Slava Zilber: Wyatt, in what region of Bolivia are you and what is the situation now?
Wyatt Reed: I am in La Paz, Bolivia, which is the capital. The situation right now is extremely fluid and extremely difficult to grasp even for people who are from here. There is a lot of variables in play. So we are really just now seeing the coup this new, self-appointed president Jeanine Áñez as this powerful figure who is unifying the country.
Unfortunately, within the Movement to Socialism Party, the MAS Party, they are not in a great position to negotiate. So their proposal for immunity and to have the charges against President Evo Morales and his Vice President (Álvaro García Linera) – their proposal to prevent further criminalization of MAS members and attempts to incarcerate them was just rejected out of hand by this new coup government. On the other hand, they more or less were forced to accept these upcoming elections with, unfortunately, Jeanine Áñez continuing to stay in power as president. Now, it is impossible to say for me personally exactly why they did it. My understanding would be that they don’t necessarily view themselves as having a real chance at maintaining control of the presidency. But they are quite powerful in the National Assembly. They control most seats. And so I have come down to sense that their intention is probably to try to hold on to the National Assembly and mitigate whatever legal and legislative effects are going to come from this new right-wing government. Presumably, it is going to be a lot of privatization attempts. It is going to be a lot of neoliberalism. They are going to go back to the Chicago School of Augusto Pinochet. So they – the Movement to Socialism Party – are not in a particularly powerful position and they are essentially negotiating with a gun to their head. So at this point, real hopes for having this new president overthrown really lay with the social movements and the rank-and-file union members, those who have seen their comrades and community members gunned down in the streets and who are not willing to negotiate after this.
You have been covering the protests. Could you please tell my readers who is protesting and what the demands are.
This is also complicated because the left in Bolivia is not really coherent right now. Under Evo Morales, there was a certain order. The rank of things was kind of understood. And now, that’s all gone. And nobody there has these pre-established hierarchies or ways to carry out significant actions as one, unified organization.
So we have a number of organizations, for example, the COB (Central Obrera Boliviana) which is a massive labor union, where even within the leadership, there appear to be serious differences of opinion on how to handle this. And it is very possible that members of not just that organization, but many others are facing attempts to compromise them by the government. And I would say beyond possible. It’s quite likely. And unfortunately for many people, especially those with families, it is a very difficult situation right now when you are being threatened and the lives of your loved ones are being threatened as well.
Compromised like threatened or bribed?
Yes, both. It’s a carrot and a stick situation. That’s another way that the army has been ensuring there are no defections or very few: with a combination of bribes and threats. So it’s very mafioso style: we can make your life extremely difficult and potentially end it, or you can have sort of a nice existence being on our side.
What is the role of economic interests, race and religion in this very tense situation?
Almost everything is covered by those three things.
It’s impossible to overstate the role of religion because when (Luis Fernando) Camacho and Áñez come to power, they are doing so quite literally with a bible in hand. Áñez, in particular, has written a number of since-deleted tweets in which she describes indigenous culture as ‘satanic’ and their celebrations as ‘demonic.’ The response from indigenous communities to feeling that kind of threat which they are no stranger to – they have been dealing with it for 500 years – is very powerful. They feel extremely threatened by that and with good reason.
The issue of race, I should say, ties very, very directly into the issue of economics.
We are talking about the new coup government/military junta, which has taken power. Their original appointments to cabinet included not one single indigenous person. In a country that’s 60 percent indigenous, you have to almost go out of your way not to do that. So it’s very clear to mass segments of the indigenous population here that this new president is not on their side and does not want to continue to allow this process that was going on under Evo Morales: creating a new middle class of indigenous people and allowing them for the first time in 500 years to have access to these kinds of luxuries that in many other parts of the world we take for granted. So that’s impossible to overstate the sheer transformation in 14 years of socialist governance in Bolivia. Even the Washington Post was forced to concede that socialist governance in Bolivia despite all odds had actually succeeded. Obviously, they were using it as a counterbalance and run Venezuela through the mud and explain how Venezuela was the wrong kind of socialism. But you can see that even the imperialist media in the Global North is willing to concede that Evo Morales’ presidency was a great success for a great many people in Bolivia.
In regards to the economics of this situation, there is a lot of talk about the natural resources, the lithium. And obviously, it’s hard to overstate the role of that. It can be overstated because it’s not just about all the lithium. It’s also about wanting to dismantle any potential economic model that serves as an alternative to the neoliberal status quo in the rest of the world. So the West, these imperialist governments and the ruling class in Bolivia are very threatened by the possibility of other countries looking to Bolivia’s model and deciding: ‘Wait a minute! Maybe we should go with that. We want actually to achieve this consistent, almost five percent annual growth. We want to start making real progress, closing the gap in inequality and income and wealth. Then, maybe we should take a second look at Bolivia.’ Well, now anybody looking at Bolivia sees essentially a military dictatorship. And for me, that’s why ‘socialism doesn’t work.’ Right! It’s not because of the merits of the actual economic system. It’s that it represents such a threat to the wealthy and powerful that they will do whatever it takes to destroy it, including kill upwards of thirty people at this point (November 24th), injure close to a thousand and disappear hundreds, perhaps more. It’s impossible to say.
Have you interviewed those supporting Jeanine Áñez’ rule?
I have not done official interviews with any Áñez supporters, just interactions. To be completely honest, I am kind of terrified of what this government would do or could do. Hopefully, they wouldn’t want to do anything too awful to me because I think it would lead to a lot of pushback and would be more trouble than it is worth for them. But, I mean, I have Bolivian journalist friends. I was supposed to meet a friend yesterday to interview him. He is a MAS supporter and a writer. And I saw him the night before and by the time we were set to interview I didn’t hear from him. And then two hours later I get a message saying ‘I can’t talk. I am in jail.’ And obviously, this was not something that took us by surprise because they have been hunting him for a while. And that is the word they are using when they describe trying to catch the now opposition, members or supporters of the Mas Party. They are using the word ‘hunted.’ The day before the coup actually occurred, he says his house was ransacked by police who came through searching for whatever incriminating evidence, I suppose, they could find. And at this point, we are looking at a situation where really documenting anything that is happening, under this broad language that the Áñez presidency is using, is punishable by law now and is now considered practically sedition. They locked up two women two days ago for supposedly filming an armored vehicle as it was passing through their city. And for that terrible crime, filming a vehicle, they now face year and years in prison. So it is a particularly frightening moment.
Featured image: Wyatt Reed is a journalist who has been published in The Roanoke Times, MintPress News and The Grayzone.