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Bolivian masses defeat the right

Mass mobilizations of indigenous peasants and workers, in conjunction with actions taken by the government of Evo Morales, have won a decisive victory against a right-wing plot to destabilize the country. The events are as significant for the movement in Latin America as the April 2002 defeat of a right-wing coup attempt against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. Frederico Fuentes has provided a gripping account of these events, summarized below.[1]

Morales’ won a decisive victory in an August 10 referendum – gaining 67.4 percent of the vote nationally. Even in the “half moon” area of Bolivia – the eastern departments of Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz and Tarija – where opposition to Morales has been intense, Morales did very well, winning in Pando, tying in Tarija and getting over 40% in Beni and Santa Cruz.

Frustrated at the polls, the right-wing turned to violence. Central to this violence was the role of US ambassador Philip Goldberg (since expelled from the country). He met with anti-Morales forces after their defeat in the referendum. That meeting resulted in “a plan to destabilize the east, stirring up violence to the point where either the military would be forced to react, causing deaths and Morales’ resignation, or creating the justification for some kind of United Nations intervention to ‘restore stability.’”

What happened was nearly catastrophic. Groups of armed thugs took over airports in the “half moon” area. Paramilitaries took the streets, openly saying that would only take orders from the anti-Morales prefectures (governors). Morales ordered troops to the area to restore order, but once in Pando “the top commander of the Armed Forces, Luis Trigo, known to have links with the Santa Cruz oligarchy … ordered troops to remain in their barracks and turned off his phone.”

In effect, Trigo was giving tacit permission to the right-wing and their paramilitaries to proceed with their destabilization campaign. He was in Pando, but he was folding his arms and refusing to act.

The right wing understood the signal very clearly. September 11, an unarmed group of peasants, traveling to a meeting of their union, were attacked by right-wing paramilitaries. The number killed is at least 20 – including women and children – and maybe be much higher. More than 60 are still missing.

But the day before, social movements had held an emergency meeting to respond to the crisis. They accelerated their plans in the wake of the massacre, setting out to encircle Santa Cruz, epicentre of right-wing organizing. Peasants cut off all access to the city.

The massacre had backfired. Ordinary soldiers were repulsed at the bloodshed. They were also inspired by the sight of thousands of peasants mobilized to surround the city. “Soldiers demanded to be allowed to go and defend their indigenous brothers. Under direct order from Morales, new troops were sent to Pando.” These troops confronted the paramilitaries in the airport and moved to restore order in the capital Cobija. This, in combination with the emergency summit of UNASUR (union of South American Nations) which fully backed Morales, left the right-wing isolated and in disarray.

There now exists in Bolivia a new force, “the National Coalition for Change (CONCALCAM), which unites more than 30 peasant, indigenous, worker and social organizations, together with the Bolivian Workers Central.” It is clear that such unity will be necessary in the months ahead. A “coup in slow motion” has been defeated. But mass mobilization and organization are a permanent necessity to counter a right-wing which has shown a clear commitment to using violence to defend its entrenched privileges.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.


[1] Frederico Fuentes maintains the important blog, Bolivia rising. Quotes in this article are from Frederico Fuentes, “Bolivia: Right-wing push to stop change defeated,” Green Left Weekly, October 25, 2008,

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