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The MAS Victory, the Coup, and the Fight for Socialism: Interview with a Bolivian Revolutionary

The following is an interview with a Bolivian socialist, Violeta Tamayo, part of the Revolutionary Workers League and the socialist feminist group Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses) on the recent victory of the MAS in the Bolivian elections.

Violeta Tamayo

October 28, 2020
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Photo: Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP / Getty Images

Last year, Bolivia experienced a right-wing coup led by racist, wealthy reactionaries and supported by the US-backed Organization of American States. As a result, Evo Morales of the MAS (Movement Toward Socialism) Party was forced to step down. Since then, Bolivia’s working class indigenous population has been at the forefront of fighting against the right-wing coup government and forcing the interim government to hold elections, which were postponed three times. Finally, last week Bolivia held elections which brought the MAS back to power in a landslide. What does this mean in the fight for revolutionary socialism? Left Voice spoke with Bolivian socialist, Violeta Tamayo, part of the Revolutionary Workers League and the socialist feminist group Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses).

Greetings to all our comrades from Left Voice, our sister organization in the United States. I’m Violeta Tamayo, a member and leader of the Revolutionary Workers League and a leader of the women’s organization Pan y Rosas.

We’re part of the international Trotskyist Fraction, which has organizations in different countries in Latin America and Europe and in the United States.

We’re a revolutionary organization. The women’s organization Pan y Rosas is part of a current that promotes socialist feminism, and we’ve been struggling in the past few years alongside workers and indigenous and campesino (peasant) movements, not only against the different policies implemented against the people during the 14-year government of Evo Morales, which were based on a profoundly capitalist logic, but also previously against the launch of this neoliberal agenda.

Some of the most notable events of that time were what is known as the Gas War in 2000 and the Water War in 2003, which were historic struggles in Bolivia against the privatization of our natural resources and against the set of neoliberal policies that have undermined the rights of the working class and the people.

We have recently taken to the streets to denounce the coup, the massacres, and all the state, police, and military violence that the country has experienced. And that’s what we’re going to talk about now with our comrades from Left Voice.

Watch the full interview here

 The MAS has just won the presidential elections with more than 55 percent of the vote. What does this mean for the Bolivian working class, campesinos, indigenous people, and women?

Violeta: First of all, they were not expecting this overwhelming defeat in the elections. They expected to win or at least to get to the run-off, which the polls did not clearly indicate before the election.

This overwhelming electoral defeat, with the MAS getting 55.1 percent of the votes, expresses the profound rejection of all of the repressive, anti-worker, anti-indigenous, and racist policies that the Far Right has implemented in the past few months, in addition to their completely negligent response to the pandemic, as a result of which Bolivia is one of the countries with most deaths per million inhabitants in the entire region.

This has been compounded by the political crisis, which has led to the naturalization of the country’s militarization and repression, with the intense political persecution of the sectors that have been protesting in Bolivia. The government has called them terrorists and has brought legal action against the people who have been protesting.

But it also expressed the discontent and disappointment of the middle class, which has returned to the MAS as a result of the disastrous policies put in place during Jeanine Áñez’s government.

It has also shown the divisions within the Right, which was unable to join forces in a single alliance in Bolivia. It was divided between an alliance that tried to present itself as a center-right force, under the leadership of Carlos Mesa in Comunidad Ciudadana and the alliance of the most far Right called Creemos, led by Luis Fernando Camacho, who is a representative of the oligarchy of Santa Cruz (the richest municipality in Bolivia).

We believe their defeat expresses the people’s rejection of the violent attacks that have been launched against them throughout Áñez’s government, with intense anti-worker fervor and profound contempt for poor and working-class people. But it also expresses a significant geopolitical defeat of the regional right-wing bloc, which includes Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, and the right-wing interference we’ve experienced since November 2019, from sectors that have denounced electoral fraud in Bolivia, which they still haven’t been able to prove, and which was the perfect excuse to interfere in the country and carry out the coup.

What was the situation like in Bolivia after the coup? What did it mean for the indigenous people, workers, and women?

The conditions in Bolivia after the coup have been terrible for the poor and working-class people. We’ve seen a sharp increase in repression. All the worker and campesino protests that emerged in the country and that questioned Áñez’s government in any way were brutally repressed.

The protests were accused of terrorism, and charges were brought against them. And this is still happening. They have stigmatized the protests and accused the protesters of being financed by the MAS. There has been a climate of repression in the country, but also a great deal of discontent, not only against the massacres they have committed, but also against the illegal detentions.

The Revolutionary Workers League, for example, has been supporting the victims of the Senkata and Sacaba massacres as well as providing political and legal support to the people who were illegally detained during the coup in November and during the massacres. There have been thousands of illegal detentions.

There have also been cases of torture very similar to those of the dictatorship, with threats and terrible methods used by the police and military forces. There has also been an increase in racism and contempt for indigenous people and culture; they have burned the wiphala (the indigenous flag) and attacked women dressed in traditional indigenous skirts. Paramilitary groups have emerged, like those who call themselves the “resistance,” like Resistencia Cochala, which is a paramilitary group that has been built around extreme-right youth groups in the city of Cochabamba.

There has also been a reemergence of groups like the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, which played a very important role in 2008 in trying to divide the country and who committed acts of civil war.

So these have groups have been empowered, and there has been a great deal of vindictiveness on the part of the Far Right. And while the Far Right was in power, it was supported by the repressive state apparatuses of the police and military. It had unchecked power and tried to intimidate all the sectors who took to the streets to protest in the country, joining in the repression by police and military forces.

This has been compounded by their disastrous management of the country’s healthcare system in the country. They have invested much more in the state’s repressive apparatuses, increasing the salaries of military personnel and the budgets for police and military arms.

On the other hand, there is a disastrous lack of funding in the healthcare system. There have been constant protests in the healthcare sector by nurses and cleaning workers, etc. So there has been a sharp increase in social unrest, which the government has tried to repress and neutralize. I think it’s important to point out here that in the August protests and in others organized by radicalized sectors, like the ones in Kara Kara, Cochabamba, and in other parts of the country, the MAS has tried to negotiate and contain the protests and “pacify” the sectors that were protesting, attempting to use them as bargaining chips so that the right would hold elections.

For example, protesters in August demanded Áñez’s resignation, not only that elections be held. So the MAS ended up using these protests to negotiate.

So what we have seen since November 2019 until now has been a great deal of mass resistance, which resulted in the elections, and which helped halt the wave of repression that Áñez’s government was attempting to carry out.

How have the people struggled against the coup since November to prevent another coup from taking place?

 The people’s struggle on the streets has been decisive. We think this is important to take into account, in opposition to what some MAS intellectuals and others on a regional level have been saying, about this being an institutional or electoral victory.

First of all, the elections could not have taken place in Bolivia without the mass protests and roadblocks that were carried out in spite of the pandemic in August 2020.

There have been different acts of protest and resistance and attempts to mobilize our worker, indigenous, and campesino organizations to organize on the streets, despite the role played by the union and political bureaucracy of the MAS, which constantly tried to put a stop to the protests.

Since 2019, people have taken to the streets to protest and denounce all the policies against the people implemented by Áñez’s government. In August, the people not only demanded that a date be set for the elections, in response to the constant postponement of the elections by the government; they also protested everything that’s happening in the country. In addition to demanding elections, the people who organized the roadblocks were also setting up self-defense committees against the attacks launched by right-wing paramilitary groups.

So the events of August were very important, because they led to the development of nascent self-organization and self-defense committees in response to the brutal offensive of the Far Right, which continually confronted, disrespected, and showed their racist contempt for the people of the country. So dozens of roadblocks were organized in every district, bringing the country to a standstill.

They ended up holding elections, and the Right ultimately accepted the election results, because the organized people, the workers, campesinos, and the indigenous movement fought for this on the streets. So there has been a constant struggle, with various demands. For example, the people in Cochabamba have been protesting for essential resources like water during the pandemic. The various demands have grown, and, unfortunately, in this context, the MAS has tried to stop the protests. But since November there has been a constant struggle, with constant organization, and the people have continually questioned the MAS’s bureaucratic leadership.

Is the MAS socialist? Did socialism win in the elections?

During its 14-year government, the MAS showed that it has a program of conciliation with sectors of the national and international bourgeoisie. This is why there have been several partial splits of sectors of the worker, campesino, and indigenous movements that have questioned the MAS.

Because, for example, it granted concessions in protected national park areas for 30 to 40 years to multinationals like Repsol and Petroandina. This has occurred in different parts of the country, like the TIPNIS, the Aguaragüe, Bala, and Chepete, which are indigenous territories where the government granted big concessions to multinationals.

Furthermore, since Morales’s first term, the MAS’s economic plan was not aimed at breaking the capitalist economic model, but establishing a “mixed economy,” an economy with respect for private property, a community-based economy, and a cooperative economy, which is in the Bolivian Constitution. These policies were put in place after the movement demanded the expulsion of multinationals in 2003.

Although the government has acquired a majority stake in some companies, there have been no total nationalizations, as people demanded in 2000 and 2003, for example with regard to Bolivia’s gas. The capitalist economy has been maintained.

In fact, shortly after taking office in 2006, Morales famously said, “I’m not an enemy of the rich, but I’m friendlier with the poor, and, of course, private property will be respected.” That statement pretty much sums up Morales’s government and shows that the MAS has never aspired to take the means of production from capitalist businesses and eliminate private property.

I also want to point out to our audience in the United States that although people talk about a socialist economy or the advance of socialism in Bolivia, and although the Constitution of 2008 was a step forward in terms of social gains, especially for the indigenous people and on a cultural level, with the recognition of the wiphala, etc., the Constitution also recognized large privately owned estates, and this shows that Bolivia has not adopted in any way the socialist model to which the revolutionaries in Bolivia aspire.

This constitutional recognition of large privately owned estates, for example, has given enormous power to agribusiness in Bolivia. Last year, the MAS issued important executive orders in favor of agribusiness groups, which allowed them to burn the forests in La Chiquitanía and others in the country, which are still being burned.

And those are the same executive orders that Áñez relies on today to keep granting big concessions to agribusiness. So the government of the MAS has not been a socialist or revolutionary government in any way, and it has made constant agreements with the Far Right. It is thanks to these agreements that the Far Right did not lose its power during the MAS’s 14-year government. It has actually been empowered by these agreements economically and politically.

Because far from defeating it, the country’s bankers, for example, have always recognized that the MAS gave them enormous benefits. Morales himself would also point this out in his speeches. So they were able to carry out this coup because the bourgeoisie was empowered under the MAS’s government, which allowed the Far Right to gain an enormous amount of power during its 14-year government.

Lastly, what message would you like to send to socialists in the United States who want to support the working class and indigenous people of Bolivia?

First of all, we believe it’s important to approach the fight for socialism in Bolivia as an internationalist fight. That’s essential in countries like the United States, which is one of the most important battlegrounds for anti-imperialist struggle.

We believe it’s crucial for socialists in the United States to fight to build a truly anti-imperialist organization. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has been very important in Bolivia for the defeat of the Far Right, because it weakened the interventionist sectors in the United States and weakened the right wing in our country as well. Áñez’s defeat has also been a defeat for Trump, and the MAS’s electoral victory has expressed a relative limit in this geopolitical context to the U.S. government’s interference in Bolivia.

So this shows the importance of the struggles of the revolutionary Left in other countries, of all forms of class struggle, like Black Lives Matter, and that it is essential to start to question this logic that has been so widespread in different countries, including in the United States, where voting for the lesser evil is the only solution. For example, voting for Biden won’t help the revolutionary Left and socialists in the United States move forward. We believe that those of us who truly want to fight to build a socialist organization need to start building our own organizations for our struggle that are not subordinated to Biden or to Trump, and that would be willing to fight any capitulation to those who have appropriated our discourse for the defense of our rights and the advance of our struggles.

And in this context, it’s essential for us to take up the task of building our own internationalist organization, one that is truly anti-imperialist and truly socialist, in every country, because every struggle waged internationally and all forms of class struggle are a foothold, not only for Bolivia but also for the struggles waged in Chile and in Ecuador since last year, as well as for the movements against the police in Colombia and all forms of class struggle worldwide.

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