Bolivia Was Always a Coup

By RDI Guest Contributor Max Tiefer

In October 2019, after unproven allegations of electoral fraud, protestors swarmed the streets of the Bolivian capital of La Paz and demanded the resignation of Evo Morales, the leftist candidate and presumed victor of the Bolivian presidential election. They enjoyed the support of  defeated opposition candidate Carlos Mesa, even as the protests turned violent. The parallels with the January 6th storming of the Capitol are obvious, but the two situations differ in their aftermaths. 

In the United States, pundits quickly labeled the January 6th riots as a coup, and in subsequent weeks the FBI and other law enforcement agencies arrested many of the protestors and their supporters, including those in the government. Journalists and the public called to hold the right-wing media outlets accountable for legitimizing the insurrection. Finally, the mainstream press, international community, and the US Congress held firm and never conceded to Trump’s claims of voter fraud during the 2020 Election.

For Bolivia, the opposite happened. Mesa’s baseless accusations of voter fraud were supported by the US-funded Organization of American States (OAS), which claimed that there had been electoral irregularities (these claims were later debunked). Vindicated by the OAS report, Mesa further undermined the election’s legitimacy by calling for an OAS audit of the results, to which Morales agreed, only for Mesa to undercut him further by then opposing the audit and demanding a second round of the election. All the while, protests continued to intensify, culminating on November 10th when the Bolivian military told Morales to step down. Morales complied, and left the country two days later.

Despite the roles military pressure and politically-motivated accusations of fraud played, American observers were quick to celebrate Morales’s ouster. President Trump said as much in a statement, calling it a “significant moment for democracy”. The same pundits that would go on to denounce the January 6th insurrection and its enablers stood by the President’s statement; they praised the toppling of Bolivia’s democratically-elected president as “one of the few big victories democracy has won in recent years” and likened Morales to the right-wing strongmen who rule Russia and Turkey. In the meantime, Morales’s unelected conservative replacement Jeanine Añez charged Morales with terrorism, and her new administration gave carte blanche to security forces as they killed anti-government protestors.

This double standard in what American media labels as a “coup” is unmistakable, and must be called out. Even now, over a year later, as Bolivia attempts to heal by holding Añez accountable, American news outlets are framing it as a “crackdown on opposition” and reiterating the discredited claims of fraud. Even the New York Times article on the subject makes no mention of Añez’s crimes, framing it as a power dispute, in stark contrast to their detailed accounts of Trump’s corruption.

Our media, which legitimized the OAS in destabilizing Bolivian democracy, has never been held accountable for the consequences of their actions. Instead, they have continued to fearmonger and pontificate over Bolivia’s efforts to run a functioning democracy. The events of January 6th have shown Americans the inevitable consequences of this behavior, and now we must recognize that the press’s commitment to democracy domestically means nothing if they continue to undermine it abroad.

Title Image Credit: Kai Pfaffenbach

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