Monday, November 11, 2019

The Coup that Wasn't, Maybe

Ex-president Carlos Mesa of the Revolutionary Left Front (Frente Revolucionário del Izquierdo), second-place finisher in the disputed Bolivian election, demonstrating last month. Photo by Juan Karita/AP via New York Times.

OK, let's do this. (With some uncredited help from blogfriend @pauloCanning who may show up to explain what I've gotten wrong here.)

Evo Morales, the Aymara coca workers' leader who came out of the Bolivian mountains in 1997 to overturn the ethnarchy of the white minority that had run the country since the colonial period, and finally became president in January 2006, was a hero, beyond question, and an extremely effective politician, whose administration accomplished enormous things in the way of promoting social justice and reducing inequality while growing the country's economy, admired by everybody from The Nation to the Washington Post as a model of how Latin American socialism can work.

He also just wanted to stay too long, for one thing (and not the most serious thing in my view; I'll get to others below). When he decided in the early days of his third term, in 2016, that he wanted to go for an unconstitutional fourth, and put the question to the people in a referendum, they disagreed. When he then went to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to ask if he could ignore the referendum and run for a fourth term anyway, and the Supreme Tribunal responded by abolishing term limits for everybody, people started getting upset. When he went ahead and ran this year, the election results and the hiccups in the counting process looked pretty shady:

With a preliminary vote count of 45% for incumbent president Evo Morales and 38% for his leading challenger, former president Carlos Mesa, after 83% of votes were counted, neither of the conditions for a first-round win [if a candidate has a majority, or a plurality of at least ten percentage points over the runner-up] appeared likely to be met. A second-round runoff vote between those two candidates would therefore be held on 15 December.[44] However, no further updates to the preliminary results were made after 19:40 hours local time on election day, which caused consternation among opposition politicians and election monitors deployed by the Organization of American States (OAS); Mesa described the suspension as "extremely serious" and spoke of manipulation, while the OAS said an explanation was essential. The electoral authorities explained that updates to the preliminary count had been halted because the official results were beginning to be released.[45]
On 24 October 2019, Morales officially declared outright victory following a counting process which gave him 46.83% of the vote against Mesa's 36.7%, with only few votes remaining to be counted.[46] Though the process was deemed controversial, Morales stated that he was still open to a second round runoff if the process later determined that he did not receive the required 10 percentage point victory margin needed in order to avoid a runoff. [46] Cómputo Electoral concluded its counting that very same day, with final results showing Morales with 47.07% of the vote and Mesa with 36.51%. This gave Morales a victory margin of more than 10 percentage points and thus prevented a second round runoff. This was the first election since his first win in which Morales obtained less than 50% of the vote. On the morning of the 25 October, the election results were made official. [3]
With a distance of 10.59 percentage points from Mesa, Morales had barely squeaked past the 10-point cutoff allowing him to avoid a runoff, and the mysterious stopping of the quick count, and the unexpectedly quick completion of the official count, and plenty of reports of irregularities, the story did not look right to some people, and some people took to the streets, and there was some violence:
The uncertainty over the results opened a new front in the type of violent political unrest that has rocked the region over the past few weeks. Photos and videos of bloodied protesters were posted on social media on Monday night.
Mr. Mesa blamed Mr. Morales for the clashes and acts of vandalism that were spreading late Monday night. Among the most dramatic was a fire that engulfed an election tribunal building in the southern city of Sucre.
Including the human rights campaigner and university rector Waldo Albarracín, hit by a tear gas cannister:
The dubious election wasn't the only problem. There were other things affecting right and left, white and indigenous, that had been coming to a head around the single issue of wildfires in the Amazonian east of the country, as bad as the ones we were all reading about in Brazil:
The opposition to Morales initially coalesced around the 21F Movement, consisting of disillusioned former MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) party loyalists, disaffected middle-class voters, and conservative elite sectors that were against Morales from the start. Unable to either halt his candidacy or unite behind a single challenger, this disparate alliance appeared to be running out of steam—until recently.
With no fewer than eight opposition candidates vying for the 21F vote, Morales has used the advantages of incumbency to consolidate his electoral strength. But in the final run-up to the election, the massive wildfires sweeping across eastern Bolivia have unleashed a political firestorm as well, with the potential to alter the electoral landscape. (Emily Achtenberg/NACLA)
Conservatives blamed the fires on the MAS distribution of land to poor farmers, and so did lowland indigens, resentful at the influx of highlanders from Morales's own group. For the disaffected left, it seemed as if big agribusiness and cattle ranching, encouraged by the Morales government, were the real culprit:
critics like Pablo Solón, an environmentalist and former UN ambassador for the Morales government, maintain that the role of migrant peasant farmers in Bolivia’s recent fires has been highly exaggerated. In past years, only around 25 percent of the country’s annual deforestation has been attributable to this sector. According to the respected Bolivian NGO Fundación Tierra, only 7 percent of the hectares titled between 2011 and 2018 in the Chiquitanía were granted to peasant communities, as compared to 57 percent to large- and medium- size companies.
For most environmentalists and progressive civil society organizations, the underlying causes of the fires can be traced to the activities of agribusiness and cattle-ranching elites who have been the primary beneficiaries of government policies to advance the agricultural frontier. Experts cite at least 10 agricultural laws and executive orders approved by Morales that have adversely impacted Bolivia’s forests and reserves, including—in addition to the two noted above—a series of amnesties for past illegal deforestation and major incentives for biodiesel and ethanol production....
The consequences can be seen in Bolivia’s rising deforestation rate, which has roughly doubled under Morales (comparing 2016-2018 with 2003-2005). In 2018, Global Forest Watch rated Bolivia as the fifth most deforested country in the world. Studies show that the livestock sector is responsible for 60 percent of Bolivia’s forest loss.
Most products generated by the destruction of Bolivia’s forests are bound for China, now Bolivia’s second largest trading partner after Brazil.  In August, as the Chiquitanía burned, Bolivia dispatched its first-ever shipment of beef (96 tons) to China. Indigenous and environmental protesters disrupted the official celebration of the event.
They'd begun to see Morales as a neoliberal, you should excuse the expression, despoiling Bolivia's national heritage for the China trade, and it really begins to look as if that was so.

Meanwhile the investigators from the Organization of American States were completing their work on the election, and came up with some disturbing conclusions:
The manipulations of the I.T. system are of such magnitude that they should be investigated in depth by the Bolivian State in order to get to the bottom of them and determine who is responsible for such a serious situation. The existence of physically altered tally sheets and forged signatures also undermines the integrity of the official count. Of the 176 tally sheets in the sample that had been counted in Argentina, 38.07% were inconsistent with the number of citizens casting a vote. That is to say, the tally sheets showed a higher number of votes than voters on the voter registration lists. Taking statistical projections into account, it is possible that candidate Morales came in first and candidate Mesa second. However, it is statistically unlikely that Morales obtained the 10% difference needed to avoid a second round. 
When the report was released on Sunday, Morales offered to re-run the election, but too late; the demonstrators were no longer willing to accept this, and the leadership of the Bolivian Workers' Center, the country's main trade union and normally (not always!) an ally of the socialist government, was the first major organ to suggest that Morales should resign. After three weeks of violently confronting demonstrators, police officers began deserting their posts and joining them. This is what was going on when General Williams Kaliman, commander of the armed forces, announced that the military chiefs too thought Morales should resign, and shortly afterwards Morales did so.

Upon which Twitter erupted, late Sunday, with denunciations of the US-sponsored rightwing coup d'état in Bolivia, on the basis of what increasingly seemed to me like no evidence at all. The military had not seized power or appointed a president, but left the question of what to do next to the Congress, at least so far, and there don't seem to be any even moderately rightwing forces ready to step in—the second largest party after Morales's "Movement Toward Socialism" is Mesa's "Revolutionary Left Front". There's no reason to think the US had any involvement, or even clear understanding that such a thing might be going on, given the ongoing destruction of the State Department and the CIA by Trump forces—who remembers the coup that Pompeo and Bolton actually did try to stage, in Venezuela last May, with no work beyond Bolton's tweeted entreaty
Bolton also addressed a tweet to the three men, declaring: “Your time is up. This is your last chance. Accept interim president Guaidó’s amnesty, protect the Constitution, and remove Maduro, and we will take you off our sanctions list. Stay with Maduro, and go down with the ship.”
and its utter, humiliating failure? The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has offered some very serious-looking statistical analysis claiming that the conclusions of the OAS investigation of the election are wrong, but it was issued before the OAS report was and doesn't address its findings of material voter fraud—forged signatures, ballots filled out in identical handwriting, precincts where there were more votes, 100% for Morales, than people, and the like, and compromised computer systems.

But all in all, the situation looks much more like a revolution, maybe a fairly half-assed one, than a coup, which the military stayed out of as long as it could, and has not really gotten into yet. If they do, I may change my opinion.

I'm afraid the coup story is going to stick around though, in the interim. I'm afraid we like the story of the Bolivian coup too much because it reinforces our prejudices not just against the CIA, which are god knows justified, but also against the agency of folks who live in foreign lands, as if they couldn't possibly make their own independent decisions. I just wanted to get this material down for future reference. I may have more later to say on the subject of people on the left believing things that aren't true because it feels right. Suffice it for now to say I wish we could stop doing it.

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