The battle for democracy in Bolivia

People’s forces battle for their democratic rights | MARGARET VILLAMIZAR

July 14, 2020 demonstration in La Paz, Bolivia.

(July 25) – Workers, women, and Indigenous peoples and their organizations along with other social movements have returned to the streets to demand an end to the wrecking of the coup government and the right to elect a president and government of their choosing without further delay. Demonstrations are being held especially in places where the workers have fighting traditions, such as Cochabamba and El Alto, a suburb of the capital city of La Paz.

Over the past nine months the coup government of the self-proclaimed “interim” president Jeanine Áñez has been busy ruling by decree, dismantling longstanding national projects and public social programs initiated by previous Movement Towards Socialism-Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (MAS-IPSP) governments led by President Evo Morales. It is also engaging in all-out persecution and revenge-taking against MAS leaders, members and supporters. It did away with the Plurinational State of Bolivia’s proudly independent foreign policy in order to align Bolivia with the hegemonic aims of its U.S. masters for the country and the region. It dutifully joined the Lima Group and the failed U.S. campaign to do to Venezuela what it had just done to Bolivia. It withdrew from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America-People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), expelled the Cuban medical mission from the country at the worst possible moment and suspended diplomatic relations with Cuba.

It has also recently come to light that the coup government obtained an “emergency” loan of U.S.$327 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April, supposedly to help it deal with COVID-19 by covering medical expenses and providing support for the most vulnerable. The money, disbursed through the IMF’s Rapid Financing Instrument, came with a raft of conditions, committing Bolivia to drastically reduce public expenditures and to eventually “flexibilize” (i.e. devalue) the country’s currency. This package of harsh measures is similar to those agreed to by the neo-liberal government of then-President Mauricio Macri in 2018 that sent Argentina’s economy into a tailspin and left large swathes of the population unemployed and destitute. The IMF loan to Bolivia, which has already been deposited in the country’s central bank, was obtained illegally as it was done without the approval of the Legislative Assembly as called for in Bolivia’s constitution. Only now, after the fact, and with a “health bond” equivalent to around U.S.$70 earmarked for the most vulnerable members of Bolivian society hanging in the balance, is the legislature being asked — or more to the point, being blackmailed — to give the odious deal its blessing. It remains to be seen how the legislature, in which MAS holds two-thirds of the seats, will respond. Information is also coming to light of the corruption related to the use of these funds.

Demonstrations resume in Bolivia

La Paz, July 8, 2020.

Between March and June it was mainly doctors and other hospital workers who protested in the streets, blocking traffic in major cities to back their demands that the coup government provide them with urgently needed equipment to protect themselves and to treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients being seen in under-funded and under-staffed hospitals. Associated Press reported on July 8 that 50 per cent of Bolivia’s doctors had contracted the virus.

The first big protest since the pandemic hit took place on July 8 in La Paz where teachers joined by students and parents held a militant demonstration to demand free education for all and to denounce the de facto government’s privatization agenda in education and the deplorable state of rural education in particular. Many expressed anger at the Ministry of Education’s plans to continue delivering online classes only for some time, even though in rural areas families often lack access to the internet and the costly high tech devices required for their children to be able to participate in virtual classes, meaning they will simply be left behind. The response of the dictatorship was to fire teargas at the demonstrators.

Then on July 14, thousands of unionized workers and members of social movements marched together to denounce the corruption and anti-social wrecking of the coup government, the lack of medicines for the people and to demand there be no further postponement of the general election scheduled at that time for September 6.

Postponed elections and lawfare

A general election originally set to take place on May 3 was rescheduled for September 6 and has been postponed again to October 18, the result of a consensus reached by the country’s political factions, according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Hours before the latest postponement was announced, Evo Morales declared from Argentina where he has been living in exile that another delay would be against the interests of the people, prolonging ungovernability and the economic crisis wracking the country as the pandemic rages out of control. He said it would serve only to give more time for the coup forces to continue their persecution of social leaders and MAS candidates right at a time when the party’s candidate for president, Luis Arce, leads the polls.

The delay will also give the coup government more time to coerce the Electoral Tribunal to go along with another of its key demands: that the legal status of MAS be removed, so its candidates are unable to run in the election — a way to preempt a win by its presidential candidate, who is also falsely accused of violating the electoral law. In response, MAS-IPSP issued a communiqué on July 19 condemning “in the strongest possible terms the attempts of some politicians who want to achieve, through the banning of our political instrument, what they cannot achieve at the ballot box.” It said that MAS had declared itself in a state of emergency in the face of this new attempt to ban the party and its candidates and would take legal action in its own defence. “Together with the Bolivian people, and with the truth up front, we will defend democracy, peace and social justice,” the communiqué concluded.

It is to be expected that Áñez and her gang will continue scheming to avoid holding the election indefinitely and to bar MAS from running if and when it does take place in order to consolidate their coup. They are engaging in the same dirty legal manipulations, often referred to as lawfare, against MAS officials, members and supporters as have been used against former Presidents Lula da Silva in Brazil and Rafael Correa and others in Ecuador. All are subject to bogus criminal charges and vicious character assassination, with some already jailed with no evidence they have committed any crimes. Seven former government ministers and officials of MAS granted asylum months ago by Mexico have been forced to spend the last eight months inside the Mexican embassy in La Paz as virtual prisoners. They are threatened with arrest should they step outside — a crude violation of diplomatic norms as well as international human rights conventions that require safe passage for asylees to leave the diplomatic mission of a country that has offered them asylum so they are able to travel to that country.

Future prospects

La Paz, Bolivia, July 14, 2020.

All the evidence suggests that the U.S. imperialists are unwilling to accept Bolivians electing a president running on a program to reverse the anti-national, anti-social direction and state-organized racism they have so far managed to impose in Bolivia through fraud and force. If the people’s forces and their candidates once again win the election will they be able to take office and govern based on that program? Is the U.S. tiger likely to change its stripes? Or the racist and violent Bolivian oligarchy? Or the police and military commanded by unpatriotic elements groomed and bribed by U.S. imperialism to serve as an instrument of violent repression against any and all who resisted last year’s coup?

Everything taking place in Bolivia today confirms that contempt for the rule of law, diplomatic norms and the rights of sovereign nations and peoples is the stock in trade of U.S. imperialism, its accomplices and appeasers. Beyond just pinning their hopes on winning a dubious election that may never be allowed to proceed, the Bolivian people are sure to draw on their experience and lessons learned to organize themselves to face whatever lies ahead in the fight for their democratic rights and to defend the gains they have made over the last 14 years. They have fighting traditions and a rich heritage of anti-colonial, anti-imperialist and revolutionary struggles going back centuries to inspire them as they work out how to organize themselves to fight for their freedom, independence and rights in today’s conditions, keeping the initiative in their own hands. In this they deserve the full support of the Canadian and Quebec working class and people.

Workers of all industries and sectors continue protests against Áñez and to protect social rights created under Morales’s government.

Workers of all industries and sectors continue protests against Áñez and to protect social rights created under Morales’s government.

Indigenous women have been at the forefront of the fight to restore democracy in Bolivia.|

Luis Arce, MAS presidential candidate in the upcoming election, and David Choquehuanca, running for the vice-presidency. They lead all surveys so far.

(With files from teleSUR, Nodal, Boya News. Photos TeleSUR, F. Morales, MAS-IPSP)

TML Weekly, July 25, 2020, No. 27

Cuba makes its La Paz clinic available to the Bolivian people

– Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs –

De facto authorities in Bolivia, on the afternoon of July 21, publicly reported that the building known as the “Clinica del Colaborador,” owned by the Republic of Cuba, which was violently raided by police on November 15, 2019, would be made available, in the next few days, to treat Bolivian citizens with COVID-19.

This unilateral decision, which is presented as a humanitarian act, constitutes a violation of the rights of the Republic of Cuba as the legal owner of the aforementioned property, preceded by disregard for international law and an incessant campaign of lies and distortions about Cuba, particularly directed against the medical cooperation that our country provided in Bolivia, a campaign that this Ministry denounced in a statement, January 25, 2020.

It must be recalled that, in November of 2019, Bolivian authorities, with the leadership and support of the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, arrested several Cuban health collaborators under false pretenses and conducted searches and raids of their homes, while publicly inciting violence against our health personnel. This campaign has not stopped and is being used for internal electoral purposes.

The facility occupied by the Clinica del Colaborador was purchased and expanded by the Cuban State, in strict compliance with Bolivian law. It is located at 163 22nd Street, on the corner of Enrique Herson in the Achumani area of the city of La Paz. In accordance with Resolution 0410 of April 4, 2007, the Bolivian Ministry of Health, in accordance with the powers conferred by Act No. 3351 of February 21, 2006, the Ministry authorized the operation of the center to provide care for Cuban professionals working in the health and education sectors in the country.

The facility includes a 2-story house and a 3-story building. The small facility has 13 hospital beds, 6 for inpatient cases, 4 for observation and 3 for intensive care. It was one of the 158 health facilities where, by virtue of the 1985 Scientific-Technical Cooperation Agreement in the area of health between the governments of Cuba and Bolivia, and its subsequent updates, 18,015 Cuban health professionals offered the sister Bolivian people 73,557,935 medical consultations, performed 1,533,016 surgeries, of which 727,138 were ophthalmological, and assisted 60,792 births. As part of this collaboration, 5,184 young Bolivians have graduated from medical school in our country.

In Bolivia, Cuba’s health collaborators provided their services in 34 Community Integral Hospitals, 119 Community Integral Centers and 5 ophthalmologic centers, in nine departments, 28 provinces and 42 municipalities in the country.

Since the above-mentioned raid, Bolivian authorities have arbitrarily denied personnel from the Cuban embassy access to the Clinica del Colaborador.

The Cuban government has demanded the immediate restoration of its rights as the legitimate owner of the aforementioned property, through diplomatic notes No. 1079/20, from the Republic of Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations, April 13, 2020; and No. 26/20, dated June 18, 2020, from the Cuban embassy in La Paz, respectively, to which no response has been received

We have attentively followed the tragic events the sister people of Bolivia are facing, suffering more than 60,000 SARS-COV-2 infections and more than 2,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to official data. Bolivia’s health system has not been able [to] effectively confront the pandemic, and is on the verge of collapse. Unfortunately, doctors and health workers have been infected and died, among them several young Bolivian graduates of the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) in Cuba, who have honorably done their duty.

In this context, many Bolivian organizations and citizens have addressed Cuba, both publicly and privately, requesting support from Cuban health personnel and medicines that have proved effective with COVID-19 patients. Many have noted the contribution that would have been made by the Cuban Medical Brigade that was providing services in Bolivia before the coup, if it had been present.

The generous Cuban people have not renounced their altruistic vocation. Aware that the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic requires urgent joint efforts of cooperation and solidarity and, without relinquishing ownership of the Clinica del Colaborador property or our rights as the legitimate owner, the Cuban government makes its use available to the sister Bolivian people to assist COVID-19 patients, as long as the crisis situation generated by this pandemic continues in Bolivia.

(Havana, July 23, 2020)

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