Bolivia: A Judicial Coup

Cindy Forster, Orinoco Tribune, Feb 21, 2024 —

On Monday, January 22nd, the poor in Bolivia set up road blockades. That day marks the fifteenth anniversary of a great step in human dignity called the Plurinational State of Bolivia. The blockaders resisted police aggression for nearly 2 weeks. The closure of the roads had only one objective: To stop a judicial coup that aims to dismantle a range of collective rights enshrined in the 2009 Constitution, a spectacular constitution that was born of the thirty-six; original and indigenous nations including the Quechua, Mojeña, and Aymara, whose organizing changed modern history. The United Nations declared itself on the side of the blockaders. Its rapporteur for judicial independence, Margaret Satterthwaite, called for the immediate election of new judges in accordance with the Constitution, whereas the executive branch supported the judges’ ruling to prolong their own mandate indefinitely.

“Soft coups” are often so tangled that many on the left cannot make heads or tails of what is happening. But the Indigenous in Bolivia are vigilant. Thanks to their massive mobilizations across thirteen days, they compelled the Plurinational Assembly to vote for the constitutionally mandated election of new high-court judges. That vote is scheduled for the coming months. Standing in the way of the vote –incredibly– are the forces of President Luis Arce Catacoro who was elected to honor the socialist dreams of the poor. He won by a landslide which drove out the coup regime of Jeanine Áñez, but now Arce is being challenged by the base of the social movements that put him in office. The judges whose term ended in 2023 are indispensable to the plans of President Arce. Since March of 2023, the Arce administration has executed maneuvers to derail judicial elections while claiming they are doing the opposite. Truly Machiavellian, on February 6th the president tried to render invisible the Indigenous protests, and claimed he is responsible for winning the promise of judicial elections. The international press parroted his version.

On February 15th, Arce’s government moved to render illegal the constitutional functions of parliament which, in its majority, believes the former high-court judges must vacate their offices immediately, because their terms have expired. The executive has been unable to force its will in the Plurinational Assembly, where right wing politicians have joined the anti-Arce left. So Vice President David Choquehuanca is now attempting to elevate the power of the former high-court judges over the power of parliament. The coming battles will determine whether a judicial coup–that commenced in March– will escalate to the imprisonment of Indigenous and campesino members of the Assembly, and the crushing of the political project of the Indigenous masses.

The situation changes practically every day. Those loyal to President Arce continue to prevent the removal of the most senior justices in 4 tribunals which are the country’s supreme court, the council of magistrates, the constitutional court, and the court of agrarian and environmental matters. The high-court judges have issued an array of unconstitutional rulings that culminated in their refusal to step down as the Constitution required on December 31st (several did in fact leave office). On that date, most of the judges prolonged their own mandate indefinitely. In public view, the judges together with the bank of deputies that defends President Arce is stalemating the socialist agenda of leftist parliamentarians. Leftists charge that Arce’s defenders –and his family who holds high office– are accumulating resources behind closed doors. Earlier this year, the same high court justices prohibited assembly members from questioning government ministers or examining government finances – both of which are the precise function of parliament and protected in the Constitution. In truth, one has to say that a parliamentary coup is already underway. The judicial coup that is raging in Bolivia is detailed here. Only the strength of Indigenous campesinos has safeguarded the rights of the masses.

At risk is the participation of the sovereign –that is, the people– in the election of the highest judges in the land, as well as the prohibition against a judge ruling on a matter that affects them personally, in this case, the indefinite self-prorogation of the highest-ranking judges at the end of 2023. The high-court judges are dismantling the foundations of the Plurinational State in a number of ways, hence their actions are accurately termed a coup.

So far, the international press has favored President Lucho Arce’s version, and it is an increasingly thorny choice given the recent disqualification of the electoral and union rights of the historic Aymara leader of coca farmers –Evo Morales Ayma– by the judges loyal to the camp of the mestizo president. Evo Morales is a giant in the struggles of the poor and is admired far beyond Bolivia. Inside the country, he is subject to a relentless campaign of slander. Evo is a campesino who grew up in the Aymara highlands when there was widespread hunger due to drought, and moved to the coca-growing regions of El Trópico in Cochabamba where the MAS- IPSP emerged – the Movement toward Socialism and Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples. The coca growers organized unions to defend themselves against anti-narcotics troops, both national and U.S. Now, Luis Arce’s minister of government Eduardo del Castillo says he wants to bring the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to El Trópico, once again. When MAS first came to power, it expelled the DEA from Bolivia for reasons of sovereignty, and the DEA’s brutality against the poor and complicity with the cocaine mafias. Then as now, it is common knowledge that drug traffickers are concentrated in the neighboring right-wing department, Santa Cruz, and not in the coca-producing regions of Cochabamba.

According to the grassroots that built MAS, the conflict is not a power struggle between two men –Luis Arce and Evo Morales– but between two visions of the future. Evo’s triumph was recognized in 2005, and from there, profound changes were implemented for fourteen years. For decades, Evo has been elected to lead MAS and he continues in that role. Arce, a Central Bank economist in the 1990s who offered his services to Evo, was MAS’s minister of the economy for over ten years until far-right chaos erupted. During the coup regime –from November 2019 to November 2020– Evo urged that Luis Arce compete in the 2020 elections. Only tremendous road blockades mounted by the Indigenous and working people achieved presidential elections in 2020, outmaneuvering the coup leaders.

Campesinos argue that the current rupture is due to Arce’s abandonment of Evo’s economic plan that favored the majority. In the marketplaces, say the poor, there are more sellers than buyers, and in the countryside, people are surviving by systems of barter. They allege that there is unprecedented corruption in Arce’s national government and the reappearance of drug trafficking among elites. The country just received the third-worst ranking for corruption in South America. Last week, Fitch Ratings lowered Bolivia’s standing below the level recommended for investors, and they have suggested that “widespread contraband” contributes to the problem. Bolivia’s famous natural gas reserves have been depleted and new exploration not adequately conducted. Foreign gasoline and diesel supplies have not been secured. Gas stations across the country are surrounded by long lines of waiting vehicles. Rumors are circulating of a price hike in subsidized gasoline prices, which would necessarily cause an inflationary cycle that would devastate the budgets of the poor.

The majority of people who vote for MAS need the protection of the peasant economy and of the self-employed in the cities. Those goals were achieved via nationalizations under Evo. The current executive has recommended more private participation in nationalized companies, which is anathema to the poor. Concern is mounting that contracts for Bolivia’s lithium have been sealed behind closed doors. In theory, such contracts require congressional oversight. The more privileged classes complain about the absence of dollars – for small business investments, for example, or to pay rent in many middle-class neighborhoods. Radisson Hotel just closed shop in Bolivia due to the lack of dollars, according to the press. Pharmacies say they will have to raise prices because, in order to buy medicines mostly produced outside Bolivia, they have to purchase dollars in the parallel market which charges much more than the Central Bank exchange rate.

Perhaps more serious still, politicians who are openly loyal to Evo Morales have denounced that the funds designated for their districts –by law– are blocked and infrastructure projects paralyzed. But the divides between the executive and the rest of MAS are more troubling still.

A middle course outside the left – in their own words
A new reality has emerged in the Assembly in the decision of many right wing coup supporters to align with the poor and Indigenous –“the radicals” in MAS– who challenge Arce. Their common ground lies in respecting the powers of parliament, which is the highest organ of the state because it expansively represents the people. To understand this phenomenon, 3 opinion-makers are cited, quoting from La Razón, a media house which tells its truth from the perspective of non-Indigenous intellectuals. It calls itself “the most influential newspaper in the country,” its readership is mestizo, and it gives space every day to columnists from the New York Times and includes a large insert of that newspaper in its Sunday edition. The New York Times is the mouthpiece of the U.S. elite.

The first voice is that of Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé, a former Supreme Court justice who was briefly named president when Carlos Mesa resigned. Mesa was the vice president of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada who fled the country with the assistance of the U.S. embassy in 2003, after massacring 67 poor people in popular protests to protect Bolivia’s gas from being sold to foreigners. Former President Rodríguez Veltzé said, “The failure of the judges to retire is more serious; than Arce is willing to recognize, and a profoundly ethical issue. “It surprises me that a crisis of this level, of this magnitude, does not move President Arce or Vice President Choquehuanca.” On December 10th last year he said, “They [the executive] deliberately delayed the judicial elections, and today their invocation of the Constitution and democracy is belated and implausible.” The high-court judges “knew, from the first day of their election, that their mandate had a beginning and an end, six years. With the prorogation of their own terms, They know that they have committed a very serious offense.” He speaks with the authority of a former high court judge and constitutional expert. “The high courts are elected by popular vote according to the 2009 Constitution. It is an exercise of citizens rights Before,  positivism meant that only a handful of gentlemen and ladies could say what the Constitution contained.”  That old model is still promoted by Arce’s Minister of Justice, Iván Lima, an individual who is difficult to quote because he contradicts himself with such regularity. “The executive, in my opinion, has provoked deliberate bewilderment,”; Rodriguez Veltzé believes, “No organ of the state may assume or delegate the functions of another power, especially to the detriment of citizens and in favor of their own interest.” He reminded Claudia Benavente, the director of La Razón who was interviewing him, that, “actions ordered by individuals without legal authority are null and void”. Such actions have been ordered by the highest judges who refuse to leave office.

The same anti-constitutional judges are responsible for the flawed ruling that blocked Evo Morales from another presidential term. Mainstream media present that ruling as final even though it is not – it requires the overturning of an earlier ruling by the same court that permits Morales to run. The judges took advantage of a case that dealt with freedom of expression, and inserted in the preamble –not in the ruling– an extraneous argument. Without logic or judicial reasoning, they declared Evo Morales disqualified. The disqualification reflects the desire of the two judges who wrote it but has no legal validity. It bears remembering, media outlets in 2017 treated as honorable and final the disqualification of former (and current) president Lula by Brazilian judges, who acted in close coordination with the U.S. State Department.

Lawfare is in full swing in Bolivia. The judges who refuse to vacate their offices today, gave legal shelter to the usurper president in 2019. They recently acquitted of multiple charges the corrupt mayor of one of Bolivia’s largest cities, Cochabamba. They did so without any credible reason. The mayor, Manfred Reyes Villa, is a former military man who honors the paramilitaries of the coup year. La Razón published that he was directly involved in the Harrington Street massacre in 1981. Prior to the 2019 coup, Reyes Villa helped plan Evo’s overthrow from his exile in the United States. He is now building a close alliance with Arce.

Antonio Dalence, also a critic of MAS, is a prominent journalist at La Razón and for months he has been urging judicial elections. In mid-September he reported that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called for Bolivia to carry out judicial elections before the end of the judges’ terms in 2023. Dalence added that many IACHR recommendations fall on deaf ears, for example, the demand for the immediate dismantling of paramilitary bands that served the coup regime as shock troops.

Rubén Atahuichi –the editor-in-chief of the same newspaper, who has long been hostile to Evo Morales– establishes the context of the last 5 years that the right wing prefers to forget: “the taking of the presidency by Jeanine Áñez had troubling precedents that converged in the undermining of democracy and the constitutional rupture, which have not yet been resolved: [one sees] the anti-democratic role of the former civic leader and now governor Luis Fernando Camacho [currently in preventive detention], the disobedience to the constituted order on the part of the Bolivian Armed Forces and Police, the subtle validation of the regime by the Plurinational Constitutional Court; –I would say that it was not so subtle: the court endorsed the presidential usurpation in a communique, and did not explain to the public that a communique is merely an opinion and not legally binding– & quote; and the discursive approval of certain political figures, such as Carlos Mesa, who said that the taking of power by the former minority senator was an “impeccable succession”.

The grassroots base of MAS is largely absent in mass media – or treated as blind followers. Police aggression against the poor compelled the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights to issue a rebuke on February 2, demanding respect for the rights of protestors who set up the blockades. They were joined by the Office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. While commercial journalists report the opinions of high-court judges and the national government, they make scant reference to the official strategy of violence against the poor. Such violence explains the gathering rage of the Indigenous and campesinos across the course of 2023.

The role of the U.S. embassy, according to the Indigenous
Mainstream journalists, at the moment, are still interviewing individuals who correct the omissions of the fourth estate. La Razón for example interviewed the Indigenous leader Ramiro Jorge Cucho in September of last year, during his term as a high authority or Jiliri Apu Mallku of the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu, CONAMAQ. Conamaq’s leader did not attend the meeting of social movement representatives convened by President Arce –called the Pact of Unity– because “We have mentioned, and we have [repeatedly] said, that they should settle their internal differences at the base of each organization that has split.” He believes the president’s meeting with the Pact of Unity was “convened for purely political reasons, moreover at a point in time when we are afflicted by pressing problems.” Their territories are facing severe drought, due to this climate change that is hitting all our Indigenous and original peoples.  In his words, “We need to address very important issues with respect to judicial elections. We need to address very important issues in terms of the cost of the family food basket.”

He was asked if Conamaq was going to attend the Congress in Lauca Ñ, Cochabamba, the magna event convened by MAS. “There is no reason for us not to attend,” replied Ramiro Jorge Cucho. ” Thanks to this Political Instrument, we have recovered the dignity of our peoples.” He wanted to elaborate: “We have had fourteen years of economic prosperity, development, and our Indigenous and original peoples have reclaimed our dignity, in the years before the coup. We respect political structures –the internal grassroots structures– that this Political Instrument of MAS has built.”; He informed the public, “We are sending a commission to address important issues that are very much ours.”In Bolivia there is a practice of inviting closing thoughts in an interview, and he chose to reiterate the gravity of the food crisis. He then insisted that the divisions in MAS are the work of the United States embassy. And that; “the next president must be an Indigenous brother who will lead the future of all our Indigenous peoples”; – not exactly the perspective of the news source interviewing him.

The poor learned hard lessons during the twelve months of coup repression in 2019 and 2020. Among them, Ramiro Jorge Cucho understands what is happening not as a national struggle, but rather as a fracturing of the left promoted by the United States and other international forces that dedicate themselves to crushing socialism.

The aggressions of the state
Essential facts about the supreme Congress of MAS held in early October of last year are systematically obscured by the magistrates who are orchestrating the judicial coup. After having approved the Congress in Lauca, they are now trying to rescind that approval. All the legal requirements to hold the Congress were fulfilled by MAS-IPSP. Even the Minister of Justice, Iván Lima, who is the nemesis of the popular classes, said at the beginning of his term as minister that Evo Morales had every right to be a presidential candidate in 2025. Only MAS had convened its Congress, although this is a requirement for all parties in the upcoming elections. The electoral court gave its endorsement and sent observers to Lauca Ñ. The executive, on the other hand, placed a series of obstacles in the way of the Congress. Arce sent security forces to the coca-growing regions of Cochabamba in unprecedented numbers, arguing that there was an infestation of drug traffickers. MAS then organized a security system of 5,000 unarmed peasants to protect the event, similar to the Zapatista gatherings in Chiapas, Mexico. MAS security found explosives in the backpack of a supposed delegate to the congress, which led them to believe there was a plan to assassinate. The Tenth Congress of MAS proceeded – without breaks, to avoid further unpleasant surprises – and the delegates of the rank and file elected new MAS leaders, half of whom were women. Evo Morales was chosen as the only MAS candidate for the upcoming presidential race. But he had not renewed his membership in MAS before the Congress, which elated the ’anti-evistas’; who seek his political death. Morales complied with this obligation before the official deadline at the end of the same month.

Like Ramiro Jorge Cucho, Adriana Salvatierra –the head of the Senate at the time of the 2019 coup– advocated dialogue to heal the rift in MAS. She is from a progressive, mestizo family in Santa Cruz, and she was joined by Andrónico Rodríguez –the head of the Senate today– in the search for unity within MAS. Both are young people in their thirties, and both; Adriana and Andrónico; agree that Evo Morales continues to be an outstanding leader. Andrónico won a fourth term as president of the Senate in November of last year, after a fierce battle and negotiations with opposing parties – the same process that occurred in the lower house, but under the leadership of a supporter of the executive. Andrónico in his present position continues to speak of the need for unity. He knows exactly what he is up against, as he comes from El Trópico, is the son of indigenous coca farmers, and organized his generation at the university in Cochabamba and then in the coca growers unions. During the coup regime, Andrónico was one of the most hunted men in the country.

In November of 2023, Adriana changed course. She warned in a television interview that “there exist fundamental differences [within MAS]. While I have kept my silence until now, today I wish to say that Evo Morales is the leader of this process, and this process should continue with Evo Morales at its helm. I say this for 4 basic reasons: Because I do not agree with how the Congress of the “Única” [the CSUTCB or Bolivian Confederation of Unified Rural Trade Union Workers] was subjected to police intervention, then the takeover of its headquarters, putting in place a person who, at the very least, does not possess membership in MAS.” She directs her words to Arce: “In essence, you organized the takeover of a union Congress, and you held their offices under police guard, in order to impose what you needed to see happen in that Federation. And I don’t agree with that.”

“I don’t agree with the stigmatization of the El Trópico in Cochabamba. When one looks at where coca leaf production takes place, but does not look at where the greatest quantities are seized, where the airstrips are located, where the drugs leave the country, where the drug traffickers build their networks and their social relationships, and play soccer and go to parties – and then you stigmatize El Trópico of Cochabamba,” and she assumes the conclusion is obvious: it is clear the reasons are not disinterested. “I do not agree with the suspension of the elections of high court judges that took place with the absolute silence of the Minister of Justice,” said Iván Lima. “I do not agree with the way the Plurinational Assembly has been stripped of its power to question Arce’s ministers;”  Minister of Justice Lima and Minister of Government Eduardo del Castillo were summoned for questioning, after which a majority of the legislators voted for their dismissal. Nothing happened. “And finally, I also do not agree with the way in which the proscription and disqualification of Evo Morales has been openly advocated by the Minister of Justice. These are fundamental ideological differences that shatter the idea of equivalency, the idea that anyone could say, ‘Well, there are two forces, there are two interpretations.’ No.” She insisted, “When you understand, when you look at these facts, you can’t remain on the sidelines and not take a position.” Adriana Salvatierra foresees and warns of a plan of imprisonment and false accusations, as happened in Ecuador or Brazil against leaders on the side of the poor.

The Bolivian press is a machine fed by urban intellectuals, most of them mestizos, and not averse to yellow journalism. Internationally the left press on this issue is circumspect in the face of a fissure in MAS. For the most part, the left in Bolivia is made up of peasants and the poor of the cities. Their words are the source of the analyses of their leaders. It hardly needs saying that they don’t think like the so-called “educated” classes.

The social leaders who are the highest-ranking pro-Arce militants, as Adriana Salvatierra mentions, belong to other political parties and not to MAS. President Arce placed them, literally, at the head of the national unions of campesinos and Indigenous women. In order to avoid grassroots decisions in the election of leaders, the police under the command of the executive tear-gassed the rank and file when they began voting in their congresses. This happened in March to the Bartolina Sisas in Cochabamba, at another point in Tarija, and in El Alto in August in the magna campesino congress of the Indigenous and original peoples, where plainclothes police tear-gassed all through the night, but even so could not prevent the members’ choice of leaders. Uniformed police had to intervene to compel a second outcome after driving out the campesino bases: They created a competing or parallel leadership of sycophants. That is the action referred to by Adriana. The aim of the executive was to block the collective mechanisms of MAS-IPSP and commandeer the MAS Congress in Lauca Ñ. Their plan failed. The people who resisted the tear-gassing went to the magna Congress and they are the social bases organizing the roadblocks of 2024. Arce is desperate to disqualify Evo from running for president, but the executive’s dilemma is really much larger than Evo.

Wilfredo Chávez, an attorney general of unblemished reputation, resigned this year to defend Evo’s forces. He insists that Minister of Justice Iván Lima –a corporate lawyer and never a member of MAS– is returning the nation to the rule of neoliberal elites. Chávez says the lack of justice for the victims of the massacres committed during the coup is part of Arce’s governing plan. Ominously, state officials have closed radio stations that report from the perspectives of the grassroots. Alternative media rely on the internet, and their transmissions are suffering a host of problems.

Arce’s supporters focus their attacks on Evo Morales’ alleged megalomania. The police –who have no mandate to intrude on union meetings– necessarily take orders from the executive because they do not act on their own account. Security forces are not under the command of local governments. Arce says the people who have suffered and resisted repeated tear-gassings, whether in protests or in union assemblies, are puppets. Those who trust in Evo’s political plans insist that Lucho’s forces are, for the most part, public officials forced to render obedience, or former MAS members who receive money or employment in exchange for attending the gatherings of the ruling sector.

Campesinos achieve what the legislators could not
Before the blockades began, Andrónico called for a ‘judicial dialogue’ in parliament on January 19th. All the legislators from MAS and the right-wing parties participated, except for those who favor the executive of Luis Arce. Andrónico asked the lower house to discuss Law 144 that guarantees judicial elections, which had already won more than two-thirds approval in the Senate. Pro-Arce politicians simply refused to meet.

Vice President Choquehuanca is the head of both chambers of parliament but he has never stated a clear agenda, apart from his disconcerting call to leave behind the ideologies of the left and the right. It seems clear that the president, vice president, Minister of Justice Iván Lima, and their supporters in the Chamber of Deputies would not allow judicial elections if it were in their power. With the current high-court judges, they can ensure their political longevity and possibly the destruction of MAS-IPSP if it fails to bend to their will.

Because the country was shut down for almost 2 weeks by the grassroots bases of MAS, they forced all of parliament to consider Law 144. Even so, the Law was stalled in Congress for another week by deputies in the camp of the executive. Arce’s supporters are a minority in the Plurinational Assembly, so their only recourse is obstruction. They have now refused to pass legislation to ensure that the high-court judges step down, ignoring the pact they signed just days ago in which they promised the removal of the judges immediately following the passage of the law for judicial elections. According to the signed agreement of the legislators, after meeting the 2 demands made by campesinos on the road blockades, parliament would consent to law seeking international credit (not a favored recourse of the left). It bears noting that everyone in the legislature except its head, Vice President Choquehuanca, signed the agreement, and no amount of pressure would yield his signature. To make matters more complicated still, the mass media operates as an echo chamber of Arce and his followers. This week, Arce is pushing for the unconstitutional judges to declare that stepping down would be unconstitutional – once again prolonging their control over the future of the country

“What will be their macabre plan?”
Mestizo broadcaster and analyst José Alberto González, known affectionately as ‘Gringo’; is respected nationally for his work at Abya Yala Television. Abya Yala was relentlessly pursued during the coup ‘Gringo’ was the head of the Plurinational Senate for a time, elected by MAS.  He interviewed MAS Senator Leonardo Loza who is a confidant of Evo Morales and a prominent coca union leader. Together, they constructed a chronology of the falling out between Lucho and Evo. Gringo speaks carefully:”I think we can say this a very difficult time. We were talking before going on the air about how it’s hard to believe that there are some people who are going to the media, going to different public events, and saying certain things. It seems like a lie, it’s as if one were living a kind of nightmare. Listening to long-time comrades, cherished and respected comrades who fought for certain ideals, today saying things –and one wants to believe it’s not true– saying certain things that are betrayals in some cases of what they defended with such passion in another time: What is going on? As Eduardo Galeano would say, ‘The world is upside-down,’ Bolivian politics is upside-down’.  Loza suggests, “When there is no leadership of the state –whether from the social base or from professionals– when the leadership does not demonstrate character or decisiveness, unfortunately it all slips into chaos. I never imagined this was going to happen. Of course, we had very hard moments from 2019 to 2020 – but this is the worst. We voted for them, the people cast their vote, they campaigned with tears in their eyes, with great effort, with all the fruit we could carry to the cities from El Trópico,” during the hunger of Covid [Gringo interrupts …]

Gringo: “And also, Leonardo, at great risk, because at that moment they were pursuing you, dangling handcuffs on the television news saying they were coming to get you.”

Loza: “As if they were the true owners of justice, of freedom. We mounted a tremendous campaign in El Trópico in the region of Cochabamba. And now, all these people who we campaigned for are pursuing us. Trying to break us. Accusing us of all kinds of things. [Hugo] Moldiz, for instance, [Jorge] Richter, they are drunk with power. They never fought at our side.” They were not in the streets –or shutting down the roads with the campesinos– during the coup regime. We are going through times that are harder for us now than when the right was in power, but we are prepared; – such an intimate betrayal. We are in this battle, standing on the side of our people – the ordinary people who with tears in their eyes worked tirelessly for Lucho Arce to be our president, but now, he is trying to destroy us. Arce and his ministers accuse coca union leaders of trafficking in people and drugs. They trail us, they watch our every move.’

Said Loza, “We never made an agreement with Lucho; about whether or not he would step down from the presidency. Maybe for reasons of human nature, many of us are ambitious, or power goes to the head and separates us from reality. When the coup leaders –who had tried several times to kill Evo– lost power, MAS judged it safe for Evo to return to Bolivia. He came to the border with President Alberto Fernández of Argentina just days after the election.  But Lucho didn’t go to receive Evo in Villazón, out of gratitude if nothing else. Even though Evo–Bolivia’s historic leader– had gone to the mat to defend Lucho’s candidacy. “That’s when I said to myself, something’s going on here.”

About 4 or 5 months after the elections on a plane trip to El Trópico with Evo and Andrónico, they weighed the situation and concluded that Lucho had decided to distance himself from Evo At that time, three coup politicians were elected as mayors of two of the largest cities –La Paz and Cochabamba– and the governorship of the bastion of the ultra-right in the largest state – Santa Cruz. Evo routinely receives chilling intelligence that is not solicited, thanks to the loyalty of the poor. This is not so unusual if one thinks of twentieth-century histories of guerrilla wars in Latin America.

Loza says on the basis of such intelligence, “issues of drug trafficking, of corruption, have separated us from the executive. When it comes to the judicial system, Arce has a plan that is macabre.”

For the record, the national government caved at the end of January to campesino roadblocks, most of them set up by the Indigenous. One had over ten thousand peasants. The Arce government gassed the roadblocks. On camera, police beat and dragged Indigenous women. They flung one into the back of a truck “as if she were a dishrag.” Arce attributed the deaths of several elderly people to the shutdown of highways but those deaths, even according to relatives, were unrelated. Most of the blockades held out against the tear-gassing. At some, when police attacked, the Indigenous repelled them, causing injuries with their slingshots. The campesino bases stood firm. “The government is like an octopus,” says Senator Loza. “It’s attacking us from all sides. Not only is it making agreements with the right in Bolivia, it’s doing everything to disqualify Evo as a candidate. They have a plan to imprison Evo once and for all. If that doesn’t work, they want to throw him out of the country, as you mentioned happened in Ecuador. [Progressive president Rafael] Correa lives outside his country” – on account of the threat of imprisonment on false charges. With his own government that he had trusted, they threw him out. Evo’s  international friends recommend that he improve his security measures. As for Bolivia’s executive, Loza says, “I’m sure they’ll stop at nothing. But on our side, they are underestimating our people.”


Cindy Forster is a member of the Chiapas Support Committee, Los Angeles.

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