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Bolivian elections: Return of MAS a rebuff to US imperialism

Written by: (Contributed) on 23 October 2020


The return of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) to office in Bolivia has provided a massive boost for progressive movements and Indigenous peoples across Central and Latin America and elsewhere.

The previous MAS presidential administration successfully challenged US-led neo-liberal economic agendas and directives issued through international financial institutions under their control.

They also withstood a massive US-led destabilisation campaign.

The recent Bolivian elections, furthermore, followed a year of political uncertainty and instability following the removal of President Evo Morales last November.

While strongly localised issues proved politically popular with MAS supporters, the recent election victory rested upon a reaction to US-led repression in previous decades which has left a lasting legacy on popular Bolivian political allegiances.

The Bolivian people went to the polls on 18 October to vote for a new president, vice-president and members of both houses following a year of political uncertainty and instability. They overwhelmingly voted to support the MAS candidate Luis Arce, a former Finance Minister in previous MAS administrations, who received 52.62 per cent of the mandate and won the presidency on the first round. He had been expected to win although by not such a conclusive margin.

Incoming President Arce used the announcement of his election victory to state, 'we have recovered democracy and will regain stability and social-peace'. (1)

Bolivia, however, is a bitterly divided society with a long and tumultuous history; a large Indigenous section of the general population have historically lived on the margins of society, subject to exploitation and racial discrimination at the hands of those whose lineage lay in oligarchies and Spanish ancestry.

It is, therefore, not surprising to note the strong diplomatic links between previous Bolivian presidential administrations backed by the US and the Apartheid regime in South Africa, although the matter was not well-publicised.

Bolivia was one of the Latin American countries targeted by the Nazi regime in Germany as rat-lines for fleeing war-criminals who then assumed other identities and continued their political activities inside regimes backed by the US. (2) Many of the right-wing Latin American regimes which governed through the previous Cold War developed political systems based on a common Nazi heritage.

Bolivia was no exception to the general plan; it was also a major US-led theatre of war against the civilian population.

In the late-1970s, for example, Dr. Guido Strauss, then Bolivian under-secretary for Immigration, announced a plan to settle 150,000 whites from supremacist regimes in Southern Africa, 'financed by a $150 million credit to Bolivia offered by the Federal Republic of Germany'. (3)  

The involvement of Germany as a broker in the transaction can be easily explained through the role of their intelligence services which were re-established immediately after 1945 by Reinhard Gehlen, a former General under Hitler who was backed by the US. (4) While Germany had been militarily defeated, Gehlen merely returned large numbers of Nazi supporters back on official pay-rolls in order to comply with Pentagon planning for the Cold War. Those in Latin America were regarded as a particularly important component part of the master plan.

The development coincided with similar diplomatic initiatives by the Apartheid regime to foster stronger links with right-wing Latin American counterparts to break sanctions imposed by the UN. (5)

Following the July 1980 coup in Bolivia, which subsequently installed Garcia Mesa as president, the incoming administration was quickly recognised diplomatically by South Africa. (6) A later military report threw even further light upon some of the major players behind the coup and their neo-Nazi political positions, with the statement:

          concern is being caused by the continued presence in the country of South African and German mercenaries, all of whom have credentials from the Ministry of the Interior and Department 2 … their high remuneration and their behaviour makes things very uncomfortable for all who have to pay and deal with them. (7)

The developments were also accompanied by Bolivian involvement with the notorious Operation Condor, a US-led regional intelligence network for tracking and eliminating political opposition figures. (8) It was accompanied by US-led regional counter-insurgency and country-intelligence programs including the AR 381-20 training manuals used in the School of the Americas.

In January 2006, after decades of popular struggles against class and state repression, Bolivian peoples voted for Evo Morales as president, beginning a two-term and fourteen-year presidential administration devoted to state intervention and nationalisation together with a redistribution of wealth from the country's vast mineral resources directed toward social programs beneficial for ordinary working people with specific provision for social and cultural inclusion.

The emerging MAS subsequently became a major part of the wave of reaction against US domination which swept the southern half of the Americas during the 1990s and later period in collective opposition to regional trade agreements and the legacies of brutal US-led repression. For most ordinary Bolivian peoples, the 2006-2019 period was a time when the old, traditional order and all that was associated with it, collapsed.

Attempts, by the US, to reassert traditional hegemonic positions throughout Bolivia during the past year, have now been thrown into turmoil. Their chosen candidate in recent elections, Carlos Mesa only received 30.23 per cent of the poll. Official US positions have remained tight-lipped about the election result, hiding behind diplomatic silence; it was not a result they have chosen to celebrate, for obvious reasons. The removal of President Morales and his supporters from office, and replacement by one of their cronies, had been a long-term plan for Washington and the Pentagon.

Bolivia was, historically, regarded by the US as a vital link in the regional intelligence networks due to its central geographical position. It is, therefore, hardly surprising to note throughout the previous fourteen-year Morales presidency the US had funded and supported a long list of destabilisation campaigns including far-right political groupings and seccessionist movements to divide the country into ethnic strongholds amongst other numerous plans.

While Morales was eventually ousted last November after his two terms of office were completed, the hidden hands of the US supported nineteen days of political turmoil and violent protests directed toward MAS supporters. Throughout the past year the destabilisation campaigns have continued, although to avail, revealing a changing balance of forces has taken place inside Bolivia away from the old traditional order favoured by the US toward a new popularist movement with seemingly widespread support.

In conclusion, the recent election results have shown the progressive forces which won power during the 2006-19 period were unwilling to hand it back to their former oppressors in Bolivia.

Their success stands as a massive boost to others in the struggle against exploitation and repression across the southern half of the Americas, from the remote areas of Chile to Honduras, and elsewhere!

1.     Morales' heir wins election, Australian, 20 October 2020 
2.     Ratlines, Mark Aarons and John Loftus, (London, 1991), Chapter 5, pp. 88-119; and, The Borman Brotherhood, A new investigation of the escape and survival of Nazi war criminals, William Stevenson, (New York, 1973).
3.     The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, (Boston, 1979), pp. 119-121.
4.     Gehlen: Germany's Master Spy, Charles Whiting, (New York, 1972).
5.     Pretoria opts for Latin America, The military pact project in the South Atlantic, Robert Manning, Le Monde Diplomatique, March 1977.
6.     Klaus Barbie, The Fourth Reich, and their neo-fascist connection, Magnus Linklater, Isabel Hilton and Neal Ascherson, (London, 1984), page 370.  
7.     Ibid., page 375. 
8.     1976, South America: Operation Condor cross border killing, Edward S. Herman, A People's History of the CIA, (Ottawa, 2000), page 31.
(The author has had a long involvement with Central and Latin America. He worked in Nicaragua and Cuba during the mid-late 1980s.)



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