BY AWQA COLQUE
It’s 11.39am in London. I’ve woken up to videos of Bolivia’s capital streets being overrun with the military just hours before our election begins. It is heartbreaking. It is demoralizing and I can’t help but think, like last November, it is these soldiers who will ensure the right-wing elite hold onto their ill-gotten power. In order to understand what’s going on in Bolivia right now, you’ll need to understand it’s history. While it is impossible to give a detailed run-down of a nation’s existence in one piece of writing, and in our case, our indigenous existence precedes the colonial creation of the Bolivian state, I do hope my contribution can dispel the constant misinformation spreading like wildfire.
First, let’s get one thing straight. The Bolivian elite have been scrambling to get back in power from the moment Evo Morales Ayma won the presidency in 2006. It disgusted them that a brown, indigenous Aymara person from the countryside was in politics to begin with let alone charged with running the country. And, let’s not forget surrounding Evo were thousands indigenous women and men who, for the first time in the nation’s history of which they are the majority, were leading the country – not as Indigenous tokens to the ruling class.
It was a genuine movement. Under the leadership of Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS), extreme poverty was slashed from 38% to 15%. The government spent money on what actually matters; health, education and benefits for the most vulnerable in society. But, where did all this money come from? Well, it was always there. The difference was that past presidents and their parties were more interested in selling our natural resources for a dismal sum to keep the measly profit gained for themselves. Effectively, allowing most of our wealth to find itself it foreign hands as the country, and our Indigenous majority, were subjugated in a neo-colonial state.
After ten years of progress, and constant attacks from the anti-indigenous elite, a very important referendum was held. I was in the country at the time saying my goodbyes to my dying abuelito with my mum and my six-month-old daughter. The referendum would determine whether Evo could run for a third presidential term. I watched the news as reports came in about the El Alto town hall – the capital’s sister-city – being burned down by MAS supporters. Blatant Lies. I heard crazy rumors being circulated about Evo having a relationship with an underage woman. More Lies. He apparently had an “illegitimate” child with her. The opposition even hired a young boy to pretend to be his son. Oh and he also helped the mother of this fake child get a job in a Chinese company. Lies, lies, lies. All Evo had ever done was have a brief relationship with a woman, Gabriela Zapata, who unfortunately had a miscarriage. It was sickening to watch unfold.
This character assassination, carried out by the opposition and elite-controlled media, ensured the referendum failed and since then February 21 was coined as Dia de la Mentira, or the Day of the Lie. The only small comfort we had at the time was my abuelito beaming with pride whenever he spoke about MAS and the progress Bolivia was experiencing. He was so unwell he had no awareness of the current turbulence.
The referendum was stolen from us. But, MAS found a way to challenge the right-wing’s sabotage. While in the West, many see the elimination of term limits as “undemocratic” due to this staunch, and unfounded, belief that presidents should have limited terms, irrespective of whether they have majority support. To me, what is truly undemocratic, is the success of Samuel Doria Medina’s efforts to tarnish Evo’s reputation in the public eye. Medina is of course a member of the right-wing opposition and wealthy businessman. He paid Gabriela Zapata to spread these unfounded and malicious lies. Fuck this idea that a new face is needed. What third world people will always need is effective, just leadership, with morals and honest intentions. And, no one, absolutely no one but the people should have a say in how that is decided in our homelands.
I’m not alone either. Last November an election was held. Evo ran for a third presidential term. He won. Fair and square. However, before the votes from the rural parts of the country could come in and confirm a MAS victory the elite claimed there was electoral fraud. This unfounded claim was subsequently backed up by the US-dominated Organization of American States (OAS). Before we knew it, full-scale violence and intimidation were spreading throughout the country. It was evident, despite a clear MAS majority, the elite was not going to allow another presidential term where the needs of the majority were prioritized over the wealthy minority.
MAS politicians and their families were sent death threats. Activists my age were threatened. Many of my comrades had to go into hiding in Bolivia or self-exile. To put it simply, if you were in any way publicly associated with MAS you were left with three options; death, imprisonment, or exile. Evo’s sister’s home was burnt to the ground. One of the most horrific examples of violence was when Mayor Patricia Arce, was dragged out onto the street, her hair cut off, doused in red paint, beaten, humiliated and forced to walk for hours with no shoes on. Even an Argentinian journalist, Sebastian Moro, was killed for documenting the atrocities the military were carrying out against peaceful protesters who merely wanted their vote to be respected.
Yet, there are still those out there who dare to utter, “If Evo won the election why did he resign and flee the country!?” Well, to begin, Evo cared about the safety and lives of his comrades. He wanted an end to the bloodshed and believed his resignation would make that happen. It did not. Unfortunately, it led to Jeanine Áñez being sworn in as interim president. The violent oppression of people, demanding their voices be heard and against the dictatorship’s constant postponement of elections, continued. Not to mention the dramatic rise in poverty which has led to children committing suicide due to starvation.
It’s been just under a year since the coup and we finally have the chance to vote in a leader who has the people’s interests at heart — Luis Arce, or Lucho. The military is flooding Bolivia’s principal cities and international electoral observers have been largely ignored without any support for their transport, accommodation or security, from the illegitimate interim government. In fact, the dictatorial regime detained an electoral observer from Argentina as soon as he set foot on Bolivian soil. Driving permits are being denied to “dissident” media outlets (read: alternative, media outlets that won’t regurgitate the elite’s lies and are presenting the reality on the ground). Even Bolivians here in London are finding it impossible to vote, as well as in other places such as Argentina and the United States. Many have shared they have waited hours outside the Bolivian’s embassy across the diaspora to exercise their right to vote abroad.
For the people of Bolivia this election is a matter of life or death. It is not simply about casting their votes and going on with their lives until the results are announced. The legitimacy of these elections are highly questionable — will everyone be allowed to vote and, if they are, will their votes be respected? Since when has the colonial elite of Bolivia and it’s mestizo sellouts respected the existence, or the wishes, of our Indigenous majority? Never. So, what will happen? It is hard to predict. What we can depend on is for the Bolivian people, as they always do, to take to the streets. To fight to end our subjugation and violent oppression at the hands of this dictatorship. The least anyone can do now is make sure we’re refuting the imperialist propaganda and defending Bolivia’s right to self-determination.
May the murdered victims of this dictatorship rest in peace and those who continue to resist rise in power.
Thinking of you, mi querida Bolivia. Mi querida Qollasuyu.