Bolivia: The Coming Continental Battle

Gerardo Szalkowicz health worker sprays disinfectant near the bodies, that officers of the Special Force Against Crime (FELCC) transported to the ‘Hospital de Clinicas’, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in La Paz, Bolivia, July 27, 2020. REUTERS/David Mercado

The Bolivian right, always protected from the North, is betting again on kicking the board. The MAS denounced that “a campaign has been unleashed to put pressure on the TSE with the aim of cancelling our legal status”.

In the coming weeks, the center of gravity of Latin America will move to Bolivia, where the main question is whether free and transparent elections will finally be held to help recover the democracy that was destroyed last November. D-Day is now October 18. With MAS up in all the polls, the right wing secured a further postponement as it pushes to outlaw its candidate Luis Arce. It is logical: no one carries out a coup d’état and then meekly hands over power to those you took out by force.

They have a good alibi: the disaster that is causing the pandemic. Collapsed hospitals and people dying in the streets are the rawest face of a dismembered health system. The contagion curve continues to grow and, in case something was missing from Bolivia’s convulsed present, Covid-19 reached the de facto president herself, seven ministers, six vice-ministers, the head of the Armed Forces and a dozen legislators. Of the multiple crises that surround the country, the health crisis is indisputable. Not even the media that accompanied the coup course can make invisible the images of people desperate to find no place to care for their infected relatives or to bury them when they die. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health was taken over by the head of the Defense Ministry, Luis Fernando López, a military man with no health experience managing a pandemic, just like in Bolsonaro’s Brazil. Official responses range from calls for religious prayers to tragicomic explanations such as that of government minister Arturo Murillo: “Many people are dying because of simple ignorance”. The panorama has taken on a tragic dimension because during the government of Evo Morales, investment in health (now paralyzed) increased 360%, jobs in the sector doubled, and 1,062 health facilities were built.

But it is not the pandemic emergency that led Jeaninne Áñez, Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga and Luis Fernando Camacho to appeal to the OAS to continue delaying the elections (the same OAS of Luis Almagro that helped them consummate the coup), but the numbers in the polls: among the three ultra-right-wing candidates, the numbers are below 20% and, in spite of the persecutions, imprisonments and exile, the MAS emerges with a good chance of winning in the first round if it manages to stop the onslaught to outlaw its candidate Luis Arce. The electoral board is completed with the former liberal president Carlos Mesa, who aspires to reach the ballot supported by the middle class of Santa Cruz (in the failed elections of last October he was 10.3 points below Evo Morales) and who for now refused to accept an alliance with those more extremist sectors of the oligarchy of Santa Cruz.

The discontent with the management of Añez and her team is growing. Because of the many allegations of corruption, such as the purchase of medical supplies and respirators at a premium, but above all because of the helplessness in which the population was left to face the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus. In a country with 70% informal labour and after a flood of layoffs, unemployment rose to 8.1%, almost double what Evo Morales left behind when Bolivia had the lowest figure in Latin America.

That is why Luis Arce has also been stepping up to the plate. Besides his “moderate” profile, he was the Minister of Economy throughout most of Evo’s government. Who better to steer the post-pandemic crisis than someone who was the mastermind of a model of undeniable economic recovery and stability?

If there is one word that defines the future of this story, it is uncertainty. Everything can happen in the next few moves. The Bolivian right wing, always protected from the North, is betting again on kicking over the chessboard. The MAS denounced that “a campaign has been unleashed to put pressure on the TSE with the aim of cancelling our legal status”. It also declared itself “in a state of emergency in view of this new attempt to outlaw our candidates”. The social and union movements are already in the streets to prevent this. After a great demonstration of forces throughout the country last Tuesday, the executive secretary of the Bolivian Workers’ Central, Juan Carlos Huarachi, warned: “We, the workers, are going to enforce that on September 6, yes or no elections will be held. We are going to defend democracy”.

This is what the battle in Bolivia is about, to recover lost democracy.