Bolivia. “We Have a Fear-Based System that was augmented by the Pandemic”

By Carlos Aznárez, on June 15, 2020

We spoke with Antonio Abal, a Bolivian journalist, who explained to us what is happening in his country as a result of the civic, military, religious, police, media and cultural coup.

-First of all, how is the situation in Bolivia today, especially in this context of the germ warfare that we are suffering, but also with the explanation of how the dictatorial Bolivian government continues to take advantage to advance and repress and try to consolidate.

Since November in Bolivia, what we have is a system based on fear that was increased by the pandemic. This fear has been transformed into an uncertainty on the part of the entire population because the horizon of the democratic solution that the de facto government was obliged to create in order to return to democracy has not yet been found. Despite the fact that there is a date for the elections to be held, the uncertainty is marking these times because confidence has been lost, not only in the political system but in the entire structure of the state. There is total distrust, the issue of the pandemic is out of control, there is no clear government policy or direction leaving the responsibility to the lower levels of the state that have no money. Therefore, the recommendation we hear every day in the media is to stay home and manage as best you can. This is confirming an assessment made by René Zavaleta, a Bolivian sociologist, who pointed out that the governments of the oligarchy in Bolivia use the discourse of the guilty country to establish their roots. This is what is happening now, we are still a guilty country, of suffering, of hunger, of de facto governments and, under a regime of terror, this type of discourse has asserted itself more and more.

-But, there are also struggles, organization, especially of the native peoples and those poorer people who have seen with this COVID the need, as here in Argentina, to make popular pots, to share the little that one has. How is this struggle taking place in the popular classes?

At first there was a total shock,  people didn’t know what to do, in the months of November, December and January. But, since February there have been certain pulsations, especially in the city of La Paz, in El Alto, that combative city, which managed to stop a catastrophic defeat for the Bolivian people. I say that it stopped because it claimed the Wiphala as the emblem of the native peoples and the collective identity of the resistance and struggle in Bolivia. Since February, there has been a kind of re-composition, the unions have gradually come out of their hiding. We are not yet at the maximum level of coordination of a joint struggle. The movement that has been quickly articulated, and which has just issued a statement, is the Unity Pact, which is the organizations of Original Peoples, peasants, indigenous and intercultural, which are the internal migrants in the country. This is the most solid coordinated representation at this moment that is somewhat leading the resistance and putting pressure. The Bolivian Labor Union (COB) has not recovered its strength; it has made some timid attempts at opposition and expression in the people, but it has not succeeded. Some left-wing parties outside of MAS, with some visibility, are trying to give a direction for the present moment, for the situation. The truth is that we do not have, beyond the electoral date of September 6, a possible horizon of what the resistance and the outcome of this resistance will mean. But, there is an articulation and coordination in these organizations gathered in the Unity Pact.

-It is hard to imagine that a dictatorship with international support especially from the United States and the OAS, is going to just let go because of some elections, especially if MAS wins. What is your view?

I think this prediction is probable and they are not going to just hand over the government that is clear if they do not win the elections. But, one must take into account that in Bolivia, at this moment, there is a hard campaign to, first, postpone the elections, an extension of this de facto government, and a second, campaign also very strong to annul MAS’s participation in the elections at all. The two things have the same origin; of course, they obey the same political position. So, that is where the popular forces, beyond the electoral situation, need to interject itself to propose strategies first to oppose the extension of the coup government and secondly, in a scenario, firstly, of extension and, secondly, if the election occurs, of resistance to hand over the government.

We are at one of the most definitive crossroads for continuing with the modifications of the state, especially since the reform of our Constitution. There is a very strong tendency to cancel out all the gains, to disrupt, all the progress that has been made, even if it is only symbolic, in terms of modifying a different, plurinational State, which replaces a mono-cultural State with a liberal democracy, a democracy that invents a thousand pirouettes in order not to be a true democracy. So that’s more or less the scenario we’re in today.

-What role does Evo play in these developments? We know Evo still has a strong following in Bolivia but he is not there. Is it time for them to hand over the reins to new leaders like Andronico Rodriguez or others who will emerge, to reclaim the struggle there in Bolivia?

I saw on the social networks a proposal from a MAS militant who said that we must have a great deal of consultation and raised names like Felipe Quispe, for example, and Oscar Olivera, a leader of the Water War. But, immediately there was an avalanche of people who told him that the MAS is the instrument and that the indisputable leader is Evo Morales. Now, government circles have tried to separate the figure of Evo Morales from the Bolivian resistance with news that Evo was no longer the representative or head of the MAS and the vice president of the MAS had to leave to clarify the messy situation they are in.

Organically MAS is not yet fully re-organized, but hard work is being done in these circumstances of quarantine of district, departmental organizations. There is a very decisive role for the youth in this, who are seeing on the local levels first stages of struggle and resistance and then it will be moving up the ladder. This means that, possibly, a series of considerations will be reached at a higher level of the MAS to see which is the most favorable situation to face, not only the elections, but what comes after.

We must not forget that there are sectors of women’s struggle, feminist movements of different kinds, in Bolivia, which are also in tough resistance. They may or may not coincide at this time with MAS, but what they can unify around is the issue of the return to a democratic system. So, there are also other civil society actors with whom we have to start a dialogue.

The one that is gaining ground in that sense is the government. A few days ago it has already prepared its intellectual staff where the old MNR, its elites in political, economic and social matters, people from the MIR and ADN, in other words, the entire right-wing with its elites that have been running the state, including, mainly, the financial sector with those like the former president of the Central Bank, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, and everything else. So, yes there is a team that this government lacked, it didn’t have a team of that caliber, now it has formed one, so there is some consistency in the neoliberal project at this time in Bolivia. That is what we are facing, and MAS has to equip itself with a general staff of this type that has the capacity to confront the onslaught that we are going to have.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano, translation North America bureau