The Bolivian coup d’etat against Evo Morales was not, and should not be examined solely as, the result of a fraudulent election. To suggest this erases the deep entrenchment of Bolivia’s neo-fascist Right and, moreover, trivializes the systemic roots of anti-Indigenous repression and violence intensifying as you read this. The international Left must name the unrest in Bolivia for what it is: a popular (Indigenous-led) mobilization against corruption and corporate hegemony, the momentum of which has been co-opted by Bolivia’s long pampered Right-wing opposition.
These popular uprisings have been strategically sabotaged by the very corporate opposition they stand to weaken, manifesting in a coup against Morales. Historically and presently, an ecosystem of political coercion and economic corruption has granted private economic actors disproportionate access to state power and privileges. Time and time again, when similar popular unrest threatens this parasitic standing, violent repression explodes. We must admit that this authoritarian dynamic persisted — even under the anti-business, anti-privatization auspices of Evo Morales’ administration — and use it to explain these bouts of repressive violence.
Backlashes against laborers’ movements, radical socio-economic reform, and demonstrations for Indigenous sovereignty have constantly been espoused by Right-wing counter-revolutionaries with authoritarian leanings. Past attempts by Left governments to deliver social and economic progress — through severing clientelistic ties with Bolivia’s industry elites — have led to ongoing separatist movements. Bolivia’s economic elite and far-Right threaten political tumult to secure their status. Their deep alignment to coerce a beneficial clientelism from the state is evident.
Santa Cruz’s “Civic-Committees,”4 which operate today to defend the landed interests of monied natural-gas conglomerates, were conceived on University campuses from the fascist-sympathetic Falange Socialista Boliviana.4 Right-wing Counter-revolutionary organizations, as this history demonstrates, have grown in parallel with the embedding of corporate elites in the state. During Evo Morales’ tenure, these ties were complicated … but by no means cut.
Morales’ Left government, to maintain its power and avoid separatist schisms, appeased these clientelistic ties with corporate advocates. That administration’s Vice President, Álvaro García Linera (once a Marxist guerrilla fighter) pledged that the MAS government “would not rival the Santa Cruz business establishment.” While allowing extractive industry to continuously consume more land, the MAS government invested these proceeds in poverty alleviation. This fusion of elite interests and popular demands is destabilizing in the sense that it aims to build prosperity without truly pursuing emancipation from Right-wing control.
Rather than building sovereignty for popular masses through direct recognition of their demands, the MAS mitigated the realities of their marginalization — all without endangering the connections of economic elites. The bottom-up politics of Indigenous citizenship and true democratization are seen by long-standing elites as the ultimate threat to their state-corporate alliance. Informed by this tension, redistribution was presented by the MAS as a substitute for Indigenous and popular political recognition.
None of this is to say that the MAS is not a monumental symbol of Indigenous advancement. The electoral home of Morales’ movement and party is in the Chapare, a coca-growing region and mecca of anti-imperial resistance. Regardless, it cannot be denied that the MAS has embraced a variety of “Democratization backwards.”1 Its aggressives reforms still have not dismantled the structural, clientelistic, and historical relationships that embolden Right-wing forces with disproportionate political influence. By continuing to harbor these ties, the threat of violent repression against Indigenous activists — who have enduringly sought to usurp these actors — has only been solidified.
In responding to ongoing material dispossession, Indigenous social movements rally against the corporatist ties2, whose survival relies on their own repression. Due to the systemic nature of their grievances, these movements often transform localized concerns — like those around ancestral water reserves — 5 into comprehensive demands that implicate the standing of elites.
The Cochabamba Water War of 2000, which was fought against the privatization of communally governed water supplies,5 clarifies how this resistance often provokes repressive violence. After the government failed to subdue Indigenous discontent surrounding this offense with state-led “community-development” projects, defensive Right-wing mobilizations emerged5 with reactionary rage, much like that of today.
In light of this, it is clear that today’s Indigenous popular movements are far-reaching, calling into question much more than electoral fraud. Today’s iteration of Bolivia’s far-Right — spearheaded by Luis Fernando Camacho and Jeanine Áñez — has a repertoire of repressive intentions, inflamed and enabled by many decades of access to political patronage. Having been kept barely at arms-length from centralized political control for decades, the long-pampered far-Right have now co-opted popular unrest, and no longer intend to remain dependent on clientelism to enshrine their political authority.
Instead, now breaking from this extractive dependency on the state, Bolivia’s far-Right intends to remain in power using violent repression — and cash-in on its privileged standing to solidify more explicit control. By not outcasting cyclically oppressive and corrupt actors, the Bolivian state has played a role in the reproduction of both legal and extralegal violence 2 against its citizens.
The leader of the today’s far-Right, Luis Fernando Camacho, is not an obscure religious zealot, as the media often frames him, but the President of the Comité pro Santa Cruz, the aforementioned Civic Committee born of fascist University organizers.4 Camacho, a millionaire and heir to a multigenerational natural gas fortune, is not a miraculous political phenomenon: his political ties and drive for power speak to disturbingly long historic empowerment. This regime’s final convictions — to serve their Right-wing, corporate interests without checks from civil-society — have been brought to fruition by enduringly corrupt state-corporate ties. To achieve this impunity, the Right has endorsed visions of Indigenous erasure and popular oppression.
This contemporary moment of unrest represents a dangerous but expected departure from past conventions, under which popular discontents would be mitigated and diffused in a manner non-threatening to Bolivia’s elites. As has been captured, Evo Morales’ fourteen-year tenure provided substantive cause for ongoing discontent amongst Bolivia’s pluri-ethnic communities. Now, rather than again negotiating concessions from the state to safeguard their influence from these movements, Camacho’s long emblazoned allies are instead capitalizing on that same state’s vulnerability to uphold their authority.
We, as a concerned and outraged public, must never characterize 2019’s coup as a spontaneous political upset. It occurred amidst a mass movement, in which young people, laborers, and Indigenous communities were making bold demands for autonomy. Ignited by decades of corrosive clientelism and marginalization from political authority, the rebellions associated with Morales’ ouster resist not merely electoral fraud, but the deeply-corrupted structure of the state. This progressive, popular unrest against the government has been maliciously and strategically co-opted by neo-fascists who felt their standing being credibly threatened.
Countless past regimes have diffused popular social movements, and met their pleas for sovereignty with appeasatory half-measures … all to insulate embedded economic elites.2 Today’s juncture appears to be a consequence of this unchecked patronage: having been safeguarded and catered to by countless past regimes, Bolivia’s far-Right is now dangerously ascendent, seeking to violently overtake the institutions that have for decades shielded them from popular unrest.
- Trejo, Guillermo and Ley, Sandra. “Votes, Drugs, and Violence. The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico.” Cambridge University Press (2020), 31-65
- Cruz, Miguel. “Criminal Violence and Democratization in Central America: The Survival of the Violent State.” Latin American Politics and Society 53, no.4 (2011), 1-33.
- Eaton, Kent. “Backlash in Bolivia: Regional Autonomy as a Reaction Against Indigenous Mobilization.” Politics and Society 35, no.1 (2007), 71-102.
- Albro, Robert. “The Indigenous in the Plural in Bolivian Opposition Politics.” Bulletin of Latin American Research 24 no.4 (2005), 433-453.
- Curtis, Heather. “The Cochabamba Water War Social Movement: A Successful Challenge to Neoliberal Expansion in Bolivia?” (2015), 1-131.