Evo Morales was the first indigenous president of Bolivia, a country in which 41% of the population is indigenous, the highest percentage in the Americas. Morales won election as president three times, and then in 2016 asked voters to approve a referendum that would have allowed him to run for a fourth term. That measure narrowly lost, but then the Bolivian Supreme Tribunal of Justice ruled that term limits, for president and all other Bolivian offices, were a violation of candidates human rights, thereby permitting Morales to run in the 2019 election.
Morales won reelection in the October 20, 2019 election receiving 47% of the vote. His closet competitor got 35%. Under Bolivian election law, there is no need for a runoff if the top candidate either receives a majority or comes in ten points ahead of the next candidate. However, Carlos Mesa, the runner-up, and many of his supporters protested that the results were fraudulent, since Morales had been less than 10% ahead when the counting was briefly halted. Later results, from rural areas that always have been highly supportive of Morales, put him over the 10% margin. The Organization of American States, which is ostensibly an entity in which all American governments (except for Cuba) are equally represented, but which in fact has always been controlled by the United States, then expressed “its deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results after the closing of the polls.” This was not the first time that the OAS falsely reported electoral fraud to further US efforts to undermine leftist governments, or ignored electoral fraud when perpetrated by rightwing parties.
In fact, the change in Morales’ vote percentage from early to late results was not drastic. It was relatively small and reflected the different levels of support for the two main candidates in early reporting urban and late reporting rural areas. At no point did the OAS provide any evidence or a statistical analysis to support its claim of fraud by Morales. The vote tally sheets are available on line, posted by the Bolivian electoral authority, for anyone to access and analyze. Neither the OAS nor anyone else has done so.
The OAS charge led Morales to offer to hold a new election, which would be supervised by a new electoral authority. Despite that concession the head of Bolivia’s military, general Williams Kaliman, called for Morales to resign, which he and his vice president did an hour later. Clearly, that rapid resignation was a response to the threat of military action. This was a coup. The military and national police then blocked legislators from Morales’ party from entering Congress. As a result, the minority of rightwing legislators became a majority of those present and was able to approve Senator Jeanine Anez’s declaration of herself as president.
What will happen next? Most often coups are followed by dictatorships, not new elections that respect the wishes of the majority. The US and most European and Latin American governments are expressing support for the coup and for Anez’s self-appointed government. This could allow her to remain in power for years. If there is an election it likely will not be free and fair, and a rightwing candidate will win. Anez or a similar successor then would be able to continue their efforts to undo the reforms and social programs Morales instituted.
Indigenous Bolivians as well as the young now have had thirteen years of experience in being listened to by their government and being able to participate in and benefit from the political process. So far, they are not accepting the coup and the policy changes instituted by Jeanine Anez. Their protests and strikes are being met with violent repression. While there is not yet a comprehensive casualty list, at least 33 Bolivians have died since the coup at the hands of the military and the police (November 27).
The final outcome of the coup will be determined by the balance of forces. On the one side are the rightwing parties, the rich Bolivian elite that wants to regain its privileges, the military and police, and the governments of the US, most of Europe and Latin America. On the other side are the majority of Bolivians who approve of the reforms that Morales instituted during his three terms as president and who want to remain able to affect their country’s and their own futures. In terms of force and power, the pro-coup actors have an enormous advantage. The pro-coup government also will be able to draw on an array of strategies developed by authoritarian governments throughout the world, including the Republicans in the US, to suppress voting and to demoralize and alienate the mass of citizens. However, if the majority is able to maintain its solidarity and to keep their focus on the stakes involved, they can use demonstrations and strikes to challenge the new, unelected government and to preserve the gains that they achieved under Morales.