A little more than six months after the coup d’état (10-11 November 2019) against President Evo Morales in Bolivia, now exiled in Argentina, he warned of the serious situation his country is facing under a de facto government headed by the self-proclaimed President Jeanine Añez, who in addition to repression involving massacres against the population and persecution and imprisonment of political leaders and militants, is systematically destroying the social and economic model and achievements of the overthrown government of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).
Now that country is confronting the COVD-19 pandemic in the absence of state presence, while military threats are growing and war tanks continue to arrive from the interior of the country for military garrisons in the city of La Paz, the former president denounced in an interview in Buenos Aires.
When asked about the general situation in his country, he recalled that “the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended a rigid quarantine for Bolivia, but the de facto president did not apply it, and the situation of the poorest families is aggravated by the absence of the state, which is worse for some regions such as the department of Beni, which is currently the most affected by the rapid expansion of Covid-19. I have just been informed that a young militant is dying in Beni and there are other serious cases and we feel powerless in the face of this situation”.
Q: You have denounced the absence of the State in these circumstances, aggravated by these military mobilizations.
A: This is what we are seeing all over the country and from this comes what happened to the organized health system that we left behind and the current absence of the Bolivian state to protect the population from the lethal effects of the virus. With the pandemic we could see that everything has changed. Between 1985 and 2005, in 20 years of neoliberalism, 500 million dollars had been invested in health. Between 2006 and 2018 we invested another 1.6 billion dollars and there were even second and third level hospitals, not to mention the health centers. As an example, I cite the case of Montero in the department of Santa Cruz, where we had completed the construction of a major hospital and the coup leaders paralyzed it. Only during our administration (2006-2019) did we initiate the Universal Health Insurance program. In just ten months, ten million consultations were given free of charge and now the Universal Health Insurance Service has been paralyzed. I cannot understand why Universal Health Insurance was abandoned as well, nor the destruction of the health system that we left behind. Those of us who have advocated the presence of the State were not wrong. The coup leaders paralyzed the entire health system that we implemented.
Q: You have always stressed this project. How would you have confronted the pandemic if you had been in government?
A: That health system would be working right now, which would mean a profound change. Immediately after the coup, they expelled and mistreated the Cuban doctors. They had come to Bolivia without asking for anything, they were doing a very important job, they did not come to privatize but to advance in a health project for all. I always remember that Fidel (Castro) once told me “we share the little we have especially in education and health rights”. Fidel continues to be for me the most supportive man in the world. Besides healthcare, Cuba also sent the teachers for the literacy project. They helped us with the literacy programs with the “si se puede” and we defeated illiteracy. In addition to this, we received the Juancito Pinto Bonus, which helped us to prevent school dropouts, which was very serious in Bolivia. After becoming literate, many women wanted to continue studying and with this enormous help we implemented secondary education and sometimes we saw mothers and daughters of high school graduates get together. It was very emotional. We realized that it was a question of encouraging, orienting, incentivizing. One feels that this is doing something for the country and above all with transparency, and that destroying this is inhuman.
Q: How do you evaluate the political situation at this time?
A: This government was never a transition government for us, as they said it would be. It is a de facto government, a dictatorship, just like what happened with the dictatorships of General Hugo Banzer (1971-1978) and Luis García Meza (1980-1981). Bolivia is being ruled by the Americans, by the CIA. The de facto president’s private advisor (Erick Foronda) was an advisor at the U.S. embassy, the former health minister (Marcelo Navajas) was the doctor at that embassy and also had a private clinic, which was in fact unconstitutional. He is the same person who was involved in the issue of the overpricing of purchased respirators and when the investigation was made he clearly said that this overpricing was by order of the President and the Minister of Government. He confessed it when he was arrested and imprisoned. But this and other similar situations demonstrated the great corruption of the de facto government, which is now trying to suspend the elections indefinitely.
Q: The self-proclaimed president had remained in that position on a transitory basis exclusively to call for elections; could she change cabinet and make the decisions she is making?
A: The only obligation Añez had was to call elections quickly. Now she is also a candidate for president, which we do not object to, (although the UN observers have objected) but what she is doing together with the right, under the political direction of the United States, is to suspend the elections indefinitely. By means of a decree, she is trying to implement the 1994 constitution, to disqualify and outlaw MAS. Furthermore, it threatens the Senate. This is the goal of the right wing, to prevent the elections. The fact is that before the Pandemic the MAS was winning and now it’s winning too. That is why it remains the great debate among us on the electoral issue for our movement. The de facto government has also presented actions against Law 1297 on the postponement of elections and against Law 421 on the distribution of seats. Their objective is clear: to deepen the crisis so that the elections are not held and are extended. The Bolivian people are fighting to recover their rights that have been taken away.
Q: You are currently denouncing a movement of war tanks to take up positions in military barracks in the city of La Paz, while recently the head of the armed forces, General Sergio Carlos Orellana, showed up in full dress at the Senate to sign his promotions, and threatened that if they are not approved, the senators will be replaced by military laws.
A: Senate President Eva Copa, of MAS, told them that they will not submit to pressure from the military or the government. This appears to be another coup d’état and further aggravates the situation before the world regarding the attempts to continue impeding the electoral process. This is why we speak of a dictatorship. As far as tanks are concerned, the pandemic is not being fought with war tanks, nor guns or gases, but with the active presence of the State in the face of the seriousness of the social situation. Food is urgently needed. The de facto government has created a small bonus of 500 bolivianos for two months, and if you compare it, for the oil companies they give 416 bolivianos per day. We used to pay the oilmen a food voucher of 150 per day. But now they go up to 416 and only get 150. The rest is part of the business, theft and corruption. Last night (May 29) I was in communication with Bolivia and we learned that three war tanks had arrived in La Paz. Last week ten tanks arrived from the town of Tapalcá and from Coro-Coro regiment in rural areas. Eight war tanks will also arrive in La Paz from Patacamaya (located 98 km from the capital) and 14 are in regiments in the city. Yesterday, Añez said that there would be an easing of quarantine, and we asked ourselves, why war tanks? The pandemic cannot be fought with tanks, nor with guns or gases, elections are not held with tanks. And on the other hand we see that the people of the Tropic of Cochabamba, who bring fruit and food, sharing what little they have with the population, are imprisoned, detained, even the mayors of some localities, provoking more and more conflicts with the population.
Q: How do you see the panorama of the region at this time and the interference of the United States in the face of the peoples in resistance in various countries?
A: We are seeing the struggle of the people throughout the region against domination, intervention, aggression, and economic policy. I can’t understand how the president of the United States breaks with the World Health Organization (WHO), demonstrating that he is against life, at least the life of the most humble. It is serious to destroy international organizations created by the United Nations, trying to displace international bodies. This is not a pandemic, it is biological and economic warfare. I remember that years ago I read that several international organizations and the International Monetary Fund argued that in politics, towards the New World Order, it was necessary to plan for the reduction of the unnecessary population and which population is “unnecessary”? The humble, the elderly, the disabled, the poor, are all unnecessary people? And this is happening. I think it’s biological warfare when we’re looking at what’s happening in the United States. That world power considers the ‘unnecessary’ population a bad burden and abandons its people to the virus. The United States is no longer the world power. This third world war was won by China without firing a weapon. With a population of 1.5 billion, it has control of the situation while the ‘great’ world power’ is the country with the highest number of deaths and it continues, however, with sanctions, blockades against Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries. It continues to invest in military interventions and is breaking relations with international organizations and in the face of the pandemic it is evident that they do not have a healthcare system to deal with it. Health is a right, everyone should understand that health is a human right. Life cannot be a commodity and you cannot terminate a public healthcare system and return to a privatized healthcare system. Health is not a business, the drug industries in the world should not be in private hands, and they cannot be seen as ending the life of a human being. Nations must debate these issues and health research must be state-run.
Q: How is this U.S. interference reflected in Bolivia?
A: Under the mandate of the United States, the achievements of our government and of a Constitution celebrated by the world with the conception of the Plurinational Republic are reduced and destroyed. Bolivia has two pandemics affecting life and the economy. The coronavirus is killing us with a virus, and the dictatorship starves and represses. It has paralyzed the productive apparatus. The dictatorship of Añez, Carlos Mesa and Fernando Camacho destroyed our economy and production with corruption and nepotism. Unfortunately, all public enterprises are paralyzed. There will no longer be economic resources for social funds and income. Today at five o’clock in the morning we were discussing this with colleagues, and about lithium, remembering that in September 2018, we inaugurated the first lithium plant of potassium chloride. In December of that same year we exported 15 thousand tons to Brazil, last year 200 thousand tons, now they inform me that since January of this year it is paralyzed, they are no longer producing potassium chloride or Urea. In 60 days it was paralyzed and we had exported 350 thousand tons to Brazil, Argentina and other neighbours. This year we would have inaugurated the lithium industry and now it is paralyzed. All this is painful to the point of tears and to see how they are destroying the economy, public companies closed and paralyzed.
Q: It seems like almost irreparable damage in some cases, and this surely means more poverty, unemployment, a turning back?
A: That’s right. They are destroying everything, the public companies say that they are not profitable and they have to be privatized. That’s why I say that this coup d’état was by the ‘gringo’ against the Indian who had shown that another world is possible, that another Bolivia was possible. A coup d’état to our economic model, which had emerged without a United States embassy, without USAID (International Development Agency), without the IMF. We demonstrated that it was possible without the United States, without ATPDEA (Andean Trade Preferences and Drug Eradication Act). Neither they nor the IMF can present any other model. The United States, the capitalist system, has no other alternative model. Theirs is poverty, inequality, death. It was also a blow to keep the lithium. We had demonstrated that we could industrialize it ourselves and now they are going to hand over the lithium to the United States, privatization is just a matter of time. The people can do everything, and they demonstrated it not with violence but with democratic coexistence. That is why they are persecuting the leaders and there are political prisoners and asylum seekers in the Mexican embassy. We demand the freedom of these prisoners and an end to the persecution and actions against the defenseless people.
Q: Finally, how do you see the action of the hegemonic press, in this grave circumstance for humanity, where false news has been activated more than ever in the networks, in the media, and disinformation is a weapon of war?
A: The people will resist. These are difficult moments and the struggle of the peoples is important; these are times of liberation. Reality is showing that this media war is being overcome by the reality that the people are living. U.S. imperialism is planning how to confront Latin Americans, how to confront Bolivians using that same press. That’s why it was so important to integrate into UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations) those spaces that created leaders like Fidel, Hugo Chávez, Néstor Kirchner, Lula (Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva). There is a great need in these times, and also Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega, Fernando Lugo and others.
The United States is trying to make Latin America its backyard forever. We know about the hard resistance of the peoples of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua. The struggle of our peoples is very important. The United States wants to divide us in order to plunder our natural resources. The peoples no longer accept domination and plunder. The United States is in decline, and yet it lashes out. In Bolivia, if this pandemic had not happened last May 3, we would have recovered the country, democracy and our process of change. For the Bolivian dictatorship, the pandemic came as a surprise; now they intend to permanently alter the Bolivian model, which was an example. The United States wants dictatorship, not elections. We understand that when the gringos bite, they do not let go, but we are confident that in Bolivia we will soon return in the millions to restore dignity and democracy, to recover the homeland.
Translation by Internationalist 360°