BOLIVIA “A Genuine Victory of the People” — Interview with a Bolivian Labour Activist from El Alto about the Meaning of the October 18 Presidential Election

On October 18, peasant women from indigenous peoples in a polling station.

What is your assessment of the outcome of the October 18 presidential election that saw the defeat of the candidates who had supported the November 2019 military coup “Made in the USA” and overthrown President Evo Morales?

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, despised by the people. It was not a vote for the MAS (1) and its leaders.

The victory of Luis Arce (the MAS candidate) was a big surprise for the political establishment who figured that the vote would be split evenly among the three candidates: Arce of the MAS, right-wing former President Carlos Mesa, and extreme-right-wing Santa Cruz separatist leader Luis Fernando Camacho (2). They expected Mesa to win with the backing of Camacho in the second round.

But that’s not what happened. Arce obtained 53% in the first round, trouncing his two opponents. Mesa was forced to concede the election, which thereby angered the extreme right-wing fringe of the bourgeoisie, now claiming that Arce’s election was fraudulent and that another election should be held.

What accounts for this outcome?

To understand this outcome you have to grasp the depth of the opposition to the regime that arose from the coup of November 2019. Just one week after the coup, Bolivian soldiers massacred 36 indigenous peasants marching from Cochabamba to La Paz to demand their rights. Añez, the self-proclaimed President, dropped all charges against the soldiers; they were found “exempt from all criminal responsibility”. Añez banned the display of the Wiphala, the multi-colour 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. There are many instances, let me mention the scandalous 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, which shows the putschist regime’s disdain for the popular sectors, in this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What about the response of the workers and peasants and their organizations to the coup?

The social movements – led by the Juntas Vecinales, (or neighbourhood councils) – launched the resistance immediately after the coup. The people self-organized. The historic trade union federation, the Bolivian Workers’ Centre (COB) had at first endorsed the ouster of Evo Morales, but later had to take the lead in opposing Añez and her racist gang. Last August the COB headquarters were blown up by fascist goons linked to the Añez regime. Together, all these organizations mobilized to demand a new presidential election, which Añez was forced by this movement from below to convene on October 18.

On October 28, Orlando Gutierrez, the executive secretary of the Bolivian Mineworkers Federation (FSTMB), was assassinated in La Paz. Who was responsible for this assassination?

The fascist militias based in the right-wing separatist region of Santa Cruz. Gutierrez was ambushed. He was a supporter of the MAS. The situation is ominous: trade-union and political activists opposed to the coup regime have been threatened by these militias, enraged by the outcome of the presidential election. Those of us in El Alto, which has been a hotbed of resistance, must be especially careful.

The new president, Arce, is calling for “reconciliation with all the social forces in Bolivia”, including the plotters of the military coup…

Again, October 18 was a victory of the people, not of the MAS and its leaders. The unions and social movements cannot let down their guard; they must safeguard the independence of their organizations for the struggles ahead.

Interview conducted by Alan Benjamin on October 31, 2020.

(1) Movement for Socialism, the party led by Evo Morales, who governed the country from 2006 to 2019.

(2) The white bourgeoisie of the rich province of Santa Cruz has always shown separatist tendencies and displayed a racist and contemptuous attitude towards the (indigenous) majority of the Bolivian people.