By Sir Ronald Sanders
Called by any other name, there was a coup d’état in Bolivia on November 10. To be clear, an elected President and the government were forcibly removed from office. The term in office of Evo Morales, as President of Bolivia, does not expire until January 21, 2020.
In the weeks since October 20, when elections were held to decide on the candidates contesting for the Presidency, of whom Morales was one, violence plagued Bolivia. Armed groups attacked civilians, particularly members of the indigenous people as well as officials and members of Morales’ family. His sister’s house was set on fire; the President of Bolivia’s Congress resigned after his brother was kidnapped; the director of a radio station was taken hostage, brutalized and tied to a tree.
In the worst atrocity of all, the Mayor of the town of Vinto, Patricia Arce, was detained by armed thugs who shaved her hair, doused her with paint, forced her to walk barefoot through the town, made her kneel down and instructed her to beg for forgiveness for supporting Morales. She didn’t. But, in a show of their power, the group, that carried out this outrage, video recorded the entire ugly incident and distributed it on social media to demonstrate their power.
Morales, therefore, knew quite well that when he was told to resign by the head of the military, it was resign or else. In vile efforts to justify support for the overthrow of a validly elected President whose term was still in force, some neighbouring governments have stated that Morales resigned, seeking asylum in Mexico, because he recognised that he had lost the October 20 election, and that the people wanted him out. This convenient but manufactured version of history is now being promoted in hemispheric and international organisations.
Foreign Ministries in some big countries, that spend a great deal of time and effort briefing the media in their own countries, have succeeded in getting those media to repeat their preferred narrative. Regrettably, media in the Caribbean and other developing countries, dependent on the global media networks, have repeated the manufactured version of events without question. And, because governments in developing countries, including in the Caribbean, treat their involvement in international matters as if it is a ‘foreign affair’, unrelated to the lives of their people, Ministries of Foreign Affairs do not brief their own media, nor do they open themselves to questioning on why they take positions on international issues. The result is that the version of events by big countries and their global media prevails.
There are other facts, however, and they should be known, because when constitutionality and the rule of law are violated and a government is overthrown by fiat of the military, every democratic country is at risk, especially when those actions are justified by external forces.
Following the October 20 Presidential elections in Bolivia over which there was controversy, including allegations of fraud, the Government of Bolivia, on October 22, requested the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) to conduct an audit of the elections. On the same day, the Secretary-General agreed that the requested audit would be undertaken, insisting that the conclusions of the audit would be binding upon the parties taking part in the process.
Subsequently, on October 24, the Permanent Council of the OAS was advised at a meeting attended by the Bolivian Foreign Minister, that the audit would be undertaken, and its terms would be enforced and satisfied. Four days later, on October 31, the OAS deployed the audit team to Bolivia.
Ten days later, on Sunday, November 10, the OAS Secretary-General authorised the posting on the Organization’s website of the result of the audit which, among other things, stated that: “Given all the irregularities observed, it is impossible to guarantee the integrity of the data and certify the accuracy of the results”.
Within minutes of the report’s publication on the OAS website, President Morales – still the constitutionally elected head of Government – announced that, in keeping with the terms of the audit, new elections would be held and the existing members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal would be replaced. The Attorney-General even ordered an investigation into the conduct of the members of the tribunal. All of this was fully in keeping with the agreement between the Bolivian government and the OAS.
Fresh elections, properly supervised, would be conducted. Nonetheless, the head of the military told Morales to resign while violence reigned, unchecked, against targeted members of the government and others.
Government ministers and others sought sanctuary in the Mexican Embassy and the Mexican government, which called the removal of Morales “a coup d’état”, gave him asylum in Mexico.
On November 12, the military installed the vice President of the Senate, an opposition official, Jeanine Añez, as President of the country. Social media videos are replete with images of her being sashed by the military. Remarkably, there was no quorum at the sham session of the parliament at which she was ostensibly elected. She, is therefore, illegally installed – something that a few neighbouring governments are trying to get the OAS – and the world – to ignore by proposing a resolution that would “confirm on an urgent basis”, the “designation” of Añez as the provisional President.
There is obvious need for an end to violence in Bolivia and for elections to be held swiftly under the supervision of a credible commission and in a transparent manner. But, there is no guarantee of this under the illegally installed provisional President, especially in light of her own published and posted racist statements about indigenous Bolivians.
Bolivia is set to remain in turmoil, unless external forces turn to constructive engagement and away from self-interested meddling.
(The writer is Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the United States and the Organization of American States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London and at Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are entirely his own)