Bolivia Does Not Exist

The tactics used to fight against decolonization are what we call a “hybrid war,” writes Vijay Prashad. As the generals do the dirty work, the aims of international capital are eventually met.

By Vijay Prashad

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

On Nov. 10, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales Ayma was removed from office. Technically Morales resigned, but the conditions for his resignation had been set by the Bolivian oligarchy (egged on for 13 years by the United States government, as Noam Chomsky and I indicated in this statement the day before the coup).

Having won re-election for the fourth time, Morales faced an open insurrection from his opponent — former president Carlos Mesa — who lost the election conclusively. A team from the openly hostile Organization of American States (OAS) arrived and provided legitimacy for the coup with a report on the elections that was long on accusations and short on facts. Using this OAS report — fully backed by the United States — as justification, the police mutinied, and then the army (which had remained neutral) told Morales he had to resign. There was no choice.

A coup is a curious thing. Those who make the coup never admit that they have made the coup. They claim that they are restoring democracy or that they are taking extraordinary means to establish the conditions — eventually — for democracy. This is precisely why the definition of the events are so fraught. But all coups are not the same. There are at least two types of military coups — the General’s Coup and the Colonel’s Coup.

It has been a long time since we have seen a classic Colonel’s Coup, perhaps the last major successful one being in Upper Volta (later Burkina Faso) in 1983 when Captain Thomas Sankara took office. These coups, from that of Egypt in 1952 onwards, are driven by non-commissioned officers who have a close fealty to the working-class, the peasantry, and the urban poor; their coup is often against the oligarchy and in favor of some variety of socialism (the Bolivian National Revolution of 1952 falls into this category).

Counter-Revolutionary Coups

The General’s Coup, on the other hand, is conducted by commissioned officers who come from the oligarchy or whose interests are closely associated with the oligarchy. These counter-revolutionary coups are the most commonplace (and have been very common in Bolivia — 1964, 1970, 1980 and 2019). General Williams Kaliman, who called on Morales to resign and who was trained by the United States at its notorious Schools of the Americas, has effectively led a General’s Coup against the government of the Movement for Socialism (MAS).


Such events as a coup are merely events of a longer-term structure, a long struggle between the forces of imperialism and of decolonization.

In 1941, the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations produced a key document for the U.S. State Department – “Methods of Economic Collaboration: The Role of the Grand Area in American Economic Policy.”

The council defined the “Grand Area” as encompassing the entire Western hemisphere, large parts of Europe, the British Empire, the Dutch East Indies, and the Pacific Rim (including China and Japan). The countries of the Western hemisphere, which included all of the Caribbean and Latin America, would be a “source of raw materials and a market for manufacturers.” This was the 20th century version of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine.

A few years later, the U.S. State Department affirmed that “To seek less than preponderant power would be to opt for defeat. Preponderant power must be the object of U.S. policy.”

But it was key that the U.S. seek this kind of power without the appearance of colonialism. In 1962, the Kennedy administration underlined this problem. “It is important for the U.S. to remain in the background, and where possible, to limit its support to training, advice, and material, lest it prejudice the local government effort and expose the U.S. unnecessarily to charges of intervention and colonialism.”

The tactics used to fight against decolonization are what we call a hybrid war. Better to let the generals – from Augusto Pinochet in Chile to Kaliman now in Bolivia – do the dirty work, while the U.S. embassy remains unblemished, and as the aims of international capital are eventually met.

Since Morales was first elected in 2006, he has overseen an improvement of the livelihood of the Bolivian people. Two-thirds of Bolivians are – like Evo Morales – from an indigenous background. That he put the well-being of the indigenous majority first rankled the old oligarchy.

‘We Nationalized Our Natural Resources’

At the United Nations this year, Evo Morales said that, since 2006,  Bolivia has cut it poverty rate from 38.2 percent to 15.2 percent, increased its life expectancy rate by nine years, developed a Universal Health Care system, and ensured that over a million women received land tenure. Today, the country is now 100 percent literate and has a parliament where more than 50 percent of the elected officials are women. How did Bolivia do this? “We nationalized our natural resources,” Morales said, “and our strategic companies. We have taken control of our destiny.”
“Bolivia,” Morales said, “has a future.” That future is now in doubt.

Morales and his closest associates had taken refuge in Mexico. As the coup regime began to consolidate power, MAS said that the people of Bolivia “begin the long road of resistance to defend the historical achievements of the first indigenous government.”

As they drafted this text, the coup regime tore the flag of the indigenous – the Wiphala – down from buildings, burned them, and replaced them with the Bolivian national flag.

“Over the coming days,” said the MAS, the “hunting down of our comrades will continue. Our responsibility is to safeguard one another like a family, to rebuild the social fabric, to care for and protect our persecuted leaders. Today is the moment of solidarity. Tomorrow will be the time for reorganization.”

Morales’s great humanity came out in his statement – not even a day after the coup – that “as a human being” he implored health workers and teachers to tend to the population with “warmth and solidarity.”

In 1868, Britain’s ambassador insulted General Mariano Melgarejo, Bolivia’s dictator. Melgarejo paraded the ambassador down the streets of La Paz on a donkey. Hearing of this, Britain’s Queen Victoria demanded that the Royal Navy bomb the city. When she was told that La Paz was up in the Andes, she said, “Bolivia does not exist.”

Bolivia might have been erased from the maps, but it remained a major source of silver and tin for trans-national firms from Europe and the United States of America. It continues to remain a major source of tin and today it is home to up to 70 percent of the world’s lithium supply.

The demand for lithium — used for batteries for electric cars and electronic devices such as cell phones — is expected to more than double by 2025. Morales’s government set high standards for its mining partnerships: it demanded that at least half of the control of the mines remain with Bolivia’s national mining firms, and that the profit from the mines be used for social development.

Transnational firms sued Bolivia for breaking its contracts and rejected the new standard set by the Morales government. The only firms that agreed to the Bolivian position came from China. As Morales’s government cut deals with Chinese firms, this aggravated not only the transnational firms but also their governments (the United States, Canada, and the European Union). One aspect of the coup is for these companies to gain control of Bolivia’s natural resources — notably lithium, which is essential to electric cars.

Lula on the streets of São Paulo, November 2019. (Ricardo Stuckert)

Yet another is to remove one more pole of the “turn to the left” in South America, which includes the electoral victory of the Left in Argentina and the release of Brazil’s former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, or Lula, from prison. Bolivia’s Vice President Álvaro García Linera’s words are a reminder of the turbulence of class struggle, which finds itself in the brave struggles of the Bolivian people on their streets against this coup:

We have difficult times ahead, but for a revolutionary the difficult times are our force. We live from this, we are strengthened from this, from the difficult times. Were we not those who came from below? Are we not the persecuted, the tortured, the marginalised, of the times of neoliberalism? We have in our bodies the traces and the injuries of struggle from the 1980s and 1990s. And if today, provisionally, temporarily, we have to continue to the struggles of the 1980s, of the 1990s, of the 2000s, then welcome. This is what revolutionaries are for. To struggle, win, fall, get back up, struggle, win, fall, get back up. Until our lives are over, this is our destiny.

Tweet from self-proclaimed president Jeanine Añez Chavez, April, 14, 2013.

Meanwhile, Bolivia’s self-proclaimed president Jeanine Añez Chavez is on records as having said, “I dream of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites. The city is not for Indians; let them go back to the highlands or the Chaco.” Apart from everything, this was a racist coup.

Vijay Prashad, an Indian historian, journalist and commentator, is the executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the chief editor of Left Word Books.

This article is from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

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12 comments for “Bolivia Does Not Exist

  1. Jahaziel Bonilla
    November 17, 2019 at 14:11

    There is a reason the Cuban and Venezuelan governments have not been overthrown. They have the full backing of the Military, Police and Sate Security forces not to mention the full popular support of workers and students. In Bolivia Evo Morales Ayma and Alvaro Garcia Linera made a monumental mistake in not purging the Military and State security forces of those trained in the United States at least gradually in their 13 years in power. Evo Morales is an honest, humble servant of all Bolivians but the Bolivian Oligarchy did not care that the whole country was benefiting from a government that was led by an Indigenous president and that had an economic model that benefits all Bolivians with the best economic growth rates in the whole continent. While Venezuela’s armed forces, police and working class (chavistas) are in full support, the Maduro government too has an internal crisis fomented, directed and trained by Washington. In Cuba that internal component was decapitated early on in the revolution (the spineless oligarchy ran away to Miami to seek refuge with their masters). The Bolivian oligarchy was still wealthy but they lacked the power of internal/external economic policies not to mention a foreign policy that differed from the Empire of the north, their true masters. Bolivia was at the center of the world chessboard better known as geopolitics, for having huge natural resources such as lithium, natural gas etc. combine that with a touch of racism from the oligarchy that would not be considered “European white” if they touched U.S. soil and a touch of religious fanaticism and you have the perfect ingredients for a coup led by Washington. The ministry of colonies better known as the Organization of American States (OAS or OEA in Spanish) lent cover to the coup like their mission has been since the Kennedy administration gave birth to the foreign policy organ of U.S. Capital. This chapter of Bolivian history is far from over as it has clearly been evident in Ecuador and Chile lately. There is a saying and I do not know the origin that “The masses are Asses” but that is the furthest thing from the truth in Latin America in general and specifically Bolivia. Once working people get a taste of democracy not in name but in real metrics such as education, health care and income gains they will fight to keep it no matter how long it takes……

  2. November 16, 2019 at 14:27

    The world is a garden. Capitalists, rentiers, royalty, central bankers and those who inherited wealth are the weeds in that garden. They are weeds that when left to grow eventually kill the garden. They spread noxious gasses, greed, rent seeking, pollution, war, debt and compound interest. The Western World is now choking on their poison. The world, especially the Western World, needs a new crop of gardiners, heroes like lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Fidel Castro, Che Guavara, Hugo Chavez etc. to clean the weeds out of the garden.

    It was as though Evo Morales failed to do his duty when he did not purge the military and the oligarchs when he had the opportunity. The same thing happened in Venezuela when the weeds were not pulled out and look at how they have sickened the garden, because their eradication was neglected. To allow the weeds to stay in the garden means that eventually they will take over and kill the garden. They will poison the soil so that nothing can grow there. In order for the garden to survive the weeds have to be pulled out or poisoned and killed.

  3. DC_rez
    November 15, 2019 at 17:41

    There is no doubt this was a coup.

  4. Vic Dotts
    November 15, 2019 at 16:18

    WOW! Incredible article and reflects my experiences in South America. How sad that the U.S. is behind so many of these movements. Where are our values, morals, ethics … and the strange idea that we should live up to our own Bill of Rights and Constitution? It seems to have changed to the ONLY important thing being capitalism and it’s associated profits for the wealthy! What a world for the coming generations!

  5. Hide Behind
    November 15, 2019 at 15:47

    The mantras of Free Market and Democracy taking together is an oxymoron, preached by those who know it is and use it in order to keep morons, well, as morons.
    Wealth, and the comforts it brings to both the oligarchs and their Administrators, does , not need all the #s of the commons in order for them to remain intact.
    Gone are the days of early industrial revolution whereby the wealthy few needed to employ massive amounts of mostly illiterate and unskilled but trainable masses.
    The consolidation of ownership of natural resources depended upon trade, and trade under European Financial systemsbwas never of a win win by all parties involved but by ones side that had the ability to exploit the others weaknesses.
    The masses never had any real input of how a Nations economy was run, as there have always been forces at play and those forces came from beyond their borders.
    Beyond their borders was once sole domain of military prowess, waste of resources, today it is a mind game played by the few with economics, monetary systems being primary tactic of this new warfare being used to own and controll resources,
    Todays hi tech extraction and industrial methodology eliminates need to provide survival wages to the many.
    Replacement of the many by a small % around 20%, of worlds population, are being rewarded as being needed to control 90+% of worlds wealth.
    A few administrative personell, who manage the efforts of innovative minds
    are but managing programs of their employers.
    They are ones that oversee the means by which the trained semi skilled laborers produce from bare resotces into saleable items.
    Today even in wealthiest of worlds nations we are finding less need of domestic uneducated, un- or semi skilled labor, to provide means to keep that 20 percentage of worlds managers intact.
    Outside of European and US financial blocs, Russia will never get into club only China has ability to join as equal, no nation or its people’s own a damn thing of value, it all belongs to the US/Euro economies.
    Bolivia does not own the vast deposits of Lithium outside forces do and it is those forces that determine what the 20% who will administer that mineral and control populace how much they will be awarded.

  6. DVC
    November 15, 2019 at 14:36

    How sad, disgusting and perverse that human beings will do this to other human beings. Ny Canadian government is virtually married to US policy. Shameful.

  7. elmerfudzie
    November 15, 2019 at 13:49

    China needs that Beryllium. Their not getting it unless they topple Kim Jong Un’s government, break bread with the ASEAN claimants, to fairly distribute both oil and mineral extraction below the floor of the South China Sea.
    The Prez should give instructions to our? CIA operatives, stir up insurrection in Bolivia, make more trouble in Hong Kong and rehire those retired diplomats most familiar with ASEAN politik. Send our delegates (and a few CEO’s) to renegotiate and form new sweet deals with all of them.

    Our nation must not allow the CCP to modernize Bolivia and to eventually set up military bases there. That’s out of the question and whats more, the CCP knows it. The USA will work with the Bolivian people, explain our fears and logistical concerns to them, be absolutely honest about why our two countries must “gingerly” supply China with Beryllium. The USA will do all the modernization in South America beginning with buying off their oligarchic elites, gradually moving them into a state of political senescence thus replacing the rich families with some form of constitutional monarchy similar to the UK. On occasion, the new “Queen” US of A will step in but for the most part, keep out of the daily political and democratic processes and squabbles among their countries. Pink ties will no longer be feared provided that their elected officialdom does not interfere with the new balance of power arrangements between China and the Americas.

    • elmerfudzie
      November 18, 2019 at 20:26

      From elmerfudzie to all readers. Goofed up, again. Looks as tho I’m suffering from a bit of senescence myself. I meant to say Lithium and not Beryllium and another correction as well, I meant to say pink tides not pink ties.
      This commentator is on the downside of the proverbial biological, bell shaped curve and nearing the end. My apologies.

  8. November 15, 2019 at 13:31

    This is an excellent article. The United States is in need of “internal decolonization” whereby the land rent now going to the plutocratic landlords and banks is socialized and used for financing education, healthcare, infrastructure and such. We need to think of surface land as a natural resource, like the lithium in Bolivia and like oil and other natural resources. The land rent (“commons rent”) of surface land is an enormous sum, so we can indeed at the same time remove taxes on labor and the kind of production we need, like housing. One of the best ways we can be in solidarity with people worldwide and assist them in their struggle against imperialism is to address the issues here in the belly of the beast. Tax land not labor!

  9. Timoteo
    November 14, 2019 at 23:58

    As always, Vijay Prashad shares exactly what we need to know about the on-going US-backed military coup in Bolivia. I can only add the fact that Evo Morales was perhaps the most eloquent head-of-state on the planet when it came to advocating for the oneness of all life…the concept of “Bien Vivir,” for indigenous Bolivians– “living well” in interdependence with Pachamama.

    In our context of intensifying Climate Emergency–a crisis enforced upon the world by the very same greedy corporate-state interests who are behind the Bolivian coup–Evo will be sorely missed… if this coup is allowed to stand.

    Right now, millions of indigenous people in Bolivia–70% of the population–are massing in La Paz, led by women-elders and preparing to put their bodies on the line to confront this military coup. While they are heavily outnumbered, coup-backers have heavy weapons of war, which if used against the people, could result in the biggest, most tragic and unjust, massacre of indigenous peoples seen in our lifetimes.

    We must not look away! All of us who love life and freedom should be considering: What can we do right now to express our outrage at this US-backed coup? What can we do to support the indigenous people of Bolivia as well as the return of Evo Morales to his rightful place as the democratically elected President of Bolivia?

  10. CitizenOne
    November 14, 2019 at 23:36

    Colonialism is such an antiquated term for “advanced” nations taking over another country, deposing its government, installing a puppet government that obeys the orders from resource hungry corporations and killing anyone who gets in the way of the piracy and theft of the natural resources going on. Piracy is what is happening. Corporate pirates that overthrow the government and steal the bounty is what is going on. We need international laws against international piracy and the theft of resources. Nations and corporations that engage in it need to be held accountable to the international laws against piracy.

    Of course that won’t happen since the courts in the pirate nations adopt international laws that conveniently ignore the violent military takeovers of third world nations and their media puppets dutifully do not report any of it as news.

    The power of money continues to rule the world like a bunch of internationally sanctioned pirates. In America and elsewhere, the slave trade was sanctioned an legalized and humans were separated from the human race as chattel to create a prison labor force for the wealthy to extract money from the land without paying wages or granting citizenship to millions of slaves. The rights of slaves were zeroed out by the money powers that exploited them like beasts of burden in the fields and defined them as the subhuman inferior property of the sophisticated and educated wealth class. They were bought and sold like farm animals. They were worked like farm animals and they had the same rights as farm animals which were no rights at all. They were kept illiterate on purpose and the discovery of a book or reading glasses was punishable by in the least example whipping and the worst examples lunching and the separation of the families and the children that might have become bad animals and possibly educated and dangerous farm animals.

    This is OUR HISTORY. It is shameful and it is wrong. It is shocking that such a system of slavery existed in this country just 150 years ago.

    Unfortunately as we expunged this inhuman system at home our country has never felt the need to apply those same standards toward other countries we control through violent overthrows and the establishment of violent oppressive governments and dictatorships to usurp the rights of the citizens of the targeted nation(s) and to deprive them of the rights of self governance and democracy.

    More appalling is our attested motives for our actions which are always preached from the highest pulpits and government agencies that our aims are to restore freedom and democracy to the people who have have had their freedoms robbed by their socialist or communist leaders. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Mark Twain became an avid anti imperialist after what he saw in the Spanish American War. He is quoted as saying:

    “There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one–on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful–as usual–will shout for the war. The pulpit will–warily and cautiously–object–at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ‘It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.’ Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers–as earlier–but do not dare say so. And now the whole nation–pulpit and all–will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”

  11. jon
    November 14, 2019 at 23:34

    This is a bit one sided.

    While Morales did a lot for Bolivia he had to compromise a whole lot: According to the website,
    “there was a grievance against the granting of a lithium mining concession to a German multinational. The contract gave ACI Systems (a company with no previous experience in the field) a 70-year contract (as opposed to standard contracts of 30 years in other Latin American countries) and full de facto control over the management of the company, which would be a joint venture with the state. This was seen by many as handing over the country’s natural resources to a foreign multinational, by a government which claims to be anti-imperialist, with little benefits for the local population.” and “To add insult to injury, Evo Morales appointed as a top candidate for Senator for Potosí a mine owner and former right-wing politician, Orlando Careaga. He had been a part of the hated MNR of Goñi Sánchez de Losada, overthrown by the revolutionary movement of workers and peasants in 2003.”

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