Hell and the plan of the coup d’état in Bolivia

Published Nov. 16 by TeleSUR. Translation by John Catalinotto. Teruggi has returned to Caracas, Venezuela.

Nov. 16 — “You are leaving, I am staying in this hell” was the phrase that the taxi driver used as he left me at the El Alto airport in the early hours of freezing rain, after wandering through the labyrinths of a towering city. It’s no metaphor: The first day, Monday, was apocalyptic.

Dozens of blocks were cut off with barbed wire, groups with clubs on every corner; crowds coming from different districts; crowds with clubs, stones, slings, hats; police stations on fire; rage, as much rage as I have rarely heard in my life. And blood, a lot of blood on the ground, in the videos, in the words.

Since that Monday there are Whipala flags in all the streets of El Alto and the people have come down to La Paz day after day. Every night there are vigils, fires, an unwavering decision: They activated the historical memory, Aymara, ancient, and recent, of the uprising of 2003 where 60 people were murdered. “Mesa, cabrón, October is not forgotten;” It is that memory of El Alto against bullets and the resignation of a government.  

Those who lead the coup d’état made a mistake so profound that there is no longer a middle ground to stop as the escalation of resistance that pushes from different corners of the country to the city of La Paz, the center of political power. There have been several demands that converge toward a common enemy summarized in four parts: Fernando Camacho, Carlos Mesa, Jeanine Añez and the Bolivian National Police.

The main demand is the resignation of self-proclaimed [President] Añez, and the radicalism comes from the excluding, anti-Indigenous character of the coup d’état that was summed up in the disrespect for the Whipalas and the attacks on women for wearing polleras [skirts], that is, for being Indigenous.

These are the slogans that are repeated in each mobilization that enters La Paz from El Alto, from the inhabitants of that city, from the highlands, tropics, mines and yungas. They enter through El Prado Avenue up to Murillo Square, the place where the coup d’état was carried out in facts and symbols.

Coup makers miscalculated

Those who staged the coup miscalculated and provoked a reaction that was much greater than they expected. The first response to the escalation of resistance was from the Bolivian Armed Force (FAB), which took to the streets in a de facto state of siege. Military planes, helicopters, now equipped with Whipala, began to circulate in La Paz, El Alto and the country’s highways.  

What is the plan of those who led the overthrow? That is the central question. There would be three steps. The first, accomplished, was to overthrow the government headed by Evo Morales and Álvaro García Linera. The second, partly accomplished, was to build an institutional fiction that materialized in Añez’s self-proclamation, the appointment of ministers and high military and police commanders.

This second step has an unresolved issue: The bicameral legislative branch is now in the hands of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), which holds a two-thirds majority and elected new presidencies. The coup leaders must decide how to move in the face of this scenario:  Either dissolve the legislature in an act of consummating the coup or seek a point of agreement with MAS.

That agreement has to do with the third step, the call for elections. The coup strategists seem to have contemplated this exit from its beginning. It is not the kind of coup that proclaims a general commander or a junta for an indeterminate period of time, but rather it seeks to present itself as constitutional, promising elections in a short time.

That then means opening the electoral path after having generated the necessary conditions for the target date. These are the conditions that began before Morales was overthrown: that is, persecution, assassinations, massacres, to which are now added detentions within the framework of a rupture of the rule of law and absolute impunity. The government minister designated by the self-proclaimed coup president has said so; the “hunt” has begun. 

Will coup outlaw MAS? What’s strategy of resistance? 

Several points have not yet been resolved, and their evolution will depend, among other factors, on the pressure in the streets, as well as on the political/parliamentary strategy of MAS. One of the points is whether the coup plan —  heterogeneous and in conflict from within — will seek to outlaw MAS or allow it to present itself for election in a situation where its cadres and leaders are persecuted.

The other central question is: What is the strategy of resistance to the coup? Some answers are contained in how the confrontation with the escalating coup took place: without a clear chain of command that could order a coordinated strategy, particularly in the last few days. 

The massive mobilizations, in the phase of the escalation, postponed the outcome without being able to stop it. Meanwhile inside support pillars holding the Morales’ government in office were detached one-by-one until the coup reached the military.

There were calls from Evo Morales to mobilize without immediate coordinated responses, and the government lost control of the street in the final assault. Responding to why this happened implies asking, in addition to the internal rhythms of the movements, in what condition was [MAS’s] “process of change” at the time of the coup d’état?

An example of this situation can be seen in El Alto, where the main organization, the Federation of Neighborhood Councils (Fejuve), had split into two: one affiliated with the MAS government, the other with the opposition. The mayor’s office was in the hands of the opposition. On Wednesday [Nov. 13], a town council took place to try to form a new unified directive. Previous directives strongly questioned the policy, and it remains an unachieved objective.

This leaves three central aspects. First, that the figure of Evo Morales, his defense and return, is not a unifying demand, at least for the moment. Second, the leaders in the movements are, in many cases, going through wear and tear and divisions. In El Alto there is great mass power and radicalism — without, yet, a unified line or leadership with the capacity to lead.

Third, building a strategy that coordinates movements in the parliamentary arena within a joint plan is a task as essential as it is complex. Such movements include those that are part of the National Coordinator for Change and the Bolivian Workers’ Central (COB).

At this time many questions can only remain questions. The coup offensive needs to settle down. The coup-makers must measure responses to the repression and militarization of the country. They have support from the vast majority of the country’s media.

The information lockdown inside Bolivia is so great that each person interviewed thanks the international press for being there. Bolivian journalists who do not align themselves with the coup narrative are threatened in their homes, telephones, jobs. The de facto minister of communication affirmed that she will persecute “journalists and pseudo-journalists” for “sedition.” Every dictatorship needs media that reproduce the narrative and a cone of silence.

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