[News] Orchestrating a Civic Coup in Bolivia

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 18 12:09:46 EST 2008


November 18, 2008

How Bush Tried to Bring Down Evo Morales

Orchestrating a Civic Coup in Bolivia


Evo Morales is the latest democratically-elected 
Latin American president to be the target of a US 
plot to destabilize and overthrow his government. 
On September 10, 2008 Morales expelled US 
Ambassador Philip Goldberg because “he is 
conspiring against democracy and seeking the division of Bolivia.”
Observers of US-Latin American policy tend to 
view the crisis in US-Bolivian relations as due 
to a policy of neglect and ineptness towards 
Latin America because of US involvement in the 
wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. In 
fact, the Bolivia coup attempt was a conscious 
policy rooted in US hostility towards Morales, 
his political party the Movement Towards 
Socialism (MAS) and the social movements that are aligned with him.

“The US embassy is historically used to calling 
the shots in Bolivia, violating our sovereignty, 
treating us like a banana republic,” says Gustavo 
Guzman, who was expelled as Bolivian ambassador 
to Washington following Goldberg’s removal. In 
2002, when Morales narrowly lost his first bid 
for the presidency, US ambassador Manuel Rocha 
openly campaigned against him, threatening, “ if 
you elect those who want Bolivia to become a 
major cocaine exporter again, this will endanger 
the future of US assistance to Bolivia.” Because 
he led the Cocaleros Federation prior to assuming 
the presidency, the US State Department called 
Morales an “illegal coca agitator.”Morales 
advocated “Coca Yes, Cocaine No,” and called 
which for an end to violent U.S.-sponsored coca 
eradication raids, and for the right of Bolivian 
peasants to grow coca for domestic consumption, 
medicinal uses and even for export as an herb in tea and other products.

“When Morales triumphed in the next presidential 
election,” says Guzman, “it represented a defeat 
for the United States.” Shortly after his 
inauguration, Morales received a call from George 
Bush, offering to help "bring a better life to 
Bolivians." Morales asked Bush to reduce US trade 
barriers for Bolivian products, and suggested 
that he come for a visit. Bush did not reply. As 
Guzman notes, “the United States was trying to 
woo Morales with polite and banal comments to 
keep him from aligning with Venezuelan President 
Hugo Chávez.” David Greenlee, the US ambassador 
prior to Goldberg, expressed his "preoccupation" 
with Bolivia's foreign alliances, while Secretary 
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others at the 
Pentagon began talking about "security concerns" in Bolivia.

Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, the 
highest ranking US official to attend Morales’ 
inauguration, declared a willingness to dialogue 
with Morales. In fact, what followed were almost 
three years of diplomatic wrangling while the 
U.S. provided direct and covert assistance to the 
opposition movement centered in the four eastern 
departments of Bolivia known as “La Media Luna”. 
Dominated by agro-industrial interests, the 
departments began a drive for regional autonomy 
soon after Morales, the first Indian president in 
Bolivian history took office. (About 55% of the 
country’s population is Indian.) Headed by 
departmental prefects (governors) and large 
landowners, the autonomy movement has been 
determined to stymie Morales’ plans for national 
agrarian reform, and bent on taking control of 
the substantial hydro-carbon resources located in the Media Luna.

The Bush administration has pursued a two-track 
policy similar to the strategy the United States 
employed to overthrow the democratically-elected 
government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. 
The diplomatic negotiations initiated by Shannon 
centered almost exclusively on differences over 
drug policies, with the Bush administration 
continually threatening to cut or curtail 
economic assistance and preferential trade if 
Bolivia did not abide by the US policy of coca 
eradication and criminalization. At the same 
time, the United States through its embassy in La 
Paz and the Agency for International Development 
(USAID), funded political forces that opposed 
Morales and MAS. The US Drug Enforcement 
Administration (DEA), with 37 in-country agents, 
appears to have acted like the CIA in Bolivia, 
gathering intelligence and engaging in 
clandestine political operations with the opposition.

Intervention is evident from the very start of 
the Morales administration, with early USAID 
activities through the Office of Transition 
Initiatives (OTI). After Morales took office, 
USAID documents state the OTI set out “to provide 
support to fledgling regional governments.” 
Altogether the OTI funneled 116 grants for 
$4,451,249 “to help departmental governments 
operate more strategically.” In an effort to 
establish expedient political ties, the OTI also 
brought departmental prefects to meet with US governors.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), 
founded as a semi-public institute during the 
Reagan years, has been particularly active in 
Bolivia. It funds a number of groups and 
organizations with a clear political bias, among 
them the Institute of Pedagogical and Social 
Investigation. The Institute opposed Morales in 
the 2005 elections, declaring in a project 
summary report to the U.S. embassy that Morales 
and MAS are an “anti-democratic, radical 
opposition” that doesn’t represent the majority. 
NED support of the Institute’s activities 
continued into 2006, when the Institute filed a 
report saying it intended to “contribute to 
improved municipal development through efficient 
and effective social monitoring.” (6)
In the Media Luna, USAID tried to organize 
Indians opposed to the Confederation of the 
Indigenous Peoples of Eastern Bolivia (CIDOB), 
which is allied with MAS and Morales. Media Luna 
leaders were particularly concerned about CIBOD’s 
capacity to mobilize and move in from the 
countryside to encircle departmental capitals 
when the prefect’s leaders orchestrated 
activities against the Morales government, 
particularly in the department of Santa Cruz. 
Working out of the U.S. embassy, the Strategy and 
Operations Office and the Strategic Team of 
Integral Development for USAID set up a meeting 
between Ambassador Goldberg and Indian groups in 
February, 2007. Internal emails from USAID 
officers who helped organize the event reveal 
that they only invited Indians opposed to CIDOB 
who “lacked experience and were immature 
politically.” One of the officers recommended 
that these Indians be given field radios “to facilitate communications.”

In late 2007, the US embassy began moving openly 
to meet with the right-wing opposition in Media 
Luna. Ambassador Goldberg was photographed in 
Santa Cruz with a leading business magnate who 
backs the autonomy movement, and a well-known 
Colombian narco-trafficker who had been detained 
by the local police. Morales, in revealing the 
photo, said the trafficker was linked to right 
wing para-military organizations in Colombia. In 
response, the US embassy asserted that it 
couldn’t vet everyone who appeared in a photo with the ambassador.

Then in January, 2008, the Embassy was caught 
giving aid to a special intelligence unit of the 
Bolivian police force. The embassy rationalized 
its assistance by saying “the U.S. government has 
a long history of helping the National Police of 
Bolivia in diverse programs.” U.S.-Bolivian 
relations were next roiled in February, when it 
was revealed that Peace Corps volunteers and a 
Fulbright scholar had been pressured by an 
embassy official to keep tabs on Venezuelans and 
Cubans in the country. This violated the founding 
statutes of the Peace Corps, which prohibit any 
intelligence activities by volunteers.

During 2007, political tensions in Bolivia had 
centered on the Constituent Assembly meeting in 
Sucre that had been mandated by a national 
referendum to draw up a new constitution to 
transform the country’s institutions. When the 
Assembly began voting on the final draft in 
December 2007, the opposition violently took over 
the streets and all of the major public buildings 
in Sucre, using dynamite and Molotov cocktails, 
demanding the resignation of “the shitty Indian 
Morales.” Parts of the city were in flames, and 
members of the assembly, including its President 
Silvia Lazarte, were assaulted in the streets.

Then the political leaders and business 
organizations in Santa Cruz and other cities in 
the Media Luna began to openly call for autonomy 
and secession from the central Bolivian 
government. Branko Marinkovic, the leading 
business magnate and largest landowner in the 
Media Luna, led the opposition as head of the 
Pro-Santa Cruz Civic Committee, declaring, “the 
fight has begun for our autonomy and liberty.” 
Along with Santa Cruz, civic committees in the 
other major cities of Media Luna joined the call 
and began meeting together along with the prefects.

Simultaneously, the Bush administration “first 
brandished the aid weapon to show its support of 
the civic committees opposed to the government,” 
says Guzman. The Millennium Challenge Corporation 
(MCC), set up in 2004 as a U.S. government agency 
“to work with some of the poorest countries in 
the world,” had been on the brink of approving 
$584 million to fund the construction of a major 
highway linking northern Bolivia to the rest of 
the country, as well as to make investments in agricultural projects.

Yet in a letter to Morales in December 2007, the 
MCC stated that while it “recognizes your 
country’s performance on our 17 indicators
current state of the U.S.-Bolivian relationship 
is not consistent with such a working 
partnership.” A separate report by the MCC was 
even more blunt: The project “was postponed 
because of adverse conditions, including unrest 
surrounding the Constitution Assembly process”.

When the Constituent Assembly approved the final 
draft of the new constitution in December 2007, 
the Bolivian Congress needed to approve it with a 
national referendum. Knowing that he did not have 
the votes, Morales declared  “dead or alive, I 
will have a new constitution for the country,” 
and called for public pressure on Congress. 
Asserting he was acting as a “dictator,” the 
civic committees and the departmental prefects of 
Media Luna, along with their political allies in 
the Bolivian Senate, refused to schedule the 
referendum. They instead organized departmental 
referendums for autonomy, which they 
overwhelmingly won in May. The referendums were 
ruled unconstitutional by the National Electoral 
Council, and the voting conditions were less than 
auspicious, with no official electoral monitors 
and pro-autonomy forces intimidating and 
physically assaulting those who opposed the vote.

Choosing the democratic road rather than force to 
annul the departmental referendums, Morales then 
put his presidency on the line with a recall 
referendum in which his mandate, as well as those 
of the prefects seeking autonomy, could be 
revoked. On August 10, 2008, voters gave Morales 
a resounding two-thirds of the national vote, 
with even the Media Luna department of Pando 
giving him just over 50 percent. However, the 
insurgent prefects also had their mandates 
renewed. Basing their actions on the illegal May 
plebiscites, the prefects then decided to strike 
for autonomy, moving first to take control of 
Santa Cruz, the richest of the four departments. 
The Cruceno Youth Union (UJC), shock troops 
allied with the Civic Committee, roamed the 
streets of the departmental capital and 
surrounding towns, attacking and repressing any 
opposition by local social movements and 
MAS-allied organizations, and sacking government 
buildings, including the agrarian reform office.

Simultaneously, the Civic Committees began sewing 
economic instability, seeking to weaken the 
Morales government much like the CIA-backed 
opposition did against Chilean President Salvador 
Allende in the early 1970s. As in Chile, the 
business elites and allied truckers engaged in 
“strikes,” withholding or refusing to ship 
produce to urban markets in the western Andes 
(where the Indian population is concentrated), 
while selling commodities on the black market at 
high prices. The Confederation of Private 
Businesses of Bolivia called for a national 
producers’ shutdown if the government refused “to 
change its economic policies”.

This became known as an attempt at a “civic 
coup.” The strategy of the autonomy movement was 
to take complete control of the Media Luna, 
provoke a national crisis to destabilize the 
government, and convince the army to remain 
neutral or move against Morales. The major of 
Santa Cruz, Percy Fernandez, had already called 
on the military to overthrow Morales' "useless 
government" just before the August referendum.

The United States was openly involved in 
orchestrating this rebellion. Ambassador Goldberg 
flew to Santa Cruz on August 25 to meet with 
Ruben Costas, Morales’ main antagonist and the 
prefect of Santa Cruz, who became the de facto 
leader of the rebellious prefects and the 
autonomy movement in general. After Goldberg 
left, Costas declared himself “governor” of the 
autonomous department of Santa Cruz, and ordered 
the take over of national government offices, 
including those collecting tax revenues. It was 
this visit with Costas that Morales cited as the 
reason for declaring Ambassador Goldberg “persona 
non grata” on September 10. “After his expulsion, 
the rebellion began to unravel,” notes Guzman.

On September 11, in the department of Pando, a 
para-military militia with machine guns attacked 
pro-Morales Indians near the capital of El 
Cobija, resulting in at least 13 deaths. In a 
separate action, three policemen were kidnapped. 
The next day Morales declared a state of siege in 
Pando, and dispatched the army to move on Cobija 
in order to retake its airport, which had been 
occupied by right wing bands. Army units were 
also sent to guard the natural gas oleoducts, one 
of which had been seized by the autonomy 
movement, cutting the flow of gas to neighboring Brazil and Argentina.

The violent attacks in Pando precipitated a 
national mobilization of indigenous peoples and 
social movements, as well as a sense of outrage 
in neighboring countries. On September 15, 
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called an 
emergency meeting in Santiago of the Union of 
South American Nations (UNASUR) to discuss the 
Bolivian crisis. The resulting “Declaration of La 
Moneda,” signed by the twelve UNASUR governments, 
expressed their “full and decided support for the 
constitutional government of President Evo 
Morales,” and warned that their respective 
governments “will not recognize any situation 
that entails an attempt for a civil coup that 
ruptures the institutional order, or that 
compromises the territorial integrity of the 
Republic of Bolivia”. Morales, who participated 
in the meeting, thanked UNASUR for its support, 
declaring: “For the first time in South 
American’s history, the countries of our region 
are deciding how to resolve our problems without 
the presence of the United States.”

Paying no attention to the declaration of support 
by UNASUR, President Bush upped the ante the 
following week by suspending the Andean Trade 
Preference Act, asserting “Bolivia has failed to 
cooperate with the United States on important 
efforts to fight drug trafficking.” The trade 
act, dating from 1991, eliminates tariffs on 
imports of textiles, jewelry, wood and other 
products from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and 
Bolivia, in exchange for cooperation with the US 
war on drugs. It is estimated that 20,000 to 
30,000 workers will lose their jobs, and more 
than $70 million in exports will be priced out of the US market.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proclaimed 
there was “no ideological test for cooperation 
and friendship with the United States” that led 
to the trade cutoff with Bolivia. This statement 
was a diplomatic lie: For 2006, Morales’ first 
year in office, the U.S. Office of National Drug 
Control Policy reported that coca cultivation was 
“statistically unchanged as compared to the 2005 
estimate”. For 2007 the United Nations reported 
an increase of just 5 percent in, “Coca 
Cultivation in the Andean Region: A Survey of 
Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.” This data, however, 
stood in sharp contrast to Colombia, which 
registered an increase of coca cultivation by 27 
percent, despite the Colombian government’s 
strong alliance with the U.S. on coca eradication efforts.

The UNASUR declaration, along with the state of 
siege in Pando and the nationwide repudiation of 
the massacre of Indians, compelled the prefects 
of Media Luna to call off their rebellion. They 
agreed to a “dialogue” with Morales over the new 
constitution and the issue of autonomy. But the 
discussions in late September went nowhere, even 
though the Morales’ government agreed to 
incorporate some limited amendments concerning 
departmental autonomy into the new constitution. 
The department prefects also demanded that the 
agrarian reform clauses in the new constitution 
be eliminated, but on this point Morales, backed 
by MAS and the social movements, refused to back 
down. On October 5, the negotiations collapsed.

Morales then announced that he would ask Congress 
to set the date for the public referendum on the 
new constitution. The social movements mobilized 
from around the country, and over 50,000 
demonstrators descended on La Paz, surrounding 
Congress as it was meeting. The right wing 
fragmented, and on Oct. 20, Congress approved the 
referendum on the new constitution, which is scheduled for Jan. 25, 2009.

Then on November 1, Morales released a bomb shell 
by announcing the indefinite suspension of the 
activities of the US Drug Enforcement 
Administration in Bolivia, and the expulsion of 
the 37 DEA agents from the country. “Agents of 
the DEA carried out political espionage, 
including the financing of delinquent groups,” 
Morales declared. He pointed toa key U.S. 
operative involved in these activities: “Steven 
Faucette, the regional agent of the DEA in Santa 
Cruz, who on a diplomatic mission of the U.S. 
embassy made trips to Trinidad and Riberalta 
[cities in the Media Luna provinces of Beni and 
Pando, respectively] with the objective of 
financing the Civics who were committed to carrying out a civic coup.”

Morales went on to disclose that a plane with 
North American registry called Super King had 
flown to airports in the Media Luna without 
registering flight plans or providing 
notification of “the cargo it transferred to pick 
up vehicles when it landed on the runway, in 
clear violation of our national sovereignty.” 
Bolivian intelligence also discovered seven 
security houses run by the US “that carried out 
political espionage,” including telephone 
surveillance of political, police and military authorities.

The DEA and its 37 agents were expelled from the 
country. The Bolivian government appropriated 
what amounted to a DEA military arsenal, 
including airplanes, boats, ground transport 
vehicles, communications equipment and one thousand M-16 machine guns.

The civic coup has failed. No longer able to turn 
to the US embassy, the opposition is in disarray, 
with the leading rightwing party split into four 
factions. The referendum on the constitution will 
likely be approved by a wide margin. Evo has 
rallied the social movements and the country to 
break US historic domination of Bolivia. With his 
trip to Washington D.C., Morales is hoping to 
open up a dialogue with the incoming 
administration of President-elect Barack Obama 
that will lead to a restoration of full trade 
relations, a recognition of Bolivia’s right to 
determine its own policies on drugs, agrarian 
reform and gas nationalization, and mutual respect between the two nations.

Roger Burbach is Director of the Center for the 
Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, 
CA. He has written extensively on Latin America 
and is the author of 
Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice.”

Freedom Archives
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