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Petition calls on U.S. to oppose military coup in Bolivia

August 03rd, 2020
topic:Democracy
by:Yair Oded
located in:Bolivia, USA
tags:Bolivia, Change.org, democracy, elections, human rights, petition, USA

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales, the nation’s first indigenous president, had been forced to resign and flee into exile in November last year, after accusations of election fraud on his part had sparked a wave of protests across the country.

Following weeks of bloody conflict between Morales loyalists and supporters of his right-wing opponent Carlos Mesa, Bolivia’s army and police sided with anti-Morales protesters and called on him and his government to step down. In its place, a temporary right-wing government had been installed under the leadership of Jeanine Añez Chavez, which has since been noted to crack down on dissent, encourage persecution of Morales supporters, and has failed to set a new election date. 

A Change.org petition launched by Just Foreign Policy calls on the U.S. government to condemn what it regards as a military coup in Bolivia, demand that the new regime respect human rights, and call for an independent review of the Organization of American States election monitoring mission which deemed the results fraudulent and has since been debunked by leading researchers. 

Mr. Morales first came to power in 2006. He was the nation’s first indigenous president since the country after decades of Bolivians of European descent - a small, privileged elite - being at the helm. 

In October 2019, Morales was running for what would have been his fourth term in office - a move many regarded as illegal and a result of him packing electoral bodies with loyalists who enabled him to surpass election rules. 

After the counting of votes had been inexplicably paused and resumed the following day, giving Morales just enough votes to declare victory, accusations of fraud and misconduct began to pour down like rain from Morales’ right-wing rivals. Facing a swelling opposition and civil unrest, Morales invited the Organisation of American States (OAS) to conduct a binding review of the election process and results. The organisation’s conclusion was that “clear manipulation” of the votes had taken place, deeming the election process too flawed to confirm Morales’ victory. 

The damning OAS report had exacerbated tensions, and the conflict between protesters across Bolivia turned bloody. It had also shifted the position of the country’s police and military away from Morales and onto the side of his right-wing opposition. Finally, the military demanded the immediate resignation of Morales and his government, claiming it would be the only way to end the bloodshed and chaos. 

Since Morales’ resignation and subsequent escape from the country, his former ministers and supporters had been reportedly harassed by the interim government and security forces in the country. In some cases, protesters ransacked and burned the homes of Morales supporters, and in at least one instance kidnapped a relative. 

Now, credible research from across the globe casts serious doubt on the validity of the OAS report, as a growing number of experts point out to fundamental errors in its methodology. 

“It has now become clear that the narrative promoted by the OAS since the day after the election (October 20) — that it was fraudulent — was a false narrative, and without evidence,” said economist Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. 

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) had published several reports on the matter, and pointed out that while the OAS mission did expose some real irregularities surrounding the October election, it did not “provide any evidence that those irregularities altered the outcome of the election, or were part of an actual attempt to do so.”

CEPR’s report buttresses the claim that OAS relied on incorrect data and statistical methods to draw its conclusion about the elections. Referring to OAS’ claim that tally sheets had been doctored and tampered with, CEPR’s report indicates that “in rural areas and smaller voting centers, it is not uncommon for one person to assist with the tally sheets. This may be especially common where illiteracy rates are high or where a large percentage of the population does not speak Spanish,” adding that, “[B]ased on comparisons with previous election results and with non-‘irregular’ tally sheets within the same voting centers or nearby areas, it is clear that there is nothing systematically abnormal about the results that appear on these ‘irregular’ tally sheets.”

In a June 2020 statement, CEPR notes that OAS’ findings were refuted by “ The New York Times, professors at Tulane and University of Pennsylvania, researchers at MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab (and their post at the Washington Post site), 133 economists and statisticians, a study by a University of Michigan statistician,” among others. 

It is important to stress that criticism and protest against Morales were not without justification. While Morales and his Movement for Socialism Party had been credited with lifting swaths of Bolivians out of poverty, improving its economy, and uplifting women, his regime had nonetheless grown increasingly autocratic over the years.

According to The New York Times, Morales utilised the country’s judicial branch to prosecute opponents, many of whom were thrown in jail or forced to flee the country. A 2020 Human Rights Watch report further noted that Morales’ administration had “created a hostile environment for human rights defenders and promoted judicial changes that pose a serious threat to the rule of law in the country.”

That said, the manner in which the delicate situation in post-elections Bolivia has been handled opens the door to further human rights violations and erosion of the country’s democratic institutions. The inaccurate assessment of OAS concerning the election results and its continued involvement in reviewing the electoral process pose a potential risk to Bolivia’s democracy. Furthermore, Áñez’s interim government has thus far proven to challenge the country’s constitutional norms and remains vague about its commitment to leading the country through a fair and transparent election process in the near future. 

The military style coup that took place in Bolivia last year has been legitimised by many american leaders, either explicitly or by their choice to remain silent on the matter. Only a handful of American lawmakers, among which were Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), called out the situation in Bolivia and demanded opposition to the escalating political violence there. 

The United States' tacit complicity with the right-wing led militant seizure of power in Bolivia and its refusal to insist on a peaceful and democratic electoral process there as a condition for aid fits its decades-long pattern of violent and opportunistic intervention in South America; a pattern that has thus far cost the lives of tens of thousands of people, accelerated environmental destruction, and imperiled nations’ democratic institutions. It is a pattern that must come to an end. 

“There's a word for the President of a country being pushed out by the military. It’s called a coup,” state the authors of the Change.org petition. “We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections.”

Please consider signing the petition and raising your voice in support of the people of Bolivia and the principles of democracy. 

Article written by:
yair oded profile
Yair Oded
Author, Project Editor, Contributing Editor
Bolivia USA
Bolivia’s army and police sided with anti-Morales protesters and called on him and his government to step down.
A Change.org petition launched by Just Foreign Policy calls on the U.S. government to condemn what it regards as a military coup in Bolivia.
"We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections."