A year ago, a far-right coup in Bolivia – backed by Brazil and the US – ousted the democratically elected government of Evo Morales, catapulting Jeanine Áñez, an unknown senator from the lowland frontier region of Beni, to the presidency. Áñez promised to hold elections within 90 days, but instead postponed them three times. On 18 October this year, Morales’s party, the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), won a crushing first-round victory on an 86 per cent turnout. The new president, Luis Arce, for many years Morales’s economy minister, won 55 per cent of the vote against a fractured right-wing opposition.
Now that a new date for elections – 18 October – is irreversible, Bolivia has once again narrowly avoided civil war. Jeanine Áñez was installed as president in a coup last November with Brazilian, US and Bolivian military support, following the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Evo Morales and the Movement towards Socialism (MAS). Áñez promised new elections within ninety days. At the end of July, they were postponed for a third time.
Although dozens of her own officials have been involved in corruption scandals, including a health minister caught price-gouging on respirators, Añez – like Bolsonaro and Trump – peddles conspiracy theories about enemies in the media, government and civil society. They allegedly follow Morales’s directives, and plot her overthrow through terrorism and drug trafficking in conjunction with Peruvians and Colombians (never mind that Colombian guerrillas are less than a shadow of their former selves).
Many of my friends and colleagues who live in La Paz are in hiding. Some have received death threats, while others are afraid to communicate via WhatsApp. One is in exile after vandals burned her house down. Because of shortages, the price of eggs has risen from less than one boliviano (11 pence) to 2.50, chicken has gone up from 15 to 35 bolivianos a kilo, beef from 30-40 to 90-120 bolivianos. Queues to buy chicken are interminable, and uncollected garbage piles up. Protesters have cut the capital off from its supply lines, and fuel is running out. Bolivian friends and colleagues who live abroad say they’ve experienced some of the worst days of their lives.
In June 2009, the Bolivian state-run newspaper Cambio reported that Alán García, the then president of Peru, had accused Boliva’s president, Evo Morales, of inciting genocide against the Peruvian police force. Morales had expressed solidarity with inhabitants of the Peruvian Amazon opposed to the multinational corporate exploitation of the region’s resources. Since then, Morales seems to have adjusted his position on both environmentalism and the rights of indigenous peoples.
In his History of Contemporary Italy 1943-80, Paul Ginsborg quotes an American officer based in the peninsula after the war who found the skewed priorities of the natives rather disturbing: ‘The Italians can tell you the names of the ministers in the government but not the names of the favourite products of the celebrities of their country. In addition, the walls of the Italian cities are plastered more with political slogans than with commercial ones.’ In contemporary Bolivia the ratio of political slogans to commercial ones is at least ten to one, and that’s being generous to the ad hoardings.