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The Bolivian coup against Evo Morales was an attack on indigenous people everywhere

By Nick Estes

Evo Morales is more than Bolivia’s first indigenous president — he is our president, too. The rise of a humble Aymara coca farmer to the nation’s highest office in 2006 marked the arrival of indigenous people as vanguards of history. Within the social movements that brought him to power emerged indigenous visions of socialism and the values of Pachamama (the Andean Earth Mother). Evo represents five centuries of indigenous deprivation and struggle in the hemisphere.

A coup against Evo, therefore, is a coup against indigenous people.

Evo’s critics, from the anti-state left and right, are quick to point out his failures. But it was his victories that fomented this most recent violent backlash.

Evo and his party, the indigenous-led Movement for Socialism (MAS in Spanish), nationalized key industries and used bold social spending to shrink extreme poverty by more than half, lowering the country’s Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, by a remarkable 19%. During Evo’s and MAS’s tenure, much of Bolivia’s indigenous-majority population has, for the first time in their lives, lived above poverty.

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales

The achievements were more than economic. Bolivia made a great leap forward in indigenous rights.

Once at the margins of society, Indigenous languages and culture have been thoroughly incorporated into Bolivia’s plurinational model. The indigenous Andean concept of Bien Vivir, which promotes living in harmony with one another and the natural world, was written into the country’s constitution becoming a measure for institutional reform and social progress. The Wiphala, an indigenous multicolor flag, became a national flag next to the tricolor, and 36 indigenous languages became official national languages alongside Spanish.

Evo’s indigenous socialism has become the standard bearer for the international indigenous community. The esteemed Maori jurist, Moana Jackson, once referred to Bolivia’s 2009 constitution as the “nearest thing in the world to a constitution that has come from an Indigenous kaupapa (a communal vision).”

The indigenous-socialist project accomplished what neoliberalism has repeatedly failed to do: redistribute wealth to society’s poorest sectors and uplift those most marginalized. Under Evo and MAS leadership, Bolivia liberated itself as a resource colony. Before the coup, Evo attempted to nationalize its large lithium reserves, an element necessary for electric cars. Since the coup, Tesla’s stocks have skyrocketed. Bolivia rebuked imperialist states like the United States and Canada by taking the path of resource nationalism to redistribute profits across society.

An indigenous woman confront a policeman earlier this month in La Paz.

This was Evo’s crime.

“My sin was being indigenous, leftist, and anti-imperialist,” Evo said after being coerced into resigning this week.

His replacement, Jeanine Añez Chávez, agreed. “I dream of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites,” the opposition senator tweeted in 2013, “the city is not for the Indians who should stay in the highlands or the Chaco!!!” After Evo’s departure, Chavez declared herself interim president while holding up a large bible, though she failed to get the required quorum in the senate to do so.

Next to her stood Luis Fernando Camacho, a member of the Christian far-right. After Evo’s resignation, Camacho stormed the presidential palace, a flag in one hand and a bible in the other. “The bible is returning to the government palace,” a pastor said on a video while standing next to Camacho. “Pachamama will never return. Today Christ is returning to the Government Palace. Bolivia is for Christ.”

In places where the opposition is strongest, Wiphala flags, symbols of indigenous pride, were lowered and burned. Police officers cut the flags from their uniforms. What were symbolic acts quickly escalated into street-level violence.

MAS members’ houses were burned. Evo’s home was ransacked. Masked armed men began rounding up suspected MAS supporters and indigenous people in the streets, loading them into the back of trucks. A handful of protesters have been killed. The same social movements that ushered Evo and MAS into power have taken to the streets to defend the gains of their indigenous revolution.

Amidst the chaos, anti-indigenous race-hatred has gripped the country since Evo’s October 20 re-election. While left critics continue to rail against Evo, paradoxically blaming him for the coup that overthrew him, no evidence has emerged of election fraud. The Organization of American States cited “irregularities” without yet providing documentation. A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, however, found no irregularities and no fraud.

To appease critics, Evo even agreed to re-elections but was forced to resign under orders from the military and escalating rightwing violence. No one resigns with a gun pointed to their head. Clearly, it was a coup.

Fearing assassination, Evo fled to Mexico where he was granted asylum and greeted by a cheering crowd.

The future of Bolivia is currently marching in the streets, the millions of people who voted for Evo in the last elections, the 47% whose voices and votes were stolen by the violent return of the old, colonial oligarchy.

Other critics still contend that Evo’s 13-year tenure was too long. They mention Evo losing a referendum to amend constitution but failing to note the Supreme Court ruling that allowed him legally to run for another term. For our indigenous president, after five centuries of colonization, 13 years was not long enough.

“We will come back,” Evo recently assured supporters, quoting the 18th-century indigenous resistance leader, “and we will be millions as Tupac (Katari) said.”
_________________

Nick Estes is a citizen of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe in the U.S.. He is an Assistant Professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. In 2014, he co-founded The Red Nation, an Indigenous resistance organization. He is the author of the book Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance (Verso, 2019)

55 thoughts on “The Bolivian coup against Evo Morales was an attack on indigenous people everywhere

  1. I could not disagree with everything said in this article more strongly. Not quite sure where to begin, but if anybody cares to focus on any of these things I would love to engage a discussion.

  2. The OAS is the vigilante for ‘election fraud’ in all countries except the US (who, of course, funds them). It is not only the indigenous that are targeted but any populist movement that stands in the way of neo liberal business rule.

  3. Evo Morales built an international airport in the middle of nowhere. Actually this large airport was built in Morales strong hold Chapare area near Cochabamba. No international flights are coming in and out of there except maybe private International flights (Venezuela Russia Belgium). That’s a fact. The proof seekers will still try to dispute this but the brick and mortar or should I say the pavement and runway is proof of that by itself. Morales is not even hiding this fact.

    The military is flying a lot out of that airport and when one of the military said that the military should not be involved in transporting of the cocaine he was killed. Lots of of people in Bolivia mention that.

    Unfortunately not everything appears on the internet because reporters would be putting their lives at risk when they print articles about the drug route. Columbia, Bolivia to Mexico to the US.

    Why do you think Morales ended up in Mexico, housing one of the biggest drug cartels. These guys are disappointed that Morales resigned because now the cash cow is going to slow down for these countries that have been benefiting from the cocaine income.

    Morales used the indigenous card to get elected the first time but now the Bolivian people see through that. Many indigenous we spoke to did not vote for Morales.

    1. Then I guess I’m one of those gawdawful “proof seekers.”

      You could say the same thing about the Cuenca airport, i.e. that “no international flights are coming in and out of there except maybe private international flights.” So what? According to your twisted logic, does that mean that Cuenca is also–ipso facto–a drug running nexus?

      I did a Google search for commercial flights from UIO to CBB (Quito to Cochabamba) leaving tomorrow and returning the following day. I have my choice of at least 37 different flights. The fact that all flights going to CBB transit through VVI (Viru Viru International Airport in Santa Cruz de la Sierra) or through LPB (La Paz International) means absolutely nothing– no more than the fact that all commercial flights in and out of Cuenca transit through GYE or UIO. I’m afraid you’ll need to try a different line of “unbiased” argument because the “no international flights” line of baloney clearly doesn’t fly.

      You also speculate that the reason nobody is reporting anything on the internet or elsewhere about your mythical Morales drug running operation is because they would be putting their lives at risk. There are literally THOUSANDS of articles on the internet about Mexican drug cartels. So are the Sinaloa boys just pussycats compared to the Magical Mystical Morales Marauders?

      And your only “proof” of all these wild conjectures is hearsay from a few Bolivians who shall remain nameless? C’mon Esmeralda. Surely you can do better.

      1. Don’t kill the messenger. It is what the Bolivians are saying.

        Everyone in Bolivia is fully aware that Cochabamba and Santa Cruz are international PASSENGER airports. This large airport that Morales built is in a different location in the middle of nowhere and is large enough to be an international airport and is NOT being used for passengers.

        1. The airport you’re referencing is not Cochabamba (which, BTW, is not an international airport). Rather, it’s Chimoré (airport code CCA) and Morales did not build it. It was a former military base and DEA operations center. Morales was once a prisoner being held there when the base was under US military control. When he became president he closed the military base and converted the airport to commercial use in 2015.

          You are absolutely correct that there are no international flights to/from CCA–just like there are no international flights to/from Cuenca. And that proves exactly what?

          1. Commercial use to ship out the cocaine is what the Bolivians are saying. The Bolivians are pointing out that it is strange that there is already a big enough airport in Cochabamba and wonder why they need another one nearby in the middle of nowhere.? Cochabamba area mostly produces coca.

            Cochabamba area is not like Santa Cruz that is a high producer of soy and many other exportable products that require commercial shipping

            1. He just pointed out that everything you claimed was factually wrong. You could admit your mistake or simply have the decency to not reply at all. Replying with more of your BS is just bad form.

      2. The press doesn’t always print what is going on in the world. Take for example Rawanda. There was nothing being printed when they were having problems.

        As for Mexico. Yes, being next door to the US, of course there will be a lot published. It is only logical that the 2 countries (and its people) keep a close eye on each other.

        Years ago the Mexicans could easily walk across the border to visit, shop and work and go back and forth. That was back then but not now.

        1. The press doesn’t always print what is going on in the world. Take for example Rawanda. There was nothing being printed when they were having problems.

          I beg to differ. Do a Google search using the words “Rwanda genocide” and limit the search to 1994-1995. You will find pages and pages of contemporaneous reports about the slaughter.

          Helpful hint: It’s Rwanda, not Rawanda.

          Years ago the Mexicans could easily walk across the border to visit, shop and work and go back and forth. That was back then but not now.

          And what, exactly, does that have to do with the current situation in Bolivia or the price of tea in China?

          1. What I was referring to is that when the problems were actually occurring in Rwanda it was not news. Yes it was finally being printed AFTER the problems when it was too late but not DURING.
            That was an EXAMPLE of how some things become news and others are just not mentioned. Since you rely so much on internet information as an armchair critic and not actually talking to the people involved I was pointing out that not all information is published

            1. What I was referring to is that when the problems were actually
              occurring in Rwanda it was not news. Yes it was finally being printed
              AFTER the problems.

              I don’t know where you get this stuff, Esmeralda. The slaughters in Rwanda were indeed being widely reported contemporaneously as I pointed out to you. The problem wasn’t that they were not being reported but rather that nothing was done to stop it.

  4. When an article like this is printed from an armchair critic that is not even in Bolivia this screams of bias. Isn’t it better to publish articles from people in Bolivia; the actual people that live there and experience what is TRULY happening. And no we are not bias; we are just telling you what we hear (that no one seems to publish) and don’t need to make up stories because this is what the people are talking about all over Bolivia. Don’t ask for proof because WE ARE NOT GIVING OUT ANY NAMES. There is no need because so many people are telling the same story.

    1. When an article like this is printed from an armchair critic that is not even in Bolivia this screams of bias.

      Ahem. So when an armchair critic who is not even in Bolivia offers her opinion, that’s completely objective, unbiased fact? Oh, I’m sorry–I should have read just a little farther to discover the indisputable basis of your views:

      And no we are not bias (sic); we are just telling you what we hear.

      Don’t ask for proof because WE ARE NOT GIVING OUT ANY NAMES. WE DON’T HAVE ANY

      1. I will bet my bottom dollar that you are NOT in Bolivia or have any contact with the Bolivians since you know so little about what the Bolivians are saying.

        But yet you imply that you know a lot about Evo Morales. I will also bet my last dollar that you are somehow affiliated with the dictators you constantly defend.

        1. I will bet my bottom dollar that you are NOT in Bolivia or have any contact with the Bolivians since you know so little about what the Bolivians are saying.

          I don’t have to be in Bolivia to hear what millions of Bolivians are saying. And unlike you, I will offer proof. Here’s 52+ minutes worth of recent video from Bolivia that documents what they have to say about Drug Runner Evo and the U.S.-supported illegal coup:

          Masivas marchas en La Paz Concentraciones Cabildo del Pueblo at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7P1ZjS6MDbk

          I will also bet my last dollar that you are somehow affiliated with the dictators you constantly defend.

          Then you would be totally wrong.

          And broke.

          1. Another armchair critic relying on the internet for information rather than actually talking to the people (the voters)

            For example Venezuela. Remember…this is an EXAMPLE of how the internet has less information than the actual people. Millions of Venezuelans were describing the problems in Venezuela but it was not until it was on the internet that the armchair critics believed them. Their stories were being told (and not believed) long before being posted on the internet.

            Remember that this an an EXAMPLE on internet reliability and that Bolivians problems are still problems even though not much is being published.

            1. So talking to a statistically insignificant cohort of people of similar political persuasion as yours qualifies you as a non-armchair expert whereas providing verifiable video of hundreds of thousands of protesters expressing the opposite view is not credible? In which alternative universe?

              Or were you actually on the ground physically present and objectively reporting the news in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Chile, Colombia, Bolivia and all the other trouble spots to which you claim expertise?

              1. Saying that the Venezuelans that have stories to tell are insignificant. When was the last time you actually spoke to any of them and listened compassionately to the problems they are having. Oh we all get it…. they are not of the same political persuasions as you are so what they are saying is insignificant…yes we all get your point.

                1. Do you not understand the meaning of statistically insignificant? It’s no wonder we get this word salad glop from you. Try reading this, my dear, then you may wish to edit your embarrassingly uninformed remarks: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_significance

                  If my compassion and caring hinged on a person’s agreeing with my political beliefs, the number of people I assist could fit in a phone booth (which incidentally is NOT the case). My charity extends to any who need it. Can you say the same?

                  1. If you are trying to convince a voter ( for example Bolivia) to vote based on “statistically insignificant “ good luck with that. People vote based on what THEY know and not on what the press and armchair critics like you try to tell them to do.

                    1. You still don’t get it (the meaning of statistical significance) nor did you bother to even give a cursory glance to the link I offered, otherwise you would not have written what you did. I honestly don’t know why I bother…

              2. So are you saying that since you are the expert that you WERE on the ground at all these places. You just said the you were NOT in Bolivia yet you imply that you are the expert on what the Bolivians are saying, doing and what is going through their minds.

                1. I said no such thing.

                  I welcome and relish intelligent, well-informed debate over controversial issues. I will never contend that I am an expert on anything and am always entirely open to be proven wrong. However, it usually requires an objective, unbiased, honest person with a good understanding of the subject at hand and facts to back them up to do that.

                  I’m sorry, Esmeralda, but I’m afraid you don’t come close to measuring up for the task.

                  1. Well you say you relish and welcome meaningful conversation but generally you are more interested in winning than discussing. When someone comes near your lofty perch you become nasty to them. You feel very big and important when you knock people down. I myself am very confident and comfortable in my own skin and don’t need others to make me feel important

                    1. I’ll stand by my previous comment. No need to say any more–as if it would accomplish anything anyway…

                    2. That’s your MO when you are not in agreement as you say your goal is to “accomplish something in regards to another person ”. What is it you are trying to accomplish?

                      You just can not end a conversation without a nasty comment. So much for meaningful dialogue

                    3. Meaningful dialogue is not possible with someone who has denounced all facts, reason or common sense and instead bases every debate on her imaginary interactions with first-hand witnesses to every major news event on the planet.

                    4. She’s doing it on purpose. She’s just trolling to get a rise out of you. Nobody on the planet is truly that dumb and capable of working a computer. Stop feeding her.

                    5. So glad to see that the “A team” has finally returned. I’m going back to the bench.

                      She’s all yours Jason.

                    6. Sorry, bud. I’m still at sea. I only peaked in to see this nonsense while in port. Won’t be back until the last week of December.

        2. Let me guess, in addition to all the Venezuelan refugees, Nicaraguans and Hondurans, you also have regular contact with scores of Bolivians.

          1. For someone who is constantly disputing and supporting the dictators you sure seem to imply you know a lot but you are actually just fishing

  5. No matter what one thinks of Evo Morales, Indigenous Peoples everywhere have rights and should be heard. The plague of drugs is a separate issue , but it is not The Indigenous who reap The profits.

    The replacement President is a disgrace to the human race.

    I do not wish to discuss this with Ray Horsley

    1. In Bolivia the indigenous did reap the benefits of the cocaine income because Morales was buying votes right, left and center giving lots of freebies and people love freebies. Unfortunately the drug issue is one of the reasons Morales did not do so well in the election and it has absolutely nothing to do with being indigenous. When indigenous people have decided not to vote for him it is because of Morales track record. The people know exactly what is going on in their country and even though many in other countries are not aware of it and there is very little true facts published the Bolivia people are very well informed

      1. I admire Morales and past Bolivian presidents who allow farmers to cultivate coca. Coca farmers, many who are indigenous, reap benefits that they wouldn’t be earning if the Bolivian govt. allowed US sponsored eradication of their crops. Cocaine abuse is not a Bolivian problem. It is a problem for those countries that receive the cocaine due to the failed drug policies in those countries.

        1. The Bolivians are VERY familiar with the different Coca leaves being grown and which ones are being used for tea, chewing and ceremonies, which is allowed in many of the South American Countries. Many of these farmers are not making cocaine and are legitimately using the leaves for tea. But that is not what the Bolivians are referring to. They told us that the coca leaves that Morales is allowing to be grown are too hard to chew, not used for tea and religious ceremonies. These hard leaves are being used for cocaine.

          1. Erythroxylum coca is the plant that has been chewed or brewed for centuries by the indigenous highlanders of South America. Erythroxylum coca is the plant that cocaine is extracted from. It’s the same plant. I looked it up to be sure. This information is more reliable than what some clueless Bolivian might tell me.

            1. So now you are calling the Bolivians clueless. Give the Bolivians some credit. They know what is happening in their own country

              1. No, he’s calling you clueless . . . and he proved it.

                You don’t know what is happening in any country.

                1. Oh yes we are very familiar with you who knows EVERYTHING. You who love all to do with authoritarianism and hate democracy, freedom and fair elections

                  1. I never claimed to know everything. You only think I know everything because I know more than you about everything. Believe me, it’s not much of an accomplishment.

                    Your boos mean nothing to me. I’ve seen what makes you cheer.

      2. The people know exactly what is going on in their country and even
        though many in other countries are not aware of it and there is very
        little true facts published the Bolivia people are very well informed

        Did you ever play the game of “Telephone” or Chinese Whispers, Esmeralda?

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