By Leni Villagomez Reeves
Aren’t elections how we are supposed to choose our leader in a democracy? Only if the result is what the multinational corporate interests want. In Bolivia, a police/military coup overthrew the government just weeks after the election. Should we be thinking about what could happen in the United States in November?
On Oct. 20, Evo Morales Aymara won the election for the presidency of Bolivia. There is no dispute about that; the only question is by how much he won—was it a large enough margin to win outright or was a runoff election required?
Although there were nine presidential candidates, only Carlos Mesa was a serious challenger. When the final election results were published, Evo Morales had won 2,889,359 votes (47.08%). His strength was in the indigenous rural areas of Bolivia.
Mesa, who had been Bolivia’s president from 2002 to 2006 and whose base is urban, White and upper class, got 2,240,920 votes (36.51%). Bolivia’s constitution states that a candidate wins by having either greater than 50% of the votes or at least 40% with a 10% or more lead over the next candidate.
Violence versus the Democratic Process
Morales agreed to a binding audit of the vote by the Organization of American States (OAS), which historically has been a U.S.-controlled international body. (The United States provides 60% of its funding.) Mesa initially agreed to this also but withdrew his agreement.
When the OAS declined to certify the vote as accurate, Morales accepted this finding and called for new elections. Mesa and his right-wing supporters rejected the idea of a runoff election as provided by Bolivian law.
When the police and military withdrew protection from the elected government and its supporters, right-wing rioters attacked members and elected officials of the president’s MAS party. Williams Kaliman, the commander-in-chief of the military, called for Morales to resign on Nov. 10 and he did so, stating that it was to protect his supporters and their families from right-wing violence.
An example of this violence occurred when Patricia Arce, mayor of the city of Vinto and a MAS party member, was dragged through the streets and abused, while the police refused to intervene. Álvaro García Linera, the vice president; Adriana Salvatierra, the president of the Senate; Victor Borda, the leader of the Chamber; and Rubén Medinaceli, first vice president of the Senate, also all resigned. They and other members of the Bolivian government sought asylum in Mexico.
Jeanine Áñez, second vice president of the Senate even though her party got only about 4% of the vote in the last election, declared herself president in an unconstitutional action. She was taken by military escort to the Senate, where members of MAS, the majority party, were blocked by police and prevented from being present for the action without a quorum, which Áñez used to proclaim her mandate.
Áñez has appointed an all-White cabinet. She has issued a decree that exempts the military from any responsibility for its actions. In one of many incidents of military violence, on Nov. 15, security forces fired upon coca farmers protesting in Cochabamba, killing at least nine people and injuring many more.
UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet issued a statement saying that “while earlier deaths mostly resulted from clashes between rival protestors,” what is now occurring is “disproportionate use of force by the army and police.”
Also on Nov. 15, the Bolivian Army opened fire on a crowd of pro-Morales protesters in Sacaba, killing at least eight people initially; the armed forces continued to attack the supporters of their elected president, killing 23 people.
There has been ongoing protest, mostly by indigenous people in Bolivia, with violent repression by the armed forces. The U.S. press has declined to report this.
The Lithium Factor
Between 50% and 70% of the world’s lithium deposits are in Bolivia; there is a rising world demand for lithium. Earlier this year, Morales had signed an agreement with a German company for development of these deposits. Many people from the lithium-containing regions of Bolivia protested this agreement and on Nov. 4 Morales cancelled it.
The new plan was to process lithium within Bolivia to export it only in value-added form, such as batteries, with any agreements including more profit to the mostly indigenous populations of the lithium-containing areas, possibly with nationalization.
In February, a contract was signed with China as a 49% owner in a lithium industrialization plan including a Bolivian lithium-battery plant.
We are used to thinking of oil as the natural resource justifying anything—subversion, manipulation, invasion. Lithium is now also on the list.
The Racism Factor
In Bolivia, 68% of the population identifies as mestizo and 20% as indigenous, but 44% of census respondents indicated feeling part of some indigenous group, predominantly Quechua or Aymara. The history of Bolivia has been one of extreme racism against the indigenous population.
With an Aymara president, White and mestizo White-identifying Bolivians have felt threatened. White nationalism and U.S. imperialist desire to control the region for corporate interests and multinational neoliberalism drove the recent coup in Bolivia.
The U.S. Election
In some ways, we are facing a parallel situation in the United States in November. The difference is that it is an incumbent president whose supporters are overwhelmingly White, ranging from right wing to fascist; many of these supporters are armed, including, but not limited to, members of the police and armed forces.
If the election results are not what they want, will they accept the result? It is evident from President Morales’s statements and actions that he had faith in the processes of democracy—a faith that was betrayed.
Leni Villagomez Reeves is a local physician and activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.