The Meaning of the October 18 Presidential Election in Bolivia: Interview with Activist in La Paz

[Note: The following interview with a Bolivian activist in the capital city of La Paz, was conducted by Alan Benjamin on October 31.]

Question: What is your assessment of the outcome of the October 18 presidential election that ousted self-appointed “president” Jeanine Añez, whose regime was installed by a military coup “Made in the USA.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in fact, openly bragged about funding and orchestrating the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew democratically elected President Evo Morales.

Answer: The election marked a genuine victory of the Bolivian people. It was an overwhelming vote against the right-wing, racist military regime of Jeanine Añez that was despised by the people.

The victory of Luis Arce and his running mate David Choquehuanca was a big surprise for the political establishment. Analysts did not expect that Arce, or any of the three candidates, would obtain the 40% needed on the first round to secure the election outright. They figured that the vote would be split evenly among Arce of the MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo/Movement for Socialism), right-wing former President Carlos Mesa, and extreme-right wing Santa Cruz separatist leader Luis Fernando Camacho. It was assumed that Mesa would have the backing of Camacho in the second round, and that he would then defeat Arce easily.

But that’s not what happened: Arce obtained 55% on the first round, trouncing his two opponents. The vote totals were so overwhelming in support of Arce that Mesa was forced to concede the election — a concession that angered the extreme right-wing fringe that insisted Arce’s election was fraudulent and that another election should be held.

To understand this outcome you have to grasp the depth of the opposition to Añez and her cabal. Just one week after the coup, Bolivian soldiers massacred 36 indigenous peasants marching from Cochabamba to La Paz to demand their rights. Añez dropped all charges against the soldiers; they were found “exempt from all criminal responsibility.” Añez banned the display of the Wiphala, the flag that represents indigenous people in Bolivia and across the Andes. Her racist hatred, and that of the elite that she represents, for the Bolivian people was evident at every turn. 

Add to this the widespread corruption of the coup regime. Many cases illustrate this reality, but the most notable was that involving the purchase of ventilators from China. Not only were these purchased at three times their ticket price —with Añez and her military allies pocketing millions of dollars in the process — the ventilators never worked. Their disdain and hatred for the popular sectors, in this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, was just too much for the Bolivian people to tolerate.

Question: What was the response of the workers and peasants, and their organizations, to the Añez coup regime?

Answer: The social movements — led by the Juntas Vecinales, or neighborhood councils, and the peasant and indigenous organizations — launched the resistance immediately after the coup. The people self-organized.

The COB trade union federation, which had endorsed the ouster of Evo Morales, joined the movement in opposition to Añez and her racist gang. Last August their headquarters were blown up by fascist goons linked to the Añez regime. Together, all these organizations, with the Bolivian Mineworkers Federation (FSTMB) in the lead, mobilized to demand a new presidential election. Nonetheless Añez twice postponed the scheduled special election, angering the social movements even further and thus fueling the resistance. Añez was forced by this movement from below to convene the October 18 election.

Bolivian FSTMB mineworker in the Colquiri mines

Question: On October 28, Orlando Gutierrez, the executive secretary of the Bolivian Mineworkers Federation died in a La Paz hospital after being assaulted brutally by armed thugs. Who was behind this assassination and what does it portend?

Answer: The Añez regime bears the main responsibility for this despicable assassination, which was carried out by fascist militias based in the right-wing separatist region of Santa Cruz. These are militias linked to Añez and her regime. Gutierrez had been receiving death threats. He was ambushed five days earlier by these goons. He was an active supporter of the MAS. 

The situation is ominous: Trade-union and political activists opposed to the coup regime have been threatened by right-wing militias enraged by the outcome of the presidential election that brought Arce to power. Those of us in the resistance must be especially careful.

Question: What next? Arce is calling for “reconciliation with all the social forces in Bolivia,” including the very plotters of the November 10, 2019 military coup against Evo Morales.

Answer: The unions and social movements can not let down their guard; they must safeguard the independence of their organizations for the critical struggles ahead.

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