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Bolivia has experienced a coup d'état in November 2019, so what we are currently experiencing and the elections that will take place on October 18 come at a time of a coup d'état.
Bolivia will face its first elections after a coup that forced Indigenous leader and former president Evo Morales to resign in November 2019. The country that had been the fastest-growing economy in South America during the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) mandate has gone into an economic crisis alongside violations of human rights, killings, and political persecution carried by the de facto government of Jeannine Áñez and denounced by Bolivian and foreign organizations.
Bolivia's Center for Geopolitical Studies's Director Gabriel Villalba has witnessed the current situation. He reflects on possible scenarios ahead of the October 18 elections and how progressive and right wing forces have forged a path amid a continuous turmoil since the coup took place.
Bolivia is facing its first elections after a coup d'état. You have referred to possible scenarios after these elections’ results, and all of them end in unleashing of violence. Could you explain these scenarios to our audience? What mechanisms do you think the right-wing forces might cling not to validate a possible MAS victory?
Without a doubt, we must emphasize that Bolivia has experienced a coup d'état in November 2019, so what we are currently experiencing and the elections that will take place on October 18 come at a time of a coup d'état.
That is to say; we do not have elections in Bolivia in an environment of ideal democracy or the rule of law as it is. In the function of this, there are four possible scenarios.
A first scenario that would be a very evident electoral fraud, since in the first round Carlos Mesa or Luis Fernando Camacho would have to win, and this, of course, would generate a social upheaval in the country. It would be a very evident fraud scenario in which the Movement to Socialism loses in the first round, taking into account that all the polls show an electoral preference in favor of the Movement to Socialism. There will be no such scenario.
A second scenario that was also foreseen was the annulment of the legal status of the Movement to Socialism. This scenario has not occurred, but because of the alert, the movement and the entire popular bloc have had to safeguard the MAS’s legal status and mobilize following the judicial determination that could be issued against the Movement towards Socialism. This situation would also have generated social upheaval in my country.
A third possible scenario if we consider elections in an ideal context is a transparent democracy, which we do not have in Bolivia. If we consider an ideal electoral scenario, or under normal conditions, the Movement to Socialism would have to win in the first round. Suppose the elections were to occur under normal conditions. In that case, I emphasize that they are not going to happen under normal conditions because, since November of last year, we have been living in a coup d'état.
So if they were to take place under ideal conditions, we would have a Movement to Socialism that would win in the first round. This would generate both a commotion and opposition from violent armed groups of a fascist nature re-formulating themselves since November of last year. I am talking about Junil Cochala Resistance, Union Junil Croseñista, which would react violently to a hypothetical case in which the Movement to Socialism would win in the first round.
And the scenario that I think will happen, the fourth scenario is a democratic makeup in the elections that will occur on October 18. Why democratic make-up? Because the elections are not taking place under normal democratic conditions.
This would also be an electoral fraud since the Movement to Socialism would not reach 40 percent of the votes, forcing a second round. In that second round scenario that would be totally unfavorable to the Movement to Socialism, the two neoconservative blocs, the Luis Fernando Camacho bloc, and the Carlos Mesa bloc would ally themselves, generating a coalition that would win in the second round, and this would render the conditions of an electoral make-up and of course a tremendous social upheaval because the people of the Movement to Socialism would go out into the streets arguing this electoral fraud.
So, as you see, the panorama in my country is not as simple as the hegemonic media would like to present. We would simply be living through an election in a normal environment or one of the customary elections.
Is this fraud likely to happen given that the military has an active role in the custody of ballots?
Yes, it is. Currently, the de facto regime has already granted the custody of all electoral material to the Armed Forces, so, yes or no, the elections will be held on October 18. Still, the strategy of the de facto regime is to prolong a second round. Stretching a second round would generate conditions of social upheaval and militarization of the country and would be totally contrary to the popular bloc of the Movement towards Socialism and would create once again a coalition government made up of the Citizens' Community of Carlos Mesa, and We Believe of Luis Fernando Camacho, re-editing the system of democracy agreed upon in the system of coalitions in Bolivia.
Of course, that risk exists, the fraud would be not so evident, the fraud would be disguised because the fraud would consist of preventing the Movement to Socialism from reaching 40 percent of the votes. Avoiding that, simply avoiding that, with the electoral technicians who are also North Americans and the Organization of American States’ advice, a second-round would also be forced with the scenarios I have already told you.
How has the Movement to Socialism managed to reorganize itself after the coup d'état against Evo Morales to reach the electorate in the face of these elections?
What we are experiencing in Bolivia is a continuous coup d'état, and in these conditions, the elections will take place. In this sense, MAS has again re-discussed the errors that the de facto regime has committed; I am talking about the Senkata massacre, the Karacara massacre, and the Montero massacre, Sakaba, which are being heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The de facto regime has had to kill and massacre people and consolidate entirely anti-popular policies to build its hegemony.
These anti-popular policies, plus the coronavirus and the economic crisis, have promoted a reorientation of the Movement Towards Socialism. A Movement to Socialism that has also not been able to reflect in-depth and with a critical and self-critical sense the repercussions and implications of the coup d'état in Bolivia. Why do I say this? Because it has been proven in these elections and past ones, 40 percent of the electoral roll corresponds to the young people; that is to say; youth decides 40 percent.
In this understanding, a reasonably logical solution for all the political forces would have been to put 40 percent of the candidates on their lists. Politics is often rational, and it has not been done. The Movement Towards Socialism has preferred to entrench itself in its old leaderships without giving the Movement Towards Socialism’s new militancy itself that opportunity. This has also generated friction. The Movement to Socialism has focused on the strictly urban environment because it considers that the rural and intermediate city areas would already be a hard-won vote; this is not so true.
So it has certainly not worked as it should. Still, it is the only alternative against all the neoconservative and even fascist factions led by Jeanine Añez, Luis Fernando Camacho, and Carlos Mesa.
What were the reactions in Bolivia to the electoral debate?
The debate tried to be a presidential debate, what in reality was, was a transmission where six candidates dedicated themselves to attacking the candidate of the popular bloc to the candidate of the Movement to Socialism Luis Arce Catacora, moreover in a situation where the discourse that there was electoral fraud, of a dictatorial government with Evo Morales, that there was economic mismanagement, is still being handled, those fallacies and those speeches that the six candidates against the popular bloc put in the face in the debate to Luis Arce.
On the strictly economic level, which is what interests the population, to get out of the financial crisis produced by the bad administration of Jeanine Añez and the coronavirus, in the function of the economic sphere, this debate demonstrated that the candidate of the Movement for Socialism Luis Arce has a foundation and a concrete proposal in what interests Bolivians, their pockets.
On the other hand, the other candidates simply dedicated themselves to improvising their economic proposals that have not convinced the Bolivian electorate. The people know how to differentiate very well the points of view that were expressed in the debate, on the one hand, the popular bloc and this economic construction typical of the Movement towards Socialism with the productive socio-economic model awarded by all the international organizations on the political and economic level and the other hand neo-liberalism with its different masks and a free-market economic model that has served Bolivia little or nothing in the development of its history. Clearly, two opposing proposals.
Lithium is an outstanding issue on the agenda of several candidates, the candidate Luis Arce said in the electoral debate that the exploitation of this resource in Bolivia would generate around 43 associated industries; therefore, it would be a significant generator of employment while opposition parties have said that they would open Bolivia for the big transnationals to exploit this natural resource. Other analysts refer to lithium’s exploitation mechanism as to how the right-wing "intends to pay for the coup d'état.” What role does this natural resource play in the political interests of the left and right in the country, and what is its importance at the international level?
Lithium is the fundamental element moving the global technological era; we move from the technological era of fossil fuels to lithium’s technological age. Within this framework, Bolivia has the largest lithium reserve globally, shared in the lithium triangle with Argentina and Chile. In this lithium triangle, Bolivia has 80 percent of lithium. That is why this natural resource represents a transversal axis to all the proposals to understand an industrialization process that generates work that generates a surplus for all Bolivians, according to the geopolitical use of this strategic resource.
Now, at this time, there are two sides, the side if you want protectionist, sovereign, to generate partners and not employers, led by the Movement towards Socialism with a strong state administration of the resource of lithium. On the other hand, you have the model of free-market or neoliberalism that, of course, opens the doors to the world so that the best bidder comes and benefits from this strategic product in all its phases of industrialization, import, and generation of finished products.
Then on the subject of lithium, you can see two economic models confronting each other, a sovereign model versus a model if you want to globalize, globalizing, free market, neoliberal, which in Bolivia at least has not worked well, because we have the processes of capitalization, the processes of privatization that reduced the state to its minimum expression and generated poverty among all Bolivians under the pretext that our national public companies were not good administrators. Bolivia has already gone through this history.
On the other hand, if we are heading towards a sovereign process, a process that generates partners and not bosses, as was the case during the 14 years of Evo Morales' government, you have. You create a wealth that is redistributed amongst all sectors of the population. You have generated employment and a national project that can speak about you to the international markets, and why not determine the prices of lithium at a global level.
It is a resource that can position Bolivia and the region’s countries in this new technological cycle of lithium