On the 18th day of protests, Evo Morales resigned. The Bolivian populist regime lasted almost 14 years. Less than 24 key hours were enough for Evo to resign. Everything happened after the armed forces of the Andean country defined themselves: first the police rebelled, refusing to repress, and then the military high command took a stand. If it is true that the credit belongs to the citizen mobilization without respite in the streets after 18 days, in the end the armed forces tilted the balance.
It’s complicated to give credit to the military in politics because it is not of their competence, especially with their disastrous heritage in Latin America. However, they showed the weight that as actors they continue to have in our region. I don’t believe that what happened in Bolivia was a coup d’état, as the left of the continent labels it.
Evo gave a coup d’état since he disregarded the referendum that said no to his reelection, he ran again invoking some deceptive legality and committed a shameless electoral fraud.
The coming hours will be decisive in Bolivia, particularly in the way that the power vacuum left by the Morales Government’s remission, whose members flee in the face of popular repudiation, is filled. In that sense, the militaries should stay out of that transition for their own good and that of the country.
The “suggestion” made by the high-ranking military officer for Evo to resign is contemplated in the organic law of that institution. However, the line is very thin. It is the responsibility of the opposition and the Bolivian institutions to ensure and not allow the military or the police to prevail in the power vacuum. Otherwise, it would be very harmful to what they have achieved. We will see how it evolves.
The origin of this Bolivian outcome lies in Evo’s desire to hold on to power. Evo was one of the most tolerable presidents of the Socialism of the 21st Century, but succumbed to the temptation of indefinite reelection.
The popular revolt was the spark of everything. It rearranged the current status quo. However, social protests alone may not be able to win over a caudillo clinging to power like a tick. If the Bolivian armed forces had not taken a stance, surely the protests would have continued for days, weeks or months, regardless of the magnitude of the rebellion.
The national strike or any other action that citizens or business people may have resorted to would not have caused a major effect if the armed forces had not turned their back on Evo.
The irony of these “socialist” regimes—who say that they have the backing of the people—is that they are actually dependent on the rifle and bullets. Evo’s resignation is an incentive for social struggles in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Hope invades us but also comparisons. Nicaragua in front of the Bolivian mirror: “Why they did it and we couldn’t?”
I see the first reactions to the Bolivian liberation: “That the indefinite strike, that the sustained protest, that businessmen.” Let’s recapitulate: between April and July of 2018, Nicaragua was in indefinite protest. Almost daily. The main cities of the country were blocked. Real standstill. Protests were even fiercer than those in Bolivia. The Government-Capital status quo was broken. There were partial economic strikes and a dialogue process. Notwithstanding, Ortega prevailed and retook power in the streets. The reason lies in the loyalty of the rifle.
That loyalty was manifested with the creation of repressive schemes and paramilitary groups that acted with the acquiescence and complicity of the Nicaraguan armed forces. In Bolivia, some civilians loyal to Evo took the streets with weapons, but the phenomenon did not transcend as Ortega’s paramilitaries did. Above all, because there was no coordination and logistical support from the Bolivian armed forces.
Evo could not maintain in power in Bolivia because he did not have the loyalty of bullets shot to kill. But also, because public employees rebelled against the government, something unlikely still in Nicaragua (although there is discontent, it is silent and submissive). It is worth highlighting the value of the institutions that should prevail in Bolivia.
The origin of the armed forces here is Sandinista, and despite its professionalization in the 90s, Ortega perverted them upon his return to power. That’s what Chavez petrodollars were for. Ortega knew that that investment was necessary. Now he reaps dividends.
The same happens in Venezuela. Chavez divided the military and opened the doors to drug-trafficking. They are military dictatorships. Although it is valid to doubt the past and the intentions of the Bolivian army, for now it seems that they tied their destiny to popular demand.
Despite Evo’s attempt to win them over by giving them spaces in his government, in the end they unmarked themselves from him convincingly. In that sense, as Fernando Mires tweeted, “as long as no general takes a seat in the empty presidential chair, everything is fine.”
At this point, in Nicaragua perhaps there were errors in leading the civic struggle. However, with the magnitude of our protests, it was (enough) for Ortega to give up, but he knew that he was accompanied by weapons.
If the Army had not kept silent, would it have been different? It is very probable. But it was an illusion to think that only the streets could go against a government armed to the teeth, and a guy like Ortega willing to commit crimes against humanity to preserve power.
On the board other actors struggle together with citizens. Nicaragua gave enough examples—even with the loss of hundreds of human lives—for the armed forces to define themselves. But the military high command showed that its addiction to the Ortega-Murillo is profuse. General Julio Cesar Aviles appeared denying the existence of paramilitaries, when they have murdered openly and in plain sight.
With national strikes or not, with a broken economy or not, Ortega will remain in power while the rifle protects him. I do not want to sound absolutely pessimistic, because that addiction and collusion also wears out as time goes by. How long will it last? I do not know. Nor do I want to sound like someone who over-dimensions the role of the armed forces, but I insist with highlighting: the military in the end are decisive actors in the zero hours.
In that sense, and in the new context of demand for justice and democracy in Nicaragua, it is essential to learn the lessons of Bolivia. But with common sense and without falling into simplistic comparisons.
Bolivia is different because it is a crisis that broke out after a fraudulent electoral process. The Bolivian protest was key, followed by the report of the Organization of American States (OAS) documenting the fraud, but the final push was given by the armed forces. Let’s hope that the path is new elections and that the most right-wing sectors of the opposition do not take over the spectrum.
In Nicaragua, the main pressure towards the regime is no longer in the streets due to the sustained repression. Although popular pressure is welcome, it must alternate with other actions of attrition, such as international pressure and sanctions. Get ready for other scenarios. This is an impromptu reflection, but I think the issue should be put in perspective.
Why did Bolivia not wait 12 years to challenge the power of the streets from Evo, breaking the status quo, but did it rapidly. We, unfortunately, reacted en masse when we were facing the massacre.
As a society we allowed Ortega to get away with his alliance with capital, electoral frauds, the reform to the constitution to perpetuate (himself in power), withstand the imposition of Rosario Murillo as Vice President, among other selective violations of human rights. Although it is worth mentioning that the citizens’ lethargy was motivated by fear of the Sandinista shock forces.
The Ortega-Murillo dictatorship has now joined the coup thesis in Bolivia to justify the April massacre they committed. But the most striking has been the order given to the militancy to divulge on social networks. The message says: “The Nicaraguan right must not confuse itself, here we have a loyal police and army.” They are clear and will avoid, by all their means, a Bolivian lament like in MAS, Evo’s party.