Canada wrong to support ouster of Morales

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Hours after a military coup removed Evo Morales as president in Bolivia, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement that said “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people.”

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/11/2019 (1104 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hours after a military coup removed Evo Morales as president in Bolivia, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement that said “Canada stands with Bolivia and the democratic will of its people.”

Canada’s endorsement is remarkable for many reasons. The first is that it’s not often you see the government of Canada openly endorse the military overthrow of a democracy. (Morales resigned on Nov. 10 shortly before the military “asked” him to leave, but anyone who thinks this was a “choice” doesn’t understand the role a military plays in a country.)

It’s also notable because a coup d’état is rarely driven by the “will of the people.”

Natacha Pisarenko / The Associated Press Files A woman, seated next to the multicolour Wiphala flag — which represents Indigenous Peoples — takes part in a meeting of supporters of former Bolivian president Evo Morales in La Paz.

It’s especially remarkable — considering the Trudeau government’s interest in Indigenous rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — because Morales is Bolivia’s first Indigenous president of a largely Indigenous country.

In 2006, Morales, a poor coca farmer, won the presidency on a left-wing, pro-worker and socialist platform. He promised justice for Indigenous Peoples who had suffered racism, violence and land theft comparable to what he called “apartheid-era South Africa.”

Morales won with more popular support than any president in decades, in large part because most Bolivians are poor or working class, and more than half of them Indigenous.

Morales immediately took state control of most of the country’s industries, including hydro carbon, electricity and railways, and raised taxes on corporations and the wealthy. He redistributed the country’s wealth and delivered state-sponsored health care and education.

These moves saved Bolivia’s economy. At the start of his presidency, Bolivia was one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the worst performing currencies. By the end of his first term, Bolivia’s economy had tripled in size and poverty was reduced to 39 per cent from 59 per cent.

Morales also declared more than 30 Indigenous languages as official, instituted an Indigenous flag called the Wiphala, supported the autonomy of Indigenous nations and introduced paved roads and electricity to rural areas with high Indigenous populations.

As a result, Morales was re-elected in 2009 — the first under Bolivia’s new constitution that stated that presidents could only serve two consecutive terms.

During the next few years, economic interest in Bolivia spiked, in large part due to the fact the country has one of the largest lithium deposits in the world.

As the world moved towards electrification, and lithium being the main ingredient in batteries, western corporations made overtures to Morales and promised riches for Bolivia. Morales refused to make deals with companies that would take profits elsewhere, settling on non-western firms instead.

So this is where the “will of the people” comes in.

In 2018, after his second term as president, Morales was supposed to retire. Instead, he cited a court decision that deemed presidential term limits unconstitutional and ran again. He won, but there were some irregularities on election night.

Immediately, right-wing, pro-American and wealthy Bolivians cried corruption and refused to recognize the election results. An investigation by the international Organization of American States, which is run largely by forces in the United States, called for a new election.

Morales agreed and announced new elections. But it was too late. He “resigned” and was removed by the military.

Setting aside debates on presidential-term limits for a moment (remember Canadian prime ministers regularly serve more than two terms), the removal of Morales is all about who gets Bolivia’s lithium.

Western countries and corporations want Morales out of the picture.

In the years before Morales, and simmering since, there has been a deep hatred of Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia.

For decades, Indigenous communities have been framed by Bolivia’s elite as the country’s “problems,” “backwards” and “anti-business” (sound familiar?).

In fact, what Indigenous Peoples in Bolivia have always done is fight the theft of their land and resources (specifically natural gas), which has resulted in wealth for the rich.

Morales is not perfect, but he introduced measures to recognize and respect Indigenous communities. It resulted in support by well-organized, active and engaged Indigenous voters.

Now, anti-Indigenous forces have taken power in Bolivia — and they want revenge.

One of the main anti-Indigenous proponents is conservative leader Jeanine Anez, who declared herself the “interim president” of Bolivia. In 2013, she tweeted: “I dream of a Bolivia free of satanic indigenous rites,” saying “the city is not for the Indians who should stay in the highlands or the Chaco!!!”

Another anti-Indigenous leader now in charge of Bolivia is Luis Fernando Camacho, a member of a far-right Christian group. After Morales’ resignation, Camacho travelled to the presidential palace to “bring the Bible back to the palace of government.”

“Bolivia is for Christ,” he announced on national television.

Citizens followed suit, lowering and burning Wiphala flags, the symbols of Indigenous pride. Police officers cut the flags from their uniforms and helped ransack Morales’ home.

Indigenous communities across Bolivia have protested, but have been fired upon, arrested and attacked. On Saturday, eight were killed and dozens injured by police in Sacaba.

More are assaulted every day by right-wing militia who are not afraid of punishment.

“My sin was being Indigenous, leftist and anti-imperialist,” Morales announced during his resignation.

He fled for his life, and Mexico has granted him refuge. Bolivia, meanwhile, is in chaos.

On Thursday, Canadian officials announced Canada would support Anez.

The “will of the people,” it seems, is to hate Indigenous Peoples.

I’m just not sure which country we’re talking about.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

History

Updated on Monday, November 18, 2019 7:09 AM CST: Minor corrections made

Updated on Monday, November 18, 2019 11:40 AM CST: Corrects date of tweet.

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