Yet another populist leader is ousted through the men in uniform
While functioning countries in the Middle East have been destroyed through armed invasion along with the western powers’ policy of arming of extremist (religious) groups who profess to fight against despots, regime change in South America continues to be manipulated through a powerful military which uses political forces aligned to the religious rightwing.
This is the twenty-first century so outright coups and military juntas are rather passé. Nowadays the preferred method is simply to control problematic populists or professedly anti-imperialist (i.e. anti American) governments by using a combination of levers. Control over the judiciary and the media is key as this creates a hostile environment for the regime through both constant litigation and the media hysteria which creates a damning — and relentless –narrative. Recent events in Bolivia are a case in point: a populist president was ‘asked’ by the army chief, who he’d appointed less than a year ago, to step down. Evo Morales called this a coup and fled to exile in Mexico. Another politician (of a rightwing religious bent) was sworn in as his replacement with full military honours and pomp.
The narrative was that Bolivia had been ‘saved’ from a despot who had rigged elections and was destroying the fabric and economy of the nation. The country’s urban elite rejoiced and turned its aggression on the indigenous people of Bolivia who Morales had sought to make equal citizens of the country in a largely unifying agenda. The ouster of the country’s first indigenous president seems to have triggered a racial backlash: people supporting the ouster have burned the indigenous Andean emblem – the Wiphala — which Morales had introduced to be flown alongside the national flag. Police officers have now ripped the indigenous insignia off their uniforms and the woman who is interim president of the country is on record as having expressed on social media a yearning to be rid of the ‘heathen practices’ of the indigenous people as these offended her Christian sentiments. The security forces have cracked down on Bolivians protesting Morales’ ouster with what many observers have described as excessive use of force. The interim president has also, with rather unseemly haste, cut off ties with Venezuela and expelled all Cuban doctors from the country.
Morales, who had swept to power in 2005 winning more than half of the national vote, had managed to make South America’s poorest country into one of its fastest growing economies. He had introduced various social programmes that helped slash poverty rates from 59 percent to 35 percent and he had introduced an integrationist/unification agenda to uplift the indigenous people (about a quarter of the population) and make them equal citizens of the country. But he had also not groomed a successor for himself and so he made the usual mistake of strong rulers — which is to abuse their powers or rewrite the law in order to perpetuate their own rule. He amended the constitution and then got a court decision in order to be able run for re-election twice after his initial two terms. However, after last month’s general election, he was accused of massive rigging. The outrcry was immense and even though Morales had agreed both to an audit of the vote by the Organisation of American States (OAS) and to fresh elections, on November 10 the military chief appeared on television to ‘suggest’ that the president step down.
What is interesting is how little importance the international media has given to this story, despite the very blatant political manipulation by the US who has declared the interim regime ‘democratic’, because ‘Morales was rigging the elections.’ The US also continues to declare the legitimacy of the self-proclaimed president of Venezuala, who it supported in its blatant bid to oust President Nicola Maduro. The US had similarly opposed Lula da Silva in Brmazil and was delighted when his successor was unseated and his party lost power.
This regime change pattern may be slightly less bloody than the military juntas of 1970s Chile and Argentina, but it is every bit as destructive of national unity and it is obstructive of the process of consolidating strong systems of political representation. This sort of coup – through remote control or using marionette politicians and/or law officers — is insidious and polarising.
Civilian politicians are but playthings: put into office to obey — then dismissed and exiled if they step out of line, or else just put on trial and jailed. This is happening in South America. It might be good if we sat up and took notice of the developments.
The writer is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.