21 November 2019 10:10

The Wiphala Rebellion: Reflections on the coup in Bolivia in 5 points

What kind of things does the coup in Bolivia show us?

Photograph: AA

Ertan EROL

In Bolivia, following the elections taking place on 20 October, the opposition carrying out street demonstrations with allegations of electoral irregularities were busy waiting for the election evaluation report of the Organisation of American States (Organización de los Estados Americanos -OEA). Although Carlos Mesa, the runner up of the elections from the centre right, at the start accepted the international analysis, as time went by, he changed his rhetoric towards a call for the rerun of the elections. In this waiting process, in Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, the leader of the extreme right-wing, racist, anti-indigenous and misogynist Civic Committee was playing the role of the opposition leader, and was at the end, advocating that Mesa does not represent the opposition and that people should march on the capital, La Paz.

As the political crisis deepened with the news of indication of irregularities by the OEA report at a time when it was not even around yet, the police forces mutinying from 8 November in La Paz had provided opportunities for paramilitary groups led by Camacho to enter La Paz. These paramilitary groups formed barricades around La Paz and then proceeded to raid and burn the homes and workplaces of members and leaders of the MAS ruling party, kidnapping their relatives. Ministers and members of the assembly resigned one by one on the face of the situation.

On 10 November, Camacho and paramilitary groups accompanied by masked police marched on the presidential palace and was posing for the infamous flag-Bible photos having entered the palace to hand the so-called resignation to Evo Morales himself. With armed force’s advice to Morales to resign, the coup process was completed. 

Well, what kind of things does this coup show us?

  1. Firstly, it must be noted that Morales’ moves which paved the way for a fourth term in office based on the claims of his political rights being restricted despite the opposing verdict emerging from the 2016 referendum was subject to criticism even within MAS. Other prominent criticisms include also the absorption of emancipatory grass-roots movements such as the movement of indigenous people and women’s movement in Bolivia by MAS and that this violates the 2009 Constitution of Morales’ strong rule and the nature and customs of the dynamics of indigenous people’s organisation. Immediately after the demand for his resignation, the absence of any mobilisations that provide support to Morales on 10 to 11 November in regions like El Alto and Cochabamba where there is a concentration of indigenous population can be said to be indicative of this state.
  2. Despite this, it is necessary to recall that the main dynamics of the coup are independent of Morales’ decisions. Even if Morales were not to nominate himself for the last elections and the MAS candidate were to win the elections, the same sections would have expressed similar reactions. This is because the ethnic (ethnic division in Latin America at the same time also provides a projection of class division) and socioeconomic factors of this coup cannot be disregarded. Bolivia is an ethnically divided country and represented by Pando-Santa Cruz-Tarija and involving the eastern provinces of Bolivia where white and creole ethnicity is generally dominant, a separatist current called the crescent (half-moon -medialuna) is present. And this current hates the indigenous and mixed groups of people which comprise the majority of the country. Developments such as the reduction of absolute poverty during MAS rule, the increase in the rate of literacy and proliferation of health services did not affect these sections but the indigenous group and had meant nothing for the Half Moon groups. Since MAS rule represented a period which developed the socioeconomic and political status of the indigenous peoples and incorporated the culture and customs of the repressed and downtrodden indigenous peoples into the public space, it is regarded as a period of repression by the white in the country.
  3. However, it hasn’t been easy for the fascist and racist character of the coup to be exposed. All the while when the police forces, who were the main engine of the coup instead of the army, ripped and did away the flag of Wiphala which had become the second flag of the country and Wiphala was set alight, while Camacho declared expelling Pachamama from the Quemado palace with the Bible in his hands and mass exorcisms were conducted in Santa Cruz, the reaction of indigenous groups not to erupt surely could not have been unexpected. Especially from Wednesday onwards, the mobilisation of indigenous people who descended to La Paz from El Alto has been gaining strength. With the mass demonstrations setting off in Cochabamba and Potosi, it became clear that the police did not have any reservations about using violence. There are reports that tens of people lost their lives yesterday. We can assume that it will not be easy to repress the movement of indigenous peoples, currently called the Wiphala rebellion. It is important to highlight that this rebellion is not completely pro-Morales and MAS, and that it is against racism, discrimination engrained in Bolivian society and political institutions and against the coup. Indigenous peoples in Bolivia are not accepting the trampling of the rights they gained over 13 years.
  4. It is important also not to forget that in a situation where as well as the OEA report, independent reports showed that no bias has been committed in the elections and the deputy head of the Senate assumed the role in contravention to the Constitution, the credibility of new elections will be dubious. In the event of a fair election, the chances for MAS to win the elections are still high. In this process, both the intensity of mobilisation of indigenous peoples but also the response of the army, which hasn’t still been completely involved in the game, will be determining.
  5. Finally, the roles of the OEA and the US in the road paved for the coup and the attempts to legitimise the so-called pro-coup constitutional temporary government should not be denied. The OEA had leaked its report to the Bolivian opposition before its official declaration and opened the way for the coup dynamic. In this regard, the necessity of mechanisms of regional progressive mechanisms should be underlined once again.