The Bolivian popular world

Image: Paulinho Fluxuz_. Photo in Tiwanaku for the spiritual inauguration of Evo Morales, 21/01/2006.


Lessons from Bolivia can tell us if popular mobilization found an efficient antidote to hybrid warfare or if everything was just another one of those unusual Bolivian particularities

To Memélia Moreira, veteran journalist, for her insistence on this article

Anyone who has lived and, above all, carried out research on social dynamics in Bolivia for some years, knows that contingent political scenarios in that country are, as a rule, unstable and, to a large extent, unusual. The successive and remarkably stable governments of Evo Morales are closer to the exception than the rule, as was the sequence of neoliberal governments between 1985 and 2003. On the one hand, the country's manorial castes have always had to deal with disputes internecine factions, in addition to oppositional and eventually insurgent outbursts by the majority of the population, which contributed to a long series of coups d'état throughout the country's republican history. On the other hand, the last twenty years have been marked by the decisive emergence of popular forces, of Andean indigenous extraction, in the institutional spaces of State power, which often implies different logics, and not easily perceptible, of legitimizing the representation .

In the case of the direct political action of these popular forces, it is notable how subtle and changeable the information and decision circuits are. At the end of the last century and the beginning of this century, the most reliable channel of information was the local radio stations, which broadcast in Quechua and Aymara, as well as Catholic radio stations, such as Erbol and Fides. From the popular mobilizations that led to the fall of the neoliberal Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada in 2003, cell phones began to serve as a privileged channel. In even more capillary terms, the conversation between members and union representatives in rural communities and between compadres in the countryside in general constitute an “invisible” space, where decisions are taken and, the next day, some road is blocked early in the morning, leaving travelers in the middle of the path, except for those who, for some reason, have access to these information circuits. This is where the popular mobilization takes place.

It is not easy to have precise information, in Bolivia, about the exact direction of these mobilizations, also because, at the local level, particularly in the Andean portion, decision-making is governed by a kind of ethics of reticence. Nobody gets ahead of collective decisions, nor does anyone lend themselves to exhibiting analytical or prospective knowledge. Wisdom (in Quechua, yachay) does not conform as a wealth of experiences or techniques, which leads to the recognition of a directive or instructive authority, but as a capacity to make and make an effort, which is expressed as a power of interaction and exchange. Collective decisions are always communal and enshrine as consensus. Eventually divergent positions are accommodated to this consensus or, on the contrary, will tend progressively to consolidate themselves as a split in the local community, as was the case of the Quechua community where I carried out research over many years and where I made innumerable compadres (read also , including bedpans). In this world, having compadres is, in fact, one of the few efficient channels for accessing information. Compadrio implies a relationship of loyalty on both sides, and its logic has already been efficiently appropriated, at the end of the last century, for the urban environment, by a skilled social communicator, Carlos Palenque, to consolidate its own political movement, the CONDEPA (“Conciencia de Patria”), the first to use, in his discourse, and in a systematic way, the Andean symbology and the first to elect a “Hello", Loza Remedies, for the Bolivian National Assembly.

Even so, even among compadres, prospecting the political movements of the popular base in Bolivia is an imponderable and risky exercise. Wisely, if asked about the course of things, one compadre would say to another: “I don't know, compadre. What will the community decide?” And that decision time is crucial. After him, everything rushes.

In the popular Bolivian world (especially the Andean one), voting can even be individual, but political action always tends to be collectively oriented or, at least, induced. And that goes for the countryside, for mines, for urban markets, for unions of drivers, a whole extensive network of inclusion of social people, who, in these spaces, share parties and patron saints. In this closed circuit of exchange very close to loyalties, fake news, for example, may find it extremely difficult to thrive. Fake news it seems to be, rather, a characteristic phenomenon of a world of digitally connected and socially disconnected individuals.

The last time I was in Bolivia, for a month, immediately before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, there was, on the one hand, in the urban environment, a generalized feeling of political disorientation, and, on the other, a muted scolding against Evo Morales. And both things seemed to blend together. In rural areas, the scolding of my compadres with Evo Morales was less, but the lack of knowledge about what really happened during the coup d'état was the same. The local media had bombarded it exhaustively - and it was, in fact, a saturation bombardment ― the version prepared by the CIA plan (with the help of the OAS and the Lima Group), that the elections had been rigged. And this version had settled down as a thoughtless consensus, to the point of producing the unusual phenomenon that, while the rest of the world knew that the 2019 elections had not suffered any fraud, only in Bolivia was the fraud widely admitted as a fact.

For a few months, the hybrid war operation to which Bolivia had been subjected managed to suffocate information channels, which combined with the rapid and previously planned movements of the coup, overlapping the time of collectivities, and which included the almost generalized intimidation by extreme right-wing paramilitary groups (a brief report on them can be found here), culminating in several massacres of citizens, most notably those in Senkata (El Alto) and Sacaba (Cochabamba), which totaled 36 dead and 50 wounded. And in the midst of this operation of disinformation, shock and awe was the scolding with Evo. One thing doesn't seem to work well without the other.

It can be said that Evo Morales' judicial maneuver to run by force, for the fourth time, for the Presidency was the culmination of an attitude that was at the base of the political wear and tear of the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo). It is the same with regard to the PT and other Latin American “progressismos”. It is a kind of absolutist blackmail: “either I or the flood”. In Brazil, a “cordial” society (which can also mean “biliary”), blindly bet on the deluge. In Bolivia, as Evo fell, the majority environment was similar to that of impeachment by Dilma Roussef: indifference ― or, rather, an implicit “well done to him!”.

That closing in hearts, not admitting any critical revision of directions, ends up working as an all-or-nothing bluff. After putting the cards on the table, all that remains for the bluffer is self-victim whining. In the case of Bolivia, this characteristic arrogance, in addition to producing ― as in Brazil ― a blindness to the enemy's maneuvers (by far it is not simply a question of political “adversaries”, since we are talking about a hybrid war), it also sponsored a a kind of clientelistic sectarianism, which is very typical of certain Bolivian union circles: friends, everything; to those who don't say amen to us and don't join our machine, contempt, annulment and the worst of all worlds. It was so in the case of tipnis. It was like that in many other cases. When the coup came, in addition to accommodating a clientele network (such as existed at the end of the political hegemony of the old Mnr), the MAS only counted on the agonistic voluntarism of some innocuous and desperate shock troops.

It wasn't that hard to take down Evo Morales. All it took was the opportunity and good coordination. What, yes, proved to be much more difficult, after the first moment of induced disorientation and quick actions, was to gain legitimacy for the political agenda of the right, as much more obtuse as it was predatory. Because here we are dealing with another well-known obtuseness, which in Bolivia has been systematically challenged over the last twenty years: manorial obtuseness.

With Evo out of the game, whimpering in Argentina, hitting the monotonous key of “racism” ― which fits well with a certain international liberal agenda, but says very little about Bolivian complexity and seems to do nothing more than suffocate the old political theory of elites, since it does nothing more than buy the political perspective of the country's noble castes―, with the pandemic and the Bolivian right showing what it came to, with the reestablishment of the time of collectivities, with the admission by the MAS that it was necessary to correct directions, with a convincing candidate who represents, above all, where the MAS governments succeeded ―in the country's economic sovereignty―, something new seems to have changed in the political scenario, and not merely in the electoral scenario. I still don't have a lot of data to judge precisely, but the logical suspicion (one could even call it a “working hypothesis”) is that, once again, the popular forces in Bolivia, in an adverse scenario, made politics, and not only clung to formal instruments of representation. Because “electorally”, the paths pointed in another direction.

It's not hard to suspect that the 2020 Bolivian elections were ready to be rigged. Let's start with impressions, which do not seem to be fortuitous. On election day, the portal websites Iranian HispanTV (in Spanish, and which for several years hosted the program Fort Apache, directed by Pablo Iglesias), a medium read by a more critical public, released the result of the poll among your readers, whereby 49,4% of them believed that the elections would be rigged, while 46,6% believed in the victory of the MAS candidate. Two analysts heard by the same means, Cristina Reyes e Jorge Richter also pointed to the high risk of fraud. On Saturday, the eve of the elections, the coup government dispatched 23.000 soldiers to occupy the streets of La Paz and El Alto. The annulment, a few hours before the elections, of the quick count system, by the president of the Supreme Electoral Court, appointed by coup leader Jeanine Áñez, threw the counting of votes into the dark.

Before all that, however, the voting system in the countries abroad that most concentrate Bolivian immigrants from popular strata (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) was deliberately disjointed, to produce confusion and abstention. The intent seemed simple: as votes abroad are counted first, skewed results would serve as a beachhead for fraud. In fact, at the end of Monday morning, the day after the vote, the international count indicated the candidate Carlos Mesa, from the Comunidad Ciudadana (CC) front, with 42,22% of the votes, and Luis Arce, from the MAS, with 38,45%.

Source: Working day, La Paz.

On Tuesday, with the electoral victory of the MAS given as a fait accompli, the calculation of the international vote already indicates Mesa with 31,73% and Arce with 50, 35%:

Source: Working day, La Paz.

What seems to have thwarted the fraud were the exit polls giving a landslide victory to the MAS candidate. That is, not so much the victory, but the overwhelming victory. Before that, businessman Arturo Murillo Prijic, belonging to the Croatian clan of ustacha from Santa Cruz de la Sierra (the Balkan Nazis emigrated to Bolivia after the Nazi defeat in World War II), one of the leaders of the coup and a connection man with Mike Pompeo's State Department and the OAS, as well as minister "of Gobierno” (equivalent to the Civil House) of Jeanine Áñez, responsible for accusing Evo Morales of terrorism in court, tried to pressure the media, polling companies and even the Supreme Electoral Court, in order to prevent the publication of the polls. The arm wrestling lasted four hours, until, shortly after midnight, the results began to be announced. The political victory of the MAS, rather than its possible electoral defeat, was beginning to be consummated. Trying to reverse it by fraud can be an extremely risky move for the scammers, and one that would virtually set the country on fire.

The political work behind this crushing victory for the MAS, and which arranged the game in such a way as to make a predictable electoral fraud operation innocuous, is the chronicle yet to be told. Its lessons can tell us if the popular mobilization in Bolivia found an efficient antidote for the hybrid war, in an extremely adverse geopolitical scenario, or if everything was just another one of those unusual Bolivian particularities, where the local logics ended up imposing yet another resounding defeat to the global hegemony of the Empire.

In the Bolivian popular world

*Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel Professor of Anthropology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro Grande do Sul (UFRGS).

Originally published on the website Other words.

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