Bolivians overwhelmingly rejected a US-backed coup regime. The US should take it as a sign to abandon regime change — and rejoin the international community.
(October 28, 2020) — Less than a year after the United States and the US-backed Organization of American States (OAS) supported a violent military coup to overthrow the government of Bolivia, the Bolivian people have reelected the Movement for Socialism (MAS) and restored it to power.
In the long history of US-backed “regime changes” in countries around the world, rarely have a people and a country so firmly and democratically repudiated US efforts to dictate how they will be governed. Post-coup interim president Jeanine Añez has reportedly requested 350 US visas for herself and others who may face prosecution in Bolivia for their roles in the coup.
The narrative of a rigged election in 2019 that the US and the OAS peddled to support the coup in Bolivia has been thoroughly debunked. MAS’s support is mainly from indigenous Bolivians in the countryside, so it takes longer for their ballots to be collected and counted than those of the better-off city dwellers who support MAS’s right-wing, neoliberal opponents.
As the votes come in from rural areas, there is a swing to MAS in the vote count. By pretending that this predictable and normal pattern in Bolivia’s election results was evidence of election fraud in 2019, the OAS bears responsibility for unleashing a wave of violence against indigenous MAS supporters that, in the end, has only delegitimized the OAS itself.
A History of Intervention
It is instructive that the failed US-backed coup in Bolivia has led to a more democratic outcome than US regime change operations that succeeded in removing a government from power. Domestic debates over US foreign policy routinely presume that the US has the right, or even an obligation, to deploy an arsenal of military, economic and political weapons to force political change in countries that resist its imperial dictates.
In practice, this means either full-scale war (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), a coup d’etat (as in Haiti in 2004, Honduras in 2009, and Ukraine in 2014), covert and proxy wars (as in Somalia, Libya, Syria, and Yemen) or punitive economic sanctions (as against Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela) — all of which violate the sovereignty of the targeted countries and are therefore illegal under international law.
No matter which instrument of regime change the US has deployed, these US interventions have not made life better for the people of any of those countries, nor countless others in the past.
William Blum’s brilliant 1995 book, Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, catalogues 55 US regime change operations in 50 years between 1945 and 1995. As Blum’s detailed accounts make clear, most of these operations involved US efforts to remove popularly elected governments from power, as in Bolivia, and often replaced them with US-backed dictatorships like the Shah of Iran, Mobutu in the Congo, Suharto in Indonesia, and General Pinochet in Chile.
Even when the targeted government is a violent, repressive one, US intervention usually leads to even greater violence. Nineteen years after removing the Taliban government in Afghanistan, the United States has dropped 80,000 bombs and missiles on Afghan fighters and civilians, conducted tens of thousands of “kill or capture” night raids, and the war has killed hundreds of thousands of Afghans.
In December 2019, the Washington Post published a trove of Pentagon documents revealing that none of this violence is based on a real strategy to bring peace or stability to Afghanistan — it’s all just a brutal kind of “muddling along,” as US General McChrystal put it. Now the US-backed Afghan government is finally in peace talks with the Taliban on a political power-sharing plan to bring an end to this “endless” war, because only a political solution can provide Afghanistan and its people with the viable, peaceful future that decades of war have denied them.
In Libya, it has been nine years since the US and its NATO and Arab monarchist allies launched a proxy war backed by a covert invasion and NATO bombing campaign that led to the horrific sodomy and assassination of Libya’s longtime anti-colonial leader, Muammar Gaddafi. That plunged Libya into chaos and civil war between the various proxy forces that the US and its allies armed, trained and worked with to overthrow Gaddafi.
A parliamentary inquiry in the UK found that, “a limited intervention to protect civilians drifted into an opportunist policy of regime change by military means,” which led to “political and economic collapse, inter-militia and inter-tribal warfare, humanitarian and migrant crises, widespread human rights violations, the spread of Gaddafi regime weapons across the region and the growth of Isil [Islamic State] in north Africa.”
The various Libyan warring factions are now engaged in peace talks aimed at a permanent ceasefire and, according to the UN envoy “holding national elections in the shortest possible timeframe to restore Libya’s sovereignty” — the very sovereignty that the NATO intervention destroyed.
Senator Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy adviser Matthew Duss has called for the next US administration to conduct a comprehensive review of the post-9/11 “War on Terror,” so that we can finally turn the page on this bloody chapter in our history.
Duss wants an independent commission to judge these two decades of war based on “the standards of international humanitarian law that the United States helped to establish after World War II,” which are spelled out in the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. He hopes that this review will “stimulate vigorous public debate about the conditions and legal authorities under which the United States uses military violence.”
Such a review is overdue and badly needed, but it must confront the reality that, from its very beginning, the “War on Terror” was designed to provide cover for a massive escalation of US “regime change” operations against a diverse range of countries, most of which were governed by secular governments that had nothing to do with the rise of Al Qaeda or the crimes of September 11th.
Notes taken by senior policy official Stephen Cambone from a meeting in the still damaged and smoking Pentagon on the afternoon of September 11, 2001 summarized Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s orders to get “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time — not only UBL [Osama Bin Laden]… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
At the cost of horrific military violence and mass casualties, the resulting global reign of terror has installed quasi-governments in countries around the world that have proved more corrupt, less legitimate, and less able to protect their territory and their people than the governments that US actions removed. Instead of consolidating and expanding US imperial power as intended, these illegal and destructive uses of military, diplomatic and financial coercion have had the opposite effect, leaving the US ever more isolated and impotent in an evolving multipolar world.
Rejoining the Multipolar World
Today, the US, China, and the European Union are roughly equal in the size of their economies and international trade, but even their combined activity accounts for less than half of global economic activity and external trade. No single imperial power economically dominates today’s world as overconfident American leaders hoped to do at the end of the Cold War, nor is it divided by a binary struggle between rival empires as during the Cold War. This is the multipolar world we are already living in, not one that may emerge at some point in the future.
This multipolar world has been moving forward, forging new agreements on our most critical common problems, from nuclear and conventional weapons to the climate crisis to the rights of women and children. The United States’ systematic violations of international law and rejection of multilateral treaties have made it an outlier and a problem, certainly not a leader, as American politicians claim.
Joe Biden talks about restoring American international “leadership” if he is elected, but that will be easier said than done. The American empire rose to international leadership by harnessing its economic and military power to a rules-based international order in the first half of the 20th century, culminating in the post-World War II rules of international law. But the United States has gradually deteriorated through the Cold War and post-Cold War triumphalism to a flailing, decadent empire that now threatens the world with a doctrine of “might makes right” and “my way or the highway.”
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, much of the world still saw Bush, Cheney and the “War on Terror” as exceptional, rather than a new normal in American policy. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize based on a few speeches and the world’s desperate hopes for a “peace president.” But eight years of Obama, Biden, Terror Tuesdays, and Kill Lists followed by four years of Trump, Pence, children in cages and the New Cold War with China have confirmed the world’s worst fears that the dark side of American imperialism seen under Bush and Cheney was no aberration.
Amid America’s botched regime changes and lost wars, the most concrete evidence of its seemingly unshakeable commitment to aggression and militarism is that the US military-industrial complex is still outspending the ten next largest military powers in the world combined, clearly out of all proportion to America’s legitimate defense needs.
So the concrete things we must do if we want peace are to stop bombing and sanctioning our neighbors and trying to overthrow their governments; to withdraw most American troops and close military bases around the world; and to reduce our armed forces and our military budget to what we really need to defend our country, not to wage illegal wars of aggression half-way round the world.
For the sake of people around the world who are building mass movements to overthrow repressive regimes and struggling to construct new models of governing that are not replications of failed neoliberal regimes, we must stop our government — no matter who is in the White House — from trying to impose its will.
Bolivia’s triumph over US-backed regime change is an affirmation of the emerging people-power of our new multipolar world, and the struggle to move the US to a post-imperial future is in the interest of the American people as well. As the late Venezuela leader Hugo Chavez once told a visiting US delegation, “If we work together with oppressed people inside the United States to overcome the empire, we will not only be liberating ourselves, but also the people of Martin Luther King.”
Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and the author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection and Inside Iran: the Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK, and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.
Bolivia: The People Have Won
Manuel Monroy “El Papirri” Chazarreta / La Razon
Translation: For original version, click here.
LA PAZ (October 28, 2020) — October 18, 2020 is a historic day for democracy and the progressive popular movement of Bolivia and Latin America.
October 18, 2020 is a historic day for democracy and the progressive popular movement of Bolivia and Latin America. I am just a singer-songwriter and writer of chronicles, I am not a political analyst or commentator, I am one of the many minibus citizens who for his progressive ideals and convictions was insulted, threatened and persecuted since the civil-military coup of November 2019.
That is why I am happy. Because democracy returns and freedom is reborn.
Because the majority of the Bolivian people, the poorest people, the workers, the day-to-day workers, have won the elections in the first round by majority and with a difference of more than 20 points over the second.
The landlady who sells chamomile and eucalyptus on the corner has won. Now she will have the certainty that the passage of the bus from her region to the city avenues will not increase in price, because the gas and gasoline belong to Bolivians and not to the transnationals.
The one who wants to enter the State to loot, to benefit celebrity groups and family members, has lost — the one who longs for Miami and despises Bolivia.
The worker of the electricity company has won. He knows that now his company will not collapse, that the electricity belongs to the Bolivians, the electricity that comes from our waters will return to the most remote villages as a human right.
He has lost: the one who wants to separate Bolivia, the one who dreams of a white Bolivia, the one who kicks the women in polleras, the inventor of irregular separatist armies.
The master plumber who knows that the price of his spare parts will remain the same has won. The master minibusero who is certain that he will be able to pay the bank loan of his vehicle without abuse, with decent interest, with a private bank controlled in his anguish of Profits.
The teacher taxi driver has won. The change of his car from gasoline to diesel made free of charge by the State in 2013 will be maintained, and his son will remain in school thanks to the Juancito Pinto Bonus. Has won the stability, the dignity of the honest home.
The thief has lost: the one who kicks in to take over the government only for the benefit of a few, has lost the violent man, the fascist motorcycle rider who beats up the indigenous people (while his grandfather is an indigenous person).
It has won an avant-garde Political Constitution that decided that basic rights are human rights and that the privatizers cannot just enter to appropriate the public good.
The basic nurse has won. The hospital technician who risks his life in the fight against COVID, the doctor aware of his oath who does not have private clinics.
He has lost: the doctor who owns motels, who does not treat patients but businesses. He has lost: the doctor who, at the worst moment of the pandemic, made respirators that didn’t work and sold with a huge surcharge, committing genocide just for taking away dirty money in his pocket.
The Homeland has won, the anti-Homeland has lost. The memory of Juana Azurduy has won, the memory of the anti-colonial guerrillas, the multi-colored children who are born in this blessed land have won and who, in 14 years of the democratic and cultural Revolution, came out of extreme poverty, and then graduated from high school and technicians, and now they enter free universities.
They have won the roads of Bolivia. They have lost: the latifundistas, the slaveowners and those who, through a popular referendum, had their abuses stopped.
It has won: the village that now has internet via the Túpac Katari satellite. The working Bolivia that does not want more violence has won, The Bolivia that wants its sea, the Bolivia that wants to add, the dignified Bolivia that does not bow its head before colonial minds and weapons.
The pitita who wants to leave a country with so many Indians now has lost. The middle class who is looking to get rich quick has lost. The one who buys tear gas at a premium when what is needed are vaccines, has lost. The fascist who massacred us at Senkata and the Huayllani Bridge.
The widow of the poor martyr has won, her memory will be honored by the new popular government that has won with more than 53 percent. We’ve won the lithium for Bolivians.
Almagro has lost with his violent fraud. He has lost the one that makes international aid disappear in his trout accounts.
He has won the Abya Yala with his wiphala in the wind.
The dictatorship has lost. Democracy has won.
We know how to win. We know how to lose. We know how to sing. We know how to keep quiet. We know how to cry. We know how to laugh. We know that today is the time to rejoice because the Great Homeland raises its head.
We also know that imperialism and its national operators are lurking for us to do badly. We know that we have no rancor, we know of our thirst for justice and sovereignty.
Espinal has won, Marcelo has won, Simón [Bolivar] and his dream of integration have won.
My comrade has won who today has his home gas connection and when he lights his daily burners, he lights the flame of gratitude.
Accept your defeat, separatists, racists and fascists who are 15% of the country. Make the effort to make a healthy opposition, Bolivia needs everyone to get out of a multiple crisis. Jallalla people of Bolivia!