Kawsachun News spoke exclusively to Juan Ramón Quintana, former Minister of the Presidency under Evo Morales, which is Bolivia’s equivalent to the role of a Prime Minister under a President. This is a role of strategic importance for the state, so to hold this role, Juan Ramón Quintana was and remains one of Evo’s closest confidants. We spoke about the nature of US intervention in Latin America and during the Bolivia coup.
Juan Ramón Quintana is a former military officer who in 1996 abruptly left the Armed Forces, and became a revolutionary. He entered Evo Morales’ first government as Minister of the Presidency and remained as one of the most senior figures during the entirety of Evo Morales’ 14-year government. His close personal knowledge and experience of the Armed Forces meant he could play a key role in defending the state from US intervention.
Following the 2019 coup, he was given political asylum in the Mexican Embassy in La Paz, as a persecuted supporter of Evo Morales. He is now focused on investigative and academic work and has just published a book, La Contradefensiva Imperial [The Imperial Counteroffensive], that chronicles the coup in Bolivia and places it in a wider geopolitical context. The book is written under a pseudonym.
Why is your new book under the name “Ernesto Eterno”?
The name is to do with Che Guevara. It’s a pseudonym that I used to write articles chronicling the coup, it’s these articles that make up the book. All the articles are inspired by the rebellious, transgressive, anti-imperialist thinking of Ernesto Che Guevara. I added “eterno” to stress the eternal nature of his ideas, of Fidel’s ideas, of the ideas that led to processes of national liberation. These ideas don’t fall away with time, these ideas serve as the inspiration for the great struggles of the present and future.
The intention was to think about Bolivia’s struggle as an intellectual and political guerilla war. The pseudonym was an instrument to fit the circumstances. I couldn’t write under the name of Juan Ramón Quintana because I had been given political asylum in the Mexican embassy and the Vienna convention prohibits such political activity. I didn’t want to risk the security of my comrades because I wasn’t the only one there, there were six others with me. I didn’t want my activity to be the excuse for an armed invasion by the regime against the embassy.
With the pseudonym, I was able to write freely and have these ideas circulate in international media outlets and tell the world about the anatomy of the regime and the international context of what was going on.
An invasion of the embassy would have been a shocking violation of international law, were they capable of such a thing? What about the Foreign Ministry during the coup? How can we understand their role last year?
What was called the Foreign Ministry was nothing more than an appendix of the US embassy in Bolivia. Karen Longaric’s (the Foreign Minister) only task was to serve US interests rather than the interests of the Bolivian state. We can understand this as a process in which a foreign power usurped one of the most functions of any sovereign state, Longaric only existed as a face for dealing with the media. The institutionality of the office was totally destroyed in an unprecedented manner.
In regards to external affairs, the Ministry handed over its power to the US embassy. In regards to internal affairs, that is to say, the power that a Foreign Minister traditionally has within the cabinet, was handed over to the Interior Minister Arturo Murillo. Longaric lost all influence within the internal decision-making of the government. On top of that, jobs and positions within the Ministry were distributed by Murillo, he even appointed his own sister as the consul in Miami. The jobs and positions for outward-facing roles, representing the Ministry internationally, were distributed by the US embassy, that’s why Jaime Aparicio was chosen as Bolivian ambassador at the OAS, he’s a long-time Washington insider.
On the Mexican embassy, Karen Longaric as Foreign Minister played no role in the debates and decisions about whether or not to invade. They didn’t invade, but that decision was taken by Arturo Murillo, as the head of the repressive apparatus that ran the day-to-day workings of the entire government. The other two components of that apparatus were Fernando López, the Defense Minister, and Jeanine Áñez, the self-declared President, but they were the two bottom points of a triangle of power in which Murillo sat at the top.
That triangle of power controlled the entire state, but they did not have executive decision-making power, that was held by the United States. The United States gave the directives and then that triangle of power was in charge of implementing the orders. The coup was, above all, a process in which the Bolivian people lost control of the state to the US and their allies/accomplices such as the EU and the OAS.
Were there any particular individuals within the coup regime that were the link, the agent, that acted as the conduit between the US government and that triangle of power that governed last year?
No, the control that the US had over the Bolivian state was an entirely structural one implanted in each part of the government. The Ministry of Defense was answering directly, without intermediaries, to the orders of the US Southern Command. The Foreign Ministry was answering directly to the orders of the US State Department and its embassy here. The Interior Ministry under Murillo was answering directly to the CIA. The Ministry of Hydrocarbons was answering directly to the US Department of Energy.
If an individual within the regime wants to claim the title of being the representative in charge of implementing US directives within Bolivia, then they’re lying. It was much more structural than that. On a fundamental level, the Plurinational State was converted into a Police State, and all centers of power within that Police State answered directly to the United States. However, there was one person in charge of relaying orders from the US to the functionaries of the Police State in Bolivia, that was the Charge D’Affaires of the US Embassy here, they were the colonial governor. It was the Charge D’Affaires playing that role because there is no Ambassador, we expelled them in 2008.
US intervention is direct and intense during times of conflict, but what are the patterns of intervention during times of peace and “normality,” such as the period Bolivia is living through now?
Yes, there are periods in which there aren’t any significant conflicts within the country or with the US government. However, Bolivia is a country that’s not only not aligned to US interests but is also actively and permanently transgressive against their established order. So, during times where there isn’t a direct or specific conflict with the US government, our official state relations sit in a null state, that is to say, at a minimum level. During those times, our only coordination is at a commercial level where we ensure that Bolivia can continue exporting to, and importing from, the US, but little else. At a diplomatic level, we recognize each other’s governments, but the relationship is in a third or fourth category. Since 2008, neither of our countries have had Ambassadors in the other, so the relation just sits at a level of relative insignificance and irrelevance. This is an abnormal relationship, and one in which the highest level of relations is not between governments, but between businesses that are involved in exporting and importing goods.
However, there is an extra layer to this abnormal relationship. Since the US can’t pursue their interests in Bolivia through the official channels, they pursue them by carrying out informal, secret, and illegal activities, aimed at unraveling the government and installing a new authority that would be more pliable to their financial interests, and which will agree to return to a dependent relationship in regards to supplying the North with natural resources and raw materials.
When this happens, Bolivia becomes an official enemy and is considered an obstacle for US national security and economic interests. Once this level is reached, the US begins working in a clandestine way, their intelligence agencies begin working in an undercover manner. I’m talking about the CIA, the DEA, the IMF, and the embassy staff. Their job is now to identify and funnel money to domestic projects and entities that can destabilize the country. Some of it is public and done through USAID and through European NGOs, but other parts are kept secret. This is what’s known as a “regime change” operation.
Bolivia under Evo Morales was not useful to the US, it never satisfied their financial appetites, nor did we ever cooperate in helping fulfill their strategic aims and needs in the region. Once they realized that, the “regime change” operation began. Their objective is to eliminate Evo Morales and the social movements, both politically and physically, because the MAS is sustained and based on the social movements.
Who is involved in this operation? At a direct level, there is the CIA, DEA, IMF, USAID, NED, IRI, the US military, the Defense Intelligence Agency of the DoD, but on top of that, there is up to 100 organizations and NGOs here working with the US govt and carrying out their work, indirectly, of undermining political stability in our country. This isn’t unique to Bolivia, it’s what they do in every country of the region.
In reality, they have declared war on us, and in a war, you mobilize every available instrument and institution. We can’t underestimate them, the US has both the skills and experience, built up over many decades, of executing these operations successfully. Not only in Latin America, but across the whole world.
Will this antagonism always exist?
The problem here is that the US is not a democracy. If the US was a democracy then there could be a democratic and open dialogue between nations and people.
However, their discourse about their wonderful democracy is as meaningless as a common weed. First of all, they don’t have a system of one citizen, one vote. We have that system in Bolivia, but in the US they have a system of electoral colleges that exist to filter out any threats to the status quo. Second of all, if there are only two parties then that’s not a democracy. In Bolivia, there are always five-ten parties on the ballot paper and they got there without any kind of obstacles. In the US, there are only two options at every election, there’s no Afro-descendant party for example, despite the fact that they represent around 20% of the population. The Afro-descendant population has to choose between two parties that don’t represent them.
Furthermore, the US is not a democracy because it’s the big transnational corporations that hold real power, and which finance every candidate on both sides at the legislative and presidential levels. The strategic industries of the US, which are energy, telecommunications, transport & logistics, and above all the arms industry, all choose, sponsor, and control candidates.
That is not a democratic system. The democracy that we practice in Bolivia includes one citizen, one vote, we have the direct participation of indigenous communities and workers unions. We have both formal democracy alongside organic forms of democracy. This is a democracy in which women make up over 50% of congress, in our democracy, indigenous peoples have direct and structural representation. Ask the United States if they have more than 50% of women in congress, or if they have mechanisms for the participation of indigenous peoples.
In the US, the corporations that pay the most then win the presidency. Usually, that’s the oil and gas companies, which is why the US is at war across the whole of the Middle-East. The US system sometimes responds to the needs of certain sections of the general population, but those cases are an exception rather than the rule.
We have to understand that the US is not a democracy, it is an empire. Empires have permanent economic, political, social, and cultural interests, and they pursue them by dominating territories outside their borders and submitting them to the needs of the central imperial power. If the US was a democracy it would respect the international community rather than operate unilaterally. If they don’t like a UN ruling then they ignore it, they launch wars against whomever they like even if they’re the only ones doing it. They created the UN, but they’ve relegated it and turned it into a meaningless institution, which it shouldn’t be.
The US is an empire because their international relations are not focused on being a partner to other countries, but on being their master, on being the world’s only master. When you have that situation of unilateral power, the world then becomes divided in two, between the interests of the empire and the interests of nation-states, each country is forced to decide on whether to serve the empire or their own national interests.
What was your personal experience with the US, as someone with a senior and strategic job within the Bolivian state?
The work of my Ministry was an incredibly complicated and delicate one. On a personal level, I had to face the fury, aggression, and firepower of the US State Department, of the US Department of Defense, of the US Southern Command, who decided that I was their political adversary. Unlike my predecessors in the neoliberal period, I didn’t go for coffee at the US embassy, I didn’t open the doors of our state institutions for US corporations, I didn’t submit to their needs, I didn’t travel to the US, I didn’t take orders from them.
I fulfilled Evo Morales’ directives. I was, at a core level, an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist minister. That placed me at the unwavering and unconditional service of our country and our people. I was there to serve the interests of the poorest people in our country, on orders of my president, Evo Morales, who was an exemplary president, an extraordinary president which this country will never have again, at least not for the next 100 years.
Fulfilling that role required me to defend the interests of our country, and to not submit to a foreign power that tried to seduce me so as to control me. Rather than be seduced by the US, I confronted them, together with Evo, together with all of the cabinet, and with all of the social movements, against the most economically and militarily powerful empire in human history, an empire that lays siege to countries in our region such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
So, my job was not a simple nor straightforward one. That’s why Evo and I were victims of a brutal media campaign to damage our reputation, and we were then targets of deadly violence. If Evo hadn’t left on Mexico’s plane, he would have been killed, the CIA was directly leading the mission to kill him during those last days. There was also a hit out for me, those in charge of carrying it out were the police who had declared themselves in mutiny against our government. We had to save our lives because there was a reward for our heads. We were victims of the US thirst for vengeance because we never allowed the US to place one single figure on our country. On a personal level, I’m proud of that. I feel that I’ve fulfilled my duty as a patriot, I know that I fulfilled the line of my President, Evo Morales.
Thank you, my last question is about the security forces of the state. What are the problems, challenges, and obstacles to building military and police institutions that serve the country, rather than imperialism?
This is a very complicated issue. I would say that above all, in my experience, the challenge is a cultural one. For 70 years in Latin America, the Armed Forces, and later the Police, are institutions that have been seized ideologically and politically by imperialism, the US has successfully cultivated a deeply rooted institutional culture that is servile to their interests. Starting 70 years ago, the US began directly training and forging every rank of the Armed Forces of most Latin American countries, training them in the North American doctrines.
There are three North American doctrines that have been inculcated into the militaries of the region. The first was the anti-communist doctrine, which dominated from the 1940s till the 1990s. In the 1990s it was the “war on drugs” doctrine, from 2001 it was the “war on terror” doctrine. After 70 years of training Latin American militaries in those doctrines, they have successfully destroyed all nationalist sentiment with the military, and most important of all, they have broken the link between the military and the state in Latin America.
For 70 years, the militaries of Latin America have been mentally, physically, and culturally colonized by the United States. So their entire training is based around how to best serve imperialism. Confronting that culture requires a complex approach that seeks to dismantle and decolonize that conditioning.
The Police, as an institution, is even more servile to the interests of the US. Remember that a very large section of the Bolivian police was trained directly by the DEA during the neoliberal period. After years of that conditioning, they were also colonized.
Our task is to decolonize the security forces. Our task is to build a link between the military and the state, that is to say, we have to nationalize the military and police. We haven’t managed it yet, but it’s a crucial task if we want to avoid foreign intervention and coups. If there is another coup attempt, we need security forces that can defend the country and its sovereignty.
Featured image: Former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, and his minister of the presidency, Juan Ramón Quintana. Photo courtesy of Kawsachun News.