The crisis of hegemony in Bolivia

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The coup demonstrated that the strategy of accepting the “rules of the game”, considering bourgeois democracy as an end in itself, can jeopardize social gains accumulated over the years

By Aldo Duran Gil*

The violent days of the right with fascist traits in October and November 2019 were aimed at provoking the resignation of Evo Morales from the presidency of Bolivia. Morales was practically forced to leave office so that the opposition would stop burning public buildings, raping and torturing militants, civil servants who were members of the ruling Socialism Movement (MAS) party, with the connivance of the police and the army. This coup and the current Bolivian political situation, full of uncertainty about the immediate and mid-term outcome, deserve a critical reflection on the character of the coup that can also be read as an introduction to a deeper analysis of the character of the reforms and transformations. socioeconomic measures carried out by the Morales government in the country since 2006.

an unprecedented violence

The terrible violence unleashed by the fascist opposition was something unprecedented in Bolivia insofar as – unlike that perpetrated by the regionalist autonomist opposition on the occasion of the failed coup d'état in 2008-2009 (although the racist violence had the same target, the humiliating, persecuting, repressing, torturing, violating and murdering indigenous peoples and poor peasants, poor urban workers of peasant and indigenous origin) –, developed patterns of violence and destabilizing attacks similar to those perpetrated by the Venezuelan opposition in recent years, in the so-called guarimbas in 2017.

Planned attacks on multiple selective targets using at least two civil-military action fronts. A paramilitary-type shock group, much of it recruited from among the lumpen (which includes criminals), assassins or militiamen, paid mercenaries led by a hidden command, usually composed of militants who are members of Santa Cruz's autonomist civic groups, police officers, members of the Army and foreign mercenaries (as in the case of 2008-9, in in which fascist Croatian mercenaries participated to overthrow the government), advised by the US embassy with the support of groups of Colombian assassins and US NGOs that call themselves defenders of democracy, but whose violent destabilizing actions against the government took on an open form.

Another civil-type group, basically composed of members of the white or mestizo conservative middle class, who however ideologically consider themselves white, who praise and hoist the national tricolor flag (similar to the political behavior of the conservative middle class in Brazil), which moves in the streets to give body and cover to the violent actions of the riot police, commanded by the first group with the aim of legitimizing the wave of violence against the government and the pseudo-dictatorship of Morales.

This group includes the leaders of the opposition parties (Mesa, Costas, Ortiz, Medina and above all Camacho) who were dispersed and were unified precisely on the day of the counting of the elections (October 20), after which the STE was accused of fraud , when it had a 24-hour “blackout” when the election results were made public.

Even with the differences in attack tactics between the opposition parties and movements against the government, they tend to unify in the strategy imposed by the leader of the civic movement of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Camacho, who adopts fascist and radical political postures defending the slogan of Morales' resignation with the aim of "pacifying the country". This mediocre opposition guy, politically unknown, surfed in the Morales anti-government movement and who appears to be reaching more radical positions than Mesa, was manufactured by the aforementioned opposition groups at a time of the political tactic crisis of the opposition and when they realized that Morales had in fact won the electoral contest.

Anyway, Camacho is nothing more than a political fabrication of the US government, being an ace in the sleeve, and that is articulated to the interests of the big and medium capital of the agribusiness and to the economic and political interests of the United States. Hence his radical intervention calling for the punishment of Morales and the members of the government, threatening them with an inquiry that holds them responsible for the alleged electoral fraud and for the deaths that occurred in the opposition uprising. He does not even hesitate to evoke “divine justice”.

The Genesis of the Coup

The opposition's strategy of fighting to the last consequences to overthrow the Morales government was well known, especially after the 2016 plebiscite, in which Morales did not obtain majority support to participate in a new re-election. The anti-government tactics aimed at implementing this strategy suffered, however, several setbacks, giving the impression that Evo's government controlled the electoral process in a context of disorganization and disunity of the opposition.

Opposition tactics gained momentum with the rise of the anti-PT candidate in 2018 in Brazil. The establishment of the new Brazilian government, in 2019, created expectations among the coup leaders, due to their declared support for the Bolivian opposition, applauded and endorsed by the Trump administration. It is known that Camacho visited Brazil that year to request support for his coup undertaking, having personally met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Brasília.

But it was an ephemeral political conjuncture, a series of circumstances that contributed to the reunification of the opposition, laying the foundations that strengthened the projected coup: the burning of the region known as chiquitania in the east of the country in July-August of that year, precisely where the opposition is potentially strong: the department (state) of Santa Cruz, whose political center is monopolized by the famous Civic Committee of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (main economic city of the country) that acts, in conjunctures of political crisis of the traditional parties, as a political party.

It was when this conjuncture was engendered that the ideological conditions for strengthening the planning of the coup d'état were created. It was precisely a favorable political situation that the opposition was waiting for to implement its strategy.

Critical sources reveal that during this period (queimadas) and at the beginning of November, there were contacts and meetings between US advisers and officials with members of the opposition, mainly with Camacho, leader of the Santa Cruz civic committee, and with members of the police and army to plan and carry out the political destabilization to carry out the coup d'état.

Even since the year before last, non-governmental US sources (such as spy companies) have warned of this process of destabilization in the country precisely in the electoral context in Bolivia, should the official candidate win. The hegemonic media articulated to the political interests of the opposition gave insights permanent questions about the “certain” probability of a second round, and which curiously revealed between the lines a conspiracy in progress. The Morales government was aware of this movement and the opposition's strategy.

The opposition became engulfed in the fire movement, blaming the Morales government, and did the same at the time of the alleged electoral fraud in October, taking advantage of the government's defensive retreat in the latter context. Soon he took to the streets setting fire to state institutions linked to alleged electoral fraud and raping, torturing and even murdering MAS militants and public officials in front of the conniving eyes of the police; burning homes of politicians from that party and members of Morales' family, as well as the case of aggression and torture of a MAS mayor in the city of Vinto, facts that reveal the level of violence that the opposition practiced with impunity.

the trap

The Evo Morales government, its leaders and intellectuals, naively fell into the OAS trap. It was clearly a tactical error to accept the expertise on the alleged fraud in favor of Morales alleged by the opposition in the counting of votes. It is well known that this body is a permanent political instrument of the interests of the United States (which applauded the expert work that claimed to have verified irregularities that were considered as electoral fraud) and of the countries automatically aligned with those interests and influences of Washington, such as the countries that are currently part of the Lima group.

By accepting the expertise of this body and, even more, by believing that it could be impartial, the government enabled an acceleration of conditions favorable to the coup. This was cornered and on the defensive, gradually becoming hostage to the opposition (under Camacho's command) and the final verdict of the OAS – which claimed to have found, according to technical criteria, fraud, even without a detailed demonstration of its veracity.

The government should have required, as a basic requirement to guarantee impartiality, a collegiate commission of countries to participate in the expert vote count that included Mexico, Russia, China and the UN itself. None of this was done. The government practically accepted the OAS undertaking and, upon realizing the partiality of some members of the electoral observation commission, it was already too late. Thus, he fell into the political ambush perpetrated by the opposition with the help of that international body.

The double practice, the diversionary action of the OAS permanently reveals its concrete political interests. In the case of the Bolivian electoral process, three days after the election, the OAS called a meeting of the Permanent Council to discuss the victory of the government candidate contested by the opposition. After the investigation, she irresponsibly euphemistically denounced “serious irregularities” in the counting of votes, overestimating the problem, breeding ground to unleash the incendiary fuse of the opposition.

It goes without saying that Almagro played this double game by seducing Morales before, during and after the electoral process, seeking to demonstrate the impartiality of the OAS, as well as respect and seriousness in relation to the Bolivian electoral process (the two met in Bolivia on several occasions, everything happening as if the former were seriously supporting the latter in relation to re-election, provoking stupor and indignation from members of the opposition, when in fact it was a properly planned political move).

The acceptance of this game by the Bolivian government brought a high political cost. Responding to these appeals, Evo Morales decided to call new elections, which ended up providing ammunition for the opposition fuse to spread, deepening the coup movement. In opposition to the coup perpetrated by the opposition (denied by the US and Brazilian governments and by the OAS itself), Almagro confirmed in the media that there was no coup d'état led by the opposition and, on the contrary, what happened was a coup d'état by the Morales government in the October 20 election.

In the case of irregularities in the electoral process in Mexico in 2016, and also in the elections in Honduras the following year (irregularities detected by the OAS, which even proposed new elections), the United States declared the contested candidate Hernandes the winner. In both situations, the OAS accepted the US verdict without hesitation, remaining in obsequious silence. The elections that took place in Venezuela, however, are systematically disqualified as irregular and illegitimate. Not to mention the sepulchral silence of that body on the political uprising in Chile against the Piñera government and the brutal police repression that took place almost parallel to the electoral process in Bolivia.

the rules of the game

The coup against the Evo Morales government demonstrated that the strategy of accepting the democratic “rules of the game”, of defending the non-institutional rupture, translates into a decisive practical error. The attempt to consider bourgeois democracy as an end in itself failed, placing movement in this field as a single and unilateral strategy, neglecting to dynamize the proletarian struggle or anti-capitalist popular movements. They judged that actions in this scope would be sufficient to defend the so-called “exchange process” or the “democratic and indigenist revolution” that started in the country in 2006.

In any case, it is not that the government and the MAS disregarded the crucial support of their social bases, but the work done in relation to the politicization of the popular and indigenous masses was insufficient to contain the advance of the destabilization of the opposition forces. In the heat of the confrontation between popular pro-government movements in the city and in the countryside (peasants, indigenous people, neighborhood and workers associations such as COB, CSUTCB, FSTMB, the bartolines, the coca growers, the red ponchos, etc.) and the coup movement, the pendulum swung towards the latter, even though, once the coup was consummated through the resignation of Morales, the forces supporting the deposed government took to the streets in its defense claiming “civil war”.

It is curious that the Morales government seems to have been a victim of its own democratic strategy by overestimating this mechanism, starting to defend not only unlimited reelection, but the very logic of bourgeois democracy, which has a class character and is necessarily limited in capitalist society. . Which explains several elements of the mistakes of this strategy and the democratizing political practice of the government and the MAS in the Bolivian case.

Let's start with the issue of defending Morales' indefinite re-election and his supposed electoral invincibility. The strategic defense of the electoral process as a solution for the permanence of the leader or the governmental succession process configures an enterprise of electoral adventurism. We are not insinuating that the issue of reelection is synonymous with this type of adventurism, the problem does not lie in indefinite reelection in liberal-bourgeois representative democracy, as it is compatible with this type of democracy because it is a political issue and functional to the interests of capital, as the cases of Merkel in Germany and Netanyahu in Israel demonstrate. Successive re-elections of these two were supported by the United States and the European Union. In the case of the reelection of Chávez, Maduro and Morales, these same countries condemned this practice, considering it a political aberration.

Another important element is the partial paralysis and political disorganization of the popular masses, the social base of support and defense of the government. They remained, at first, passively waiting for the electoral scrutiny that would give victory to Morales. The social base of support was surprised by the violent reaction of the opposition, whose development demonstrated that it was planned in advance.

Perhaps the crucial element that summarizes the “electoral adventure” is the lack of military support groups for the government and the armed forces (the people in arms). The social majority, the governmental allied social base, was left defenseless, at the mercy of the militia and paramilitary forces of the opposition, supported by the police and the army. The “coletivos” and other groups defending the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, the National Revolutionary Militias from Cuba; or the former Red Guards of the Russian Revolution, which are active in China; or the Revolutionary Guard in Iran, made a big difference in supporting nascent revolutionary regimes. There was nothing like it in the case of the Morales government. The only armed civilian group are the Red Ponchos that emerged in the 1952 Revolution and which resurfaced in 2005-6 in support of Morales. But, their weapons are obsolete, as they were snatched from the Army in the 1950s, their firepower is more ornamental and propagandistic in favor of the Morales government.

In fact, the government left the defense of the regime in the hands of the police and the armed forces, in an appeal to the constitutional role of the two forces, mainly the latter, as guardians of democracy. Believing that these two forces were under his political control due to a policy that maintained the privileges of its members (institutional reform, modernization of the two weapons, maintenance of high salaries and privileges, good retirement and medical care, etc.), a beautiful day they came across rifles pointed at the government. This demonstrated that such reforms in both sectors of the state apparatus had very fragile foundations.

This is a recurring error of these types of self-styled “socialist” regimes. They end up underestimating military power and even being indulgent with the rebellion of officers who support the overthrow of the regime. The case of the Torres government in Bolivia demonstrated this by being indulgent with the coup leader Colonel Hugo Banzer in 1971, and the paradigmatic case is that of the Allende government in 1973. The case of Bolivarian Venezuela reveals the importance of overcoming such errors, being a relative progress in this direction.

Political control of the state apparatus

The seizure of political power by the fascist right-wing opposition through a civil-military coup d'état reveals that the defeat of the Morales government and the form of State and corresponding political regime denotes the importance of political control of the state apparatus and institutions for develop important socioeconomic reforms. But at the same time, it demonstrates its structural and class limits, revealing the trend towards counter-reforms or counter-revolutionaries.

Without that, how to explain how the coup opposition movement (with internal and external, national and foreign and imperialist forces) managed to quickly overthrow a government that lasted thirteen years in such a short period of time? What were the main errors and contradictions of the regime that, in an electoral context, decreed its collapse?

These issues refer, on the one hand, to an analysis of the class nature of the transformations adopted in Bolivia or the nature of the “Bolivian revolution” under the Morales government (2006-2019), and on the other hand, the unveiling of the political crisis, especially analysis of the crisis of hegemony in the period.

The institutional rupture

The current situation in Bolivia resulting from the institutional rupture is not only calamitous, but also deeply worrying for the social forces that supported and continue to support the MAS and the deposed government. And here we can only indicate some political trends as a test of what could come in a context of high political, economic and social uncertainty.

(1) As in most counterrevolutionary movements, the surgical action of the “Bolivian Thermidor” is foreseeable, which will seek to declare the MAS and the popular movements articulated to it illegal, in addition to trying to impose a process of accountability investigation on the main government leaders, of parliament and other instances of the state bureaucracy.

It was not by chance that there was a flood of resignations from the main positions in the Executive and Legislative branches, followed by the exile of the deposed president and vice president. MAS deputies and senators did not attend the first session of parliament to deal with the presidential succession according to the constitution due to the lack of security to travel to the legislative house.

This is an authentic “witch hunt” aimed at politically liquidating the main ruling party. A task that should be extended to the dismantling of the current state, in the sense that the top and middle echelon of the state apparatus should be occupied by members of the coup forces (this is the case of the self-styled new president of the country in a completely emptied parliament). There must also be a purification of the leadership of the police and military apparatus appointed by the deposed government, rewarding the members who rebelled against it with leadership positions in the police and military leadership.

(2) The opposition in power will seek to govern temporarily through a coalition of conservative parties and forces, respecting the current constitution in speech. If it calls a national general election, it will seek to exclude the MAS from the electoral process.

The new forces in parliament will try to eliminate the current constitutional charter drawn up in 2008-9 and approved by a Constituent Assembly in which MAS forces predominated. They will either propose a new Constituent Assembly or a constitutional reform with the surgical objective of eliminating obstacles to large and medium capital and also to large and medium landholdings. In short, they will try to carry out a neoliberal attack on the economic tripod of the Plurinational State: the policies of nationalization, agrarian reform and redistribution (subsidies to needy populations, such as Bolsa Familia, etc.).

They will also try to reduce the influence of the peasant and indigenous movements, as well as popular movements in general, cutting the links they maintained with the deposed government through the occupation of ministries and public institutions. Its influence also stamped on the current Constitution will be the target of actions aimed at eliminating or reducing as much as possible the social benefits, especially for the most needy population - the various bonos or grants (from families, children, women, elders, etc.). The same tends to be done in relation to agrarian reform policies and nationalization and nationalization policies undertaken by the Plurinational State.

This will be accompanied by a neoliberal economic reform, with drastic cuts in the budget and public spending (which will be redirected to the “productive” sectors). A policy of wage tightening could also be implemented with drastic decreases and even cuts in wages.

(3) The reappearance of “masist” forces that bring together the popular movements, trade unions and supporters of the deposed government promised to fight a “civil war” against the elimination or reduction of their civil, political and social rights conquered during the Plurinational State. It remains to be seen to what extent this set of movements will have the capacity to reorganize itself and lead the opposition struggle in a real civil war to regain political power, in a context in which they lost control of the Plurinational State and in a situation of attack and of dismantling that state.

The possible scenarios that can be envisaged – and which do not rule out violence and bloodshed – are the following: (i) a massive strike for an indefinite period by popular movements, trade unions and supporters of the deposed government, combined with armed civil resistance actions throughout the country and with the occupation of plurinational state institutions, would force the coup leaders to retreat, restoring the deposed government. This would call new elections with the participation of the MAS. To this end, it is necessary to create a transitional government in charge of implementing some kind of negotiated exit, in the direction proposed by Evo Morales; (ii) the establishment of a military junta in charge of forming a transitional government that would be favorable to the opposition.

The struggle between these forces connotes a serious crisis of hegemony. Its resolution, be it the reestablishment or a redefinition of hegemony, does not eliminate the high degree of uncertainty that tends to lead the political crisis to a new phase, marked by violence and instability.

*Aldo Duran Gil Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences at the Federal University of Uberlândia (UFU)

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