Making Sense of the Crisis in Bolivia

Following on the surprise resignations of Evo Morales and Álvaro García Linera (among others) on November 10, it is important to create some clarity among the fog of misinformation, disinformation, and downright biased reporting about the crisis in Bolivia.

First, it is essential to emphasize the fact that there have been a number of different currents of opposition to the Morales government before and around the contested recent elections. Reporting on Bolivia has given the false impression that there is a single opposition that is unified around a commitment to democratic transition and values more generally, which the Morales government (through the TSE) is seen to have violated. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Second, it is important to note that the crisis in Bolivia is taking place against a background of tremendous long-term macro-economic stability, rapid growth in social indicators, and a series of transformations in the economy and society that could fairly be described as revolutionary. At the same time, the Morales government was in the midst of a putting into place an energy industrialization policy centered on lithium production and development and nuclear energy development.

Throughout this process, the government has entered into close working relationships with both Chinese and Russian state concerns, while resisting at all steps the desire of large transnational lithium mining companies to gain control over the world’s largest known lithium reserves. This was being overseen by YLB, a state entity committed to developing lithium resources and eventually producing valuable lithium batteries with proceeds being redistributed to Bolivians in the same way that natural gas earnings have transformed the Bolivian economy.

A key question should be: Who benefits from the forced resignation of the Morales government? Who benefits from a potential reversion of Bolivia’s energy resources to a privatized neoliberal model like that of Chile?

Third, the 2017 court decision ruling unconstitutional the article on term limits in the constitution has been widely misreported as something jammed through to “protect the human rights of Morales.” Despite reasonable differences of opinion about the court case, this reading of the judgment is false.

Fourth, it should also be kept in mind that Bolivia and the US have not had ambassadorial representation since 2008. At the same time, it is widely known that the US has been deeply involved in efforts to foment regime change in Venezuela. One needs to ask what the role of the Trump administration (via its intelligence arms) has been during this last period of turbulence in Bolivia.

And finally, the fact that the head of the Bolivian armed forces basically forced the Morales government to resign, despite it just having agreed with the OAS to hold new elections, should be cause for much concern. Among everything that has happened, that is the true threat to democracy in Bolivia, something that harkens back to a long and tragic history of military coups, dictatorships, disappearances, human rights violations, and so on. The idea that the Bolivian military is the ultimate source of sovereignty and political power casts the darkest shadow over the current moment.