Áñez took power in Bolivia in November 2019, after violent protests backed by the country’s military and police forced Evo Morales to flee from the country rather than continue governing for a fourth presidential term after winning elections. The protests were triggered by claims of election fraud, which were promoted by the Organization of American States (OAS) and were later proven to be baseless.
The new government used military force to suppress dissenting people and supporters of Morales’ left-wing Movement towards Socialism (MAS) party, and took a sharp right-wing turn. It also repeatedly delayed holding a new election, which was supposed to be the primary goal of Áñez’ caretaker presidency.
Pressured by mass protests, she eventually agreed to hold the elections in October last year. MAS candidate Luis Arce, who served as Morales’ economy minister, won it in a landslide, avoiding a second round by getting 55.1% of the vote. Áñez did not participate.
As Arce was celebrating his victory, Áñez and her ministers were plotting a second coup, which would allow them to overturn the will of the Bolivian people, The Intercept reported on Thursday, June 17, citing records of conversations and email exchanges detailing the conspiracy.
The key figures in the plan were Luis Fernando López, who served as Áñez’ defense minister, and Joe Pereira, a former civilian administrator with the US Army, according to the report. Pereira was supposed to recruit mercenaries in the US and help fly them to Bolivia. There they would join forces with elite military troops from the Bolivian army, police units and right-wing vigilante mobs to quash MAS supporters.
“I can get up to 10,000 men with no problem,” Pereira bragged in one alleged conversation. “All special forces. I can also bring about 350 what we call LEPs, Law Enforcement Professionals, to guide the police. If there’s something else I need, I will have them fly in as undercover, like if they were photographers, they were pastors, they were medics, they were tourists.”
The number of troops appears to be a boast on Pereira’s part. One of the US-based recruiters he turned to for help told The Intercept that one “couldn’t get 10,000 people even if Blackwater was back in business and going back to Iraq.” But email exchanges indicate the planning was in an advanced stage and that at least 250 contractors were ready to take part in the ”Bolivia project,” before it was called off.
On the Bolivian side, officials had three Hercules C-130 transport aircraft that could airlift the hired guns and their weapons from the US. Pereira said he wanted to “pick up personnel in Southern Command in Homestead Air Force Base in Miami.” Two US military sources told the Intercept that the US Special Operations command was aware of the coup plot, but one source said that “no one really took them seriously.”
Some details of the conversations matched very closely the claims that Morales made in early November 2020. He accused General Sergio Orellana, who was appointed commander of the Bolivian Armed Forces by Áñez, of pressuring other top military officers into launching a military junta to prevent an Acre presidency. López assured co-conspirators that Orellana was ready to initiate “the military operation” against MAS.
The plans were never put into action. López apparently couldn’t secure support of enough military commanders and had a falling out with then-Interior Minister Arturo Murillo, who was in charge of the police. General Orellana and both ministers were among members of the Áñez administration who fled Bolivia after Arce’s victory and before his inauguration.
Murillo was arrested by the FBI last month. He is accused of taking a bribe to sign a contract for supply of tear gas from a Florida-based firm at an inflated price.
Áñez was arrested in Bolivia and charged with crimes related to how she grabbed the presidency. Pereira is likewise held in a Bolivian jail awaiting trial on fraud charges.
The Intercept believes it was highly unlikely that the plot had some tacit approval or support of the US government. It seems closer in nature to the latest attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government, which involved the private security company Silvercorp USA.
The incursion of US mercenaries in Venezuela, which took place in May 2020, ended in a humiliating failure and was dubbed by many as ”Bay of Piglets invasion,” referring to the CIA-baked failed invasion of Cuba in 1961.
Featured image: Minister of the Interior Arturo Murillo, Bolivia’s coup President Jeanine Áñez, Minister of Defense Luis Fernando López, and Minister of the Presidency Jerjes Justiniano attend a meeting at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, November 23, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Manuel Claure