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Coup in Bolivia: MADRE Statement

In the days since the coup against Bolivian President Evo Morales, an unelected right-wing government has seized power, uplifting politicians who have used hate speech to demonize Indigenous Peoples. Security forces opened fire on an Indigenous-led protest in the city of Cochabamba, killing nine people and leaving dozens more injured.

MADRE stands with Bolivia’s progressive social movements and Indigenous Peoples in this moment of crisis, as they still seek to realize a vision of economic and environmental justice, and respect for individual and collective rights. We denounce the attempts by right-wing forces, within and outside Bolivia, to undermine this progressive vision, and we express our solidarity with the calls for a national dialogue to secure peace.

Under Morales’ tenure as Bolivia’s first-ever Indigenous head of state, poverty dropped by precipitous rates, from 60% in 2006 to 34.6% in 2018. Extreme poverty shrunk by more than half, and income inequality fell by 19%. These impressive numbers are the result of a deliberate economic strategy to redistribute wealth and use social spending to benefit the most marginalized.

What’s more, in recent years in Bolivia, the language, culture, and values of Indigenous Peoples have been granted a standing almost unheard of across the world. For instance, Bolivia’s constitution recognizes the Indigenous concept of Buen Vivir, or the value of living in balance with one another and with the planet. Now, coup supporters are publicly burning the wiphala flag, a powerful Indigenous symbol. The constitution also centers grassroots economies, including by recognizing the unpaid work of women.

Far-right Senator Jeanine Añez, with a long history of anti-Indigenous hate, named herself interim President, despite lacking the quorum to do so, and was immediately recognized by the Trump Administration. She has filled cabinet posts with conservative politicians eager to overturn Morales’ progressive policies, and she has expelled hundreds of Cuban doctors. The day before the brutal crackdown in Cochabamba, Añez issued a presidential decree exempting the military from criminal prosecution in their attempts to “restore order.”

The right-wing coup leaders have also set their sights on overturning legislation to protect women’s rights, including Law 348 which recognized femicide and expanded protections against gender violence.

Another gain that right-wingers seek to reverse is Morales’ nationalization of industries, a strategy he employed to push back on foreign resource exploitation and to ensure benefits were retained for local communities. Earlier this month, Morales canceled a foreign deal to develop lithium deposits, responding to protests from community members.

These gains have driven the right-wing opposition to Morales’ leadership, who have long sought to undermine his rule and are now using this moment of crisis to consolidate their power. Now, the decision on the lithium deal is likely to be reversed, at a time when the demand for lithium batteries is projected to rise with renewed interest in electric cars. The need for supply chain justice is a vital cautionary principle that just climate policy advocates, embracing the need for alternative energy and transportation, must heed.

We stand with Indigenous leaders under attack. In particular, we spotlight the illegitimate detention of Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe, a former member of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Bolivia who had also been a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She has been detained since November 10 as a form of political retaliation and has been denied basic human rights guarantees while detained. She and her family members have been threatened with physical harm. We echo the call of Indigenous leaders across the region to secure her safety and her immediate release. We call for an end to the intimidation and harassment of Indigenous and progressive social leaders.

November 20, 2019