The desert cities – VII

Image: Ricardo Kobayaski
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By GILBERTO LOPES*

Commentary on recent developments in international politics

Bolivia returns to the polls next Sunday, October 18, almost a year after the coup d'état against Evo Morales in the last elections. More than a blow against Evo, it was a blow against the people, according to Adriana Guzmán, an Aymara who defines herself as a “community feminist”. A racist and oligarchic coup, she claims.

Then, Guzmán expands on the analysis, in an interview published by the portal Jacobin. We have to rethink what a coup is, beyond the logic of the State, he suggests. “I believe that most of the coups (he cites the case of Chile, in 1973; or that of Honduras, in 2010) were coups against the people that later resulted in a coup d'état”. “And what happened on November 10th here in Bolivia was a coup against the people, a racist coup”. When the armed forces intervened and asked Morales to resign, the coup had already taken place: the houses of authorities were set on fire, men and women kidnapped, brothers of the authorities, humiliated in a public square, broadcast on Facebook, humiliated even sexually, as happened with the brother of congressman Víctor Borda, explains Guzmán. “The only way to stop this was with Evo resigning. Because there was a lot of violence, they would set fire to the houses of all the leaders, they would rape their daughters, their wives, ”he added.

Was it a hit? Wasn't it a hit? The issue seeps into every debate. Guzmán has no doubts: we have to rethink what we mean by a coup. There was a lot of naivety in thinking that the OAS – a body that never benefited the peoples – could democratically resolve the crisis with an audit of the electoral process. “There was a lot of trust, both on the part of the government and social organizations. We did not consider that there really was a coup and that this coup would be successful. We thought we could race the streets like we always have.” For Guzmán, the coup also came from within, with the government disjointed and with universities as key players. The government reacted late. Our role – he added – “is not to build laws: our role is to build the daily life of this good life that we defend”. We believed that this process was irreversible. It was not so. Paramilitaries took to the streets, the army and the police came out, the unscrupulous maneuver of the OAS was armed, led on the ground by a former Costa Rican chancellor whom the OAS awarded, nominating him again for the same functions in Sunday's elections.

Guzmán sees the country submerged in protests. “At least in La Paz, where I live, there are protests every day”, he assures. Against the end of the school year, for the recovery of school lunches, protests from teachers. "Society's anger is pervasive." He talks about Covid-19: “there are more than five thousand dead so far. They were not killed by the virus, but because the respirators never arrived, because there are no tests, there are no medicines.”

One of the biggest scandals of the coup government of Jeanine Áñez was revealed in May with the purchase of respirators for three times the market price. In August, an overprice of six million dollars was reported for another purchase, of 324 respirators that, like the previous ones, were never made available to those who needed them. Now Sunday's election is approaching. One of the possibilities is that there is fraud, says Guzmán, which wins the coup sector. “I think this is a great possibility, reproducing something that was done in Honduras. There is a third government there that deceives the people, that commits electoral fraud and follows the coup manual. What happens in Honduras is a dictatorship and I think they are trying to apply the same recipe here”, he indicated.

Last weekend, the Bolivian newspaper The Razón published the results of a second survey "Your vote counts”. They did 15.537 interviews. Taking into account only the valid votes – without blank or null votes – the MAS candidate, Luis Arce, obtained 42,9% of the preferences. Carlos Mesa, from Comunidade Cidadã, the best placed among the various candidates from the coup sectors, 34,2%. With the resignation of Áñez from his candidacy, third place is occupied by the leader of the radical right-wing groups in the department of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, with 17,8%. Four other candidates share just over 5% of the votes among themselves. To win in the first round, there are two options: obtain more than 50% of the votes; or 40% with a difference greater than 10% over the runner-up, which happened to Evo Morales in last year's elections.

Nationalization was key

José Luis Parada, minister of economy of the coup government, made three announcements: the return of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the country, the concession to foreign transnational companies of the strategic lithium resources of the Salar de Uyuni and the expansion of the agro-industrial latifundia for the export. They were, in the opinion of Bolivian sociologist Eduardo Paz Rada, the strategic guidelines of a government that announced itself as transitional, but its decisions would have lasting effects. In particular, lithium, a mineral of which Bolivia has one of the largest reserves in the world, along with Argentina and Chile, in the so-called “Lithium Triangle”. With China and Australia, they form the group of major world producers.

The Llipi pilot plant should start industrial production at the end of this year, with a production capacity of 15 thousand tons of lithium carbonate. With this, Bolivia will become the fourth producer in the world and the second in Latin America. In 2008, the Morales government created the state-owned company Yacimientos de Litio Boliviano (YLB). It is the same strategy that led him to nationalize companies that produce oil, gas and other natural resources and to renegotiate contracts with transnational companies, forced to pay 32% more in taxes. This was the basis for the economic growth that lifted millions of Bolivians out of poverty, reducing the figure from 60% in 2005 to 35% in 2018.

In the last three years of the Morales government, Bolivia reached growth rates above 4%, with one of the best performances in Latin America. The nationalizations were fundamental because it gave solvency to the State portfolio. Without these nationalizations, the Treasury would have empty coffers, without any capacity to develop policies that depend on economic resources, said Marcelo Montenegro. Luis Arce, the MAS candidate for the presidency of Bolivia, was Minister of Economy between 2006 and 2017 and between January and November of last year, and played a key role in this policy of nationalization of Bolivian natural resources.

Two Bolivias in their bank accounts

In 2018, we reached an agreement with the German company Acisa (ACI Systems Alemania), the main supplier of batteries for electric vehicles, for the exploitation of lithium, explained former President of the Senate Adriana Salvatierra (also forced to resign after the coup). . But, in the end, the agreement did not guarantee Bolivia the transfer of technology or control over the industrialization of lithium, so Bolivia negotiated with China.

“We would sign an agreement with China that involved an investment of 2,3 billion dollars to industrialize lithium. At the beginning of 2019, when the agreement was signed, the Chinese ambassador said: – This is a historic day because, from now on, China will become the largest producer of electric vehicles in the world and Bolivia will have guaranteed a market for the next 50 years”. We affect geopolitical interests, said Salvatierra. Especially those of Tesla, Elon Musk's company, the same one who said, last July, that they would overthrow whoever they wanted, to guarantee their interests. Musk has $76 billion in assets. Bolivia's GDP is 42,5 billion dollars. “We are saying that the owner of Tesla has in his bank accounts approximately 34 billion dollars more than all the economic resources that we use in our country. This means, in a very simple way, that this man has almost two Bolivias in his bank accounts”, recalled Salvatierra. Áñez halted negotiations with Germany and China, and the MAS considers that the objective is to privatize lithium and hand over its exploration to North American companies.

The Spokesman of Fraud

All of this is at stake in next Sunday's elections. Once again, former Costa Rican foreign minister Manuel González, the same author of the report that endorsed last year's electoral fraud, leads the OAS observer mission. For nine months, Áñez's government “consolidated a brutal right-wing dictatorship that murdered dozens of civilian demonstrators. Tortured, injured and imprisoned many more. Censored the press. He systematically cracked down on his political opponents,” said Gabriel Hetland, professor of Latin American studies at the University of Albany, in an article published in The Washington Post on the 27th of last August.

The coup could be reversed or confirmed at the polls. The result will have an impact beyond Bolivia's borders. It could reinforce the turn to the right in South America, with the election of leaders “at the service of local oligarchies and the interests of the United States”, wrote professors Igor Fuser and Fábio Castro, from the Federal University of ABC, in Brazil. Of all the changes in political direction that have taken place in the region, that of Bolivia “was the most clearly coup-oriented and also the most violent, accompanied by the frightening remnants of fascism and racism”, they say. In its ten months, Áñez’s government “turned out to be a complete disaster”, incapable of organizing a State that it set out to dismantle, unable to deal with the devastating effects of Covid-19 or the fall of the economy, which could be 8% this year.

The electoral forecasts are for the MAS candidate to win in the first round, as revealed by the daily poll. The Razón. Again, this is a contested election. Arce can hardly win in the second round. But, to win in the first, he must surpass 40% of the votes, with a difference of more than 10% ahead of the runner-up. It doesn't seem impossible, nor is it easy. The past campaign was characterized by the abuse of fake news, including an alleged son Morales did not recognize. It was the “Zapata case”, a son that Morales would have had with Gabriela Zapata, something that, in fact, never existed. The case died, after the elections.

But not fake news. Áñez hired the company CLS Strategies to carry out the campaign, accused by Facebook of promoting false campaigns and distorting the political debate. For Adriana Guzmán, after the coup and the result of the Áñez government, “it is impossible for the right to win the next elections without fraud”. But, at the same time, it is difficult to think that the international and national interests behind the coup are willing to allow the MAS to win an election. Preventing it is not one of the minor tasks entrusted to the OAS and González.

The Praise of Torture

The United States with more than eight million cases, India with about 7,2 million and Brazil approaching 5,2 million. With more than 150 deaths, Brazil has already surpassed Spain in the number of deaths per million inhabitants, with 706, behind only Peru in Latin America, which has 1.002 in this record, and Bolivia, with 708, according to data from the end of week.

However, in the opinion of the vice-president, General Hamilton Mourão, Brazil faced this pandemic crisis very well. “We regret having lost the lives of almost 150 Brazilians, but we have already cured more than four million people”, he said. Interviewed by the German network DW, Mourão referred to the role of the military during the dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1981. The general added to the praise made by President Bolsonaro to whom he directed the DOI-CODI of São Paulo, one of cruelest repressive bodies of that period, Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, condemned in court for the terrible tortures to which he subjected his prisoners. “Ustra was my commander in the late 70s, and he was a man of honor who respected the human rights of his subordinates,” said Mourão, when asked by the journalist. He said nothing about the human rights of other citizens.

the desert cities

The pandemic continues to devastate cities. Last month, executives from 160 of New York's largest companies — from banks to law firms to real estate — wrote to Mayor Bill de Blasio. They fear the long-term effects of the pandemic on the city. There is a lot of anxiety, they say, crime is on the rise, the city is dirty, the bad handling of the crisis has contributed to deteriorating living conditions in the five counties that form it”.

In the final stretch for the elections on November 3, millions of votes have already been sent by mail, while Covid-19 strengthens again in the United States, with the highest infection rates since August. Trump, behind in the polls, reappeared in front of his supporters speaking from a White House balcony, guaranteeing that he had recovered after his hospitalization in a military hospital, affected by Covid-19. He promised a vaccine soon, assured that the disease is disappearing, invested again against the “Chinese virus” and warned against a “manipulated election”.

low generals

Before the United States, Chile will also go to the polls, on Sunday, October 25, to decide whether there will be an assembly to reform its constitution, legacy of General Pinochet's dictatorship. A year ago, protests erupted that surprised the world, while the conservative government of Sebastián Piñera tried to show it as a model country for Latin America. Since then, they have not stopped, despite the pandemic, repressed with permanent brutality, as when they threw a 16-year-old boy who was participating in the protests into the bed of the Mapocho river, paved with stones. The act renewed the denunciations against the Carabineros Corps and the demand for the resignation of its commander, General Mario Rozas. At the time of the 1973 coup, President Salvador Allende called the then commander of the Carabineros a “low general” who, the day before, had reiterated his loyalty. Thirteen deputies filed a constitutional charge against the minister of the interior, Víctor Pérez, whom they accuse of complicity in police violence.

Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

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