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From The Socialist newspaper, 30 April 2008

Bolivia - right-wing coup threat

BOLIVIA IS awash with rumours about an impending right-wing coup against the elected government of president Evo Morales. The fear is that around the illegal autonomy referendum for Santa Cruz, to be held on 4 May, right-wing army officials will step in to unseat the Morales government and attempt to restore the rule of the Eastern 'oligarchy' (wealthy landowners/capitalists) over the whole country.

Karl Debbaut, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)

These rumours took on more importance as the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez invited Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, and Carlos Lage, vice-president of Cuba, to Caracas for a summit of ALBA (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Americas). They discussed how to defend the Bolivian government in the event of a right-wing coup.

If the ruling class, either through a military coup or an attempted secession of the East of the country, persist with their attempts to overthrow the Morales government, the country could be drawn into a civil war with devastating consequences. What is developing today in Bolivia is a struggle between revolution and counter-revolution. This poses the immediate question for the working class and poor of what measures are needed to avoid defeat.

The Morales government has been in power for just over two years. It has been a popular government but at no point has it sought to organise the mass of the population and workers to implement a socialist programme. To avoid defeat it is now urgent to cast aside the illusion that Bolivia can have socialism without affecting capitalism.

The situation now unfolding in Bolivia calls for the immediate mobilisation and organisation of the working class to take the revolution forward and avoid repeating the mistakes of the Allende government in Chile in the early 1970s.

Autonomy referendum

Evo Morales, the first indigenous president in the history of Bolivia, fulfilled his election promise to rewrite the country's constitution and give more rights to the country's indigenous majority - who throughout Bolivia's history have been exploited and discriminated against by a minority from European descent.

His government party, MAS (Movement towards Socialism), promised to nationalise the oil and gas industry of the country and to implement far-reaching land reform.

The road towards the acceptance of a new constitution, written by the delegates of an elected constitutional assembly, has repeatedly been postponed and sabotaged by the right-wing minority around the opposition party Podemos.

The MAS has the majority in the Bolivian Chamber of Deputies with 72 seats against the 43 seats of Podemos. In the Senate though, (which is the least democratic of the two chambers with only 27 elected representatives for the whole of the country), Podemos holds the majority of 13 seats while MAS has 12 and two other parties have one member each.

After a long struggle in the Senate it finally approved the text of the constitution on 28 February 2008 to be put to a national referendum on 4 May. The response of the right-wing in the states of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Chuquisaca and Cochabamba was to announce simultaneous local referenda on departmental autonomy.

In this way the ruling elite in the Eastern states, which still refuses to acknowledge the proposed draft constitution, is trying to split the country, provoke a political confrontation and prepare for violence including the possibility of civil war.

The national electoral commission declared that it could not guarantee to organise a national referendum on the constitution by 4 May and that the autonomy referenda were illegal and should not go ahead.

The MAS government abided by the ruling of the national electoral commission and called off the constitutional referendum.

The department of Santa Cruz, the focal point of the opposition to the MAS government, declared that it would go ahead with its referendum on autonomy.

Land and freedom?

The Eastern low lands are where the bulk of Bolivia's oil and natural gas deposits are to be found. It is where most of the arable land is, divided between a small minority who own enormous estates.

In Santa Cruz, 15 families control half a million hectares of land. For the peasants working on these landholdings conditions have been the same for 200 years. At least 500 families live in serfdom, tied to the land and the landlord. More than 8,000 children, between the ages of 5 to 14, work on sugar plantations without receiving wages nor education and health services.

Part of the proposed constitutional referendum is to limit the size of the landed estates to 5,000 or 10,000 hectares and to give 'autonomy' to the indigenous people.

Of course, the right wing in the East wants autonomy for itself, the autonomy to exploit the natural resources and the people.

The right-wing in Santa Cruz and the East use racism and discrimination as a method to sustain their rule. This racism and discrimination against the indigenous people has been a central feature in Bolivia, as in most other countries in Latin America, from the time of the colonisation of Latin America by Spanish imperialism.

Armed repression

At the end of February the Vice Minister of Land, the director of the institute of Land Reform and the leader of the Guaraní people were amongst a group whose vehicles were shot at on their way to visit a series of families held in slavery by a local landowner in the Cordillera region of Santa Cruz. They were held at gunpoint, 53 people were wounded and several people have been reported missing by government sources.

These incidents are not exceptional. The landowners employ paramilitary forces to protect their holdings and to expand their lands illegally, evicting indigenous groups and subsistence farmers.

The Comité Pro-Santa Cruz, the campaigning organisation for autonomy for the East, is made up of the main business organisations in the department. Together with the Juventud Crucenista and several semi-fascist organisations, they are terrorising anyone who dares to challenge their authority. The houses of local trade union leaders have been fire-bombed and pro-MAS demonstrations are attacked by thugs.

The MAS was one of the most popular party in Santa Cruz, both in the 2005 elections and in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. The key issue, however, is that the MAS has not been able to undercut the social basis of the right-wing, has stalled on land reform and has let itself be intimidated by armed groups.


It is clear that the right wing in Santa Cruz together with the elite which has plundered Bolivia in the interests of international capitalism for decades, is not going to allow power to slip from its hands without a fight. The weakness of the Morales government has been that it has not used its majority to break the power of the right wing by overthrowing capitalism.

The renegotiation of the hydro-carbon contracts with the multinationals was hailed by the majority of Bolivians as a step in the right direction. Since then the illusion entertained by the government that it is possible to come to a compromise with the ruling class and build 'Andean capitalism' has paralysed the government.

The weakness of the Morales government and its refusal to build the MAS from a coalition of move-ments into a political party capable of leading a united struggle of the workers and poor, has invited more right-wing aggression.

A coup or a civil war would have devastating consequences for the country and for the workers, poor and indigenous people of Bolivia. Immediate measures must be taken to counter the threat of a coup from the armed forces.

The CWI calls for the formation of a defence organisation, bringing together the trade unions, social movements and the indigenous federations.

Measures should be taken immediately to organise prop-aganda amongst the army, organise the conscripts into committees for the defence of the revolution, to prepare to refuse to obey orders that are aimed against the government and to agitate in favour of the election of officers. Workers and peasants' militia should immediately be formed.

The elected committees in workplaces and in local communities should come together on a city, regional and national level, organise on a socialist programme and start taking over the daily running of society. This would be the embryo for organising a peasants' and workers' government, and a future workers' and peasants' state to start building a socialist society.

The CWI calls for an international campaign to be organised in defence of the Bolivian revolution.

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In The Socialist 30 April 2008:

Public sector strike shows fightback has begun!

A week of strikes shakes government

Grangemouth oil refinery strike

Reports of the 24 April strikes

Socialist Party campaigns

Stop PFI pirates wrecking our NHS

Saving our post offices!

Socialist Party election campaigns

Socialist councillors back teachers

"Why I am standing against Labour"

Socialist Students

Students stage occupation


Love Music Hate Racism

German anti-fascist demo

International socialist news and analysis

Bolivia - right-wing coup threat

Socialist Party workplace news

Lincoln rejects insulting pay offer

Defend Eddie Fleming

Unison witch-hunt

Corus Trostre, further job losses


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