Dispelling myths about the battle for democracy in Bolivia
After years of watching embattled Nicolás Maduro remain in power in Venezuela, many international observers did not expect Evo Morales to resign as president of Bolivia. But after massive electoral fraud, from top to bottom, Morales’s credibility in the country evaporated. To save whatever legitimacy he had left, he sought asylum in Mexico, where he apparently has begun a political propaganda campaign to confuse the international community about what’s really going on in Bolivia.
It’s working. False narratives are weaving their way into the public’s conscience and have even fooled some U.S. politicians. But for those who pay close attention to Bolivia, it’s important to set the record straight and ensure that these false narratives are debunked.
Here are the top five false narratives of the ongoing crisis in Bolivia:
1. There was a coup d’état against Evo Morales in Bolivia
The coup narrative has nearly no traction in Bolivia; however, the repeated claims of a coup by Morales and friends have gained credibility with certain Democratic 2020 presidential candidates. No matter how much one wants to believe that the indigenous leader was ousted in a coup, the facts simply don’t add up.
Morales did not resign because his military suggested he do so. He resigned because he lost all legitimacy with the Bolivian people after one of the most flagrant electoral fraud in the country’s history. Among his detractors are key segments of his political base, such as miners, indigenous groups and the workers’ union. Hardly a confab of right-wing coup plotters.
2. The Bolivian military was a critical factor in Evo Morales resigning
Those who believe in the coup narrative often point to Nov. 10, when then-chief of Bolivia’s armed forces Gen. Williams Kaliman “suggested” on national TV that Morales step down. Kaliman, who often referred to Bolivia’s military as an “anti-colonial force,” was just a Johnny-come-lately after 21 days of sustained protests led by civic leaders who delivered a resignation letter to the presidential palace in La Paz.
In fact, Kaliman, who is known in military circles as an ardent Morales loyalist, was immediately relieved from duty after the new president came to power. More recently, the rest of the military high command also was replaced, indicating that the Bolivian military was a minimal factor in Morales resignation.
3. Interim President Jeanine Añez is self-appointed
After Morales resigned, a relatively unknown Bolivian senator became the president of Bolivia, leading some to speculate that Jeanine Añez woke up one day and decided it was her turn to be president. Unfortunately for the naysayers, that’s not how the Bolivian constitution works.
In addition to Morales, the vice president and the heads of the Senate and lower chamber all resigned in a blatant attempt by Morales’s political party, Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), to leave Bolivians confused and ungoverned. Añez, as the second vice president of the Senate, was next in line and decided not to run away from Bolivia’s crisis but to face the challenge head-on as the new president of the plurinational state.
The MAS made one last attempt to stall the transition by not holding quorum in the Bolivian Congress; however, the country’s Constitutional Tribunal legitimized her presidency, stating: “Given that the inheritance of power occurs as a result of a request for resignation … no legislative act or decision of Congress is required.”
4. The new interim government is causing the conflict on the streets of Bolivia
Ironically, the same people who say that the Bolivian military forced Morales to resign because they did not want to clash with the people are now saying that, under President Añez, the military is clashing with the Bolivian people.
It doesn’t help matters that Morales is screaming from the sidelines that President Añez is a “dictator” ruling Bolivia with an “iron fist” for all of two weeks. Unfortunately for Morales, he should have stayed off his cell phone.
Last week, Morales was caught in an audio/video recording of a private call telling his local supporters in Bolivia to block roads and food to starve the people into submission. Subsequently, Morales has been charged with terrorism and sedition by Bolivian government officials. Morales continues to refute the charge and maintain the audio/video recording is a “montage” set up by his opponents, while tweeting a video of police brutality in “Bolivia” — only to find that the video is false and was from 2013 in Mexico.
5. The U.S. is after Bolivia’s lithium, the new “white gold”
Maduro has said the U.S. is after Venezuelan oil, despite the fact that America is now the world’s largest oil producer. Taking a page from the same playbook, Morales now says the U.S. is after Bolivia’s lithium. Interestingly enough, the Morales government’s decade-old lithium policy has already sold much of the mineral to Chinese firms and a German company, which generated discontent among Bolivia’s mining community. While it’s true that Bolivia may have the largest lithium reserves in the world, its neighbors, Chile and Argentina, both U.S. allies, also contain an abundance of the mineral that is hardly a scarce resource.
Many have rushed to judgment in Bolivia, believing any false narrative that is formed on social media. But because Bolivia is in turmoil, it’s important for the international community to separate facts from fiction and dispel false narratives that harm the Bolivians’ long road back to democracy.