy” average citizens fed up with his “authoritarianism.”
Jonah Shepp of New York Magazine wrote, “This unseemly end serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when world leaders remain in office for too long.”
Shepp offered a neo-colonial lecture, “Running a country for more than a decade has a tendency to make people more susceptible to authoritarian impulses, whether or not they started their careers as dictators. In recent decades, the world has witnessed both left-wing and right-wing leaders, elected in semi-democratic systems, grow increasingly paranoid and repressive after getting a little too comfortable in the presidential palace.”
“Pretty soon, the democratic institutions through which they came to power are eroded and disfigured to prevent their rivals from unseating them,” Shepp added.
The only problem is the lack of evidence in a widely manipulated OAS report that any kind of erosion of democratic institutions occurred in Bolivia to spark Morales’ downfall.
In a statement drafted by left-wing scholars and published by Verso Books, they make clear, “For weeks, rightwing protesters have targeted Morales’ party, the Movement Toward Socialism (or MAS in Spanish). They have burned down party members’ homes and offices, attacking their supporters.”
They continued, “Patricia Arce, mayor of Vinto, was kidnapped by a mob. They cut her hair, threw paint over her body, and forced her to walk barefoot, publicly humiliating her. The mob has blockaded the headquarters of Bolivia TV and the Patria Nueva radio station. At the time of this writing, right wing forces are ransacking and burning President Morales’ home and are trying to arrest him.
“No one resigns with a gun to their head,” the scholars stated. “Bolivia’s political and economic elite support this violence, as part of a resurgence of the far right in Latin America. Activists on the ground are currently getting smashed by these forces.”
In Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and now Bolivia, the world has witnessed coup attempts and violent opposition protests that reflect how the Trump administration has fully restored America’s Cold War policy of backing right-wing candidates and meddling in the politics of Latin American countries.
As Common Dreams’ Eoin Higgins highlighted, the Bolivia coup may be linked to a decision by Morales on November 4 to cancel a “December 2018 agreement with Germany’s ACI Systems Alemania (ACISA) came after weeks of protests from residents of the Potosí area. The region has 50 percent to 70 percent of the world’s lithium reserves in the Salar de Uyuni salt flats.”
Morales canceled the contract while Western press spread allegations that election fraud occurred in Bolivia. Industry players that rely on Bolivia’s lithium were apparently confident that “political calmness” would be restored soon enough, and they would return to business as usual.