“Since the Armed Forces cannot join the coup d’etat, they use paid youth to attack the MAS campaigns … Who are the anti-Democrats in Bolivia? Where do they come from and what are they preparing?”
These were part of the statements given by the president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales, after the violent events that took place last Thursday, September 12, in the department of Santa Cruz, when a political activity organized by militants of the Socialist Movement ( MAS) intersected with irregular groups identified with the 21F opposition platforms and the Cruceñista Youth Union.
In the middle of the presidential electoral campaign and with the fires of La Chiquitania as a backdrop, the Bolivian president’s followers in Santa Cruz decided to organize the “blue afternoon” in several traffic circles of a sector called the Second Ring, with the aim of collecting resources and logistical support that would be sent to the front line in the burning locations, to collaborate with the firemen, police and volunteers in the recovery of the forest reserves.
This initiative was boycotted by violent sectors summoned by the Bolivian right, which escalated the clashes at the meeting points of the Masists, then they went to the headquarters of the party, damaging its facilities and burning one of them.
That day a total of eight were injured, including a pregnant woman, a young man with a head trauma and several police injured, as reported by the government minister, Carlos Romero.
The confrontation is the first of great magnitude that has been registered since the fierce social media campaign was activated under the label of #SOSChiquitania, which brought together environmental activists and influencers in a narrative with clear features of orchestration: pointing at President Morales as being responsible for the fires.
The language used in this campaign was specially developed to co-opt young Bolivians, a group who will be decisive in the presidential elections next October.
The level of violence in the riots is only comparable to the demonstrations convened during the attempted coup d’etat of 2008, within the framework of a clearly secessionist agenda, which had as its center Santa Cruz, as well as Pando, Tarija and Beni.
On that occasion, it was demonstrated that there was funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to non-governmental parties and organizations that led the coup attempt.
Evo Morales’ question is pertinent, in view of the accelerated way in which events in the South American country have been developed and which aim to interrupt the elections of October 20.
To the concerns of the Bolivian president, the investigation of regional precedents should be added, in the exercise of identifying the fundamentals of the maneuver and anticipating the installation of new sources of violence.
It is necessary to probe the different elements that make up this undercover operation, which is projected internationally as a “spontaneous” response of Bolivian society to the ravages that the agricultural region of Santa Cruz is suffering.
In a previous piece published on this site, the “softening” phase was outlined and the actors involved were characterized from what, without a doubt, is outlined as another soft coup inspired by the Gene Sharp manual: progressively weaken the institutions of the Nation-state and knock down governments not aligned with Washington.
In this sense, Venezuela is a mandatory reference, not only for the combined operations of street wear and ultraviolence during the three months of “guarimbas” in 2017, but for the mechanisms that the government and Chavismo implemented to disarm the color revolution.
However, the event that aims to trigger the conflict in Bolivia is reminiscent of another operation executed more recently against Sandinismo in Nicaragua. The coincidences with the insurrectionary strategy of the Nicaraguan opposition force a case study to establish the points in common with the Bolivian situation.
NICARAGUA AND THE CASE OF INDIO MAÍZ
In April 2018, a fire caused in the Indio Maíz biological reserve consumed 5,400 hectares of one of the main areas of Central American rainforest. In 2016, the forest had been affected by Hurricane Otto, causing damage to the ecosystem that made it susceptible to fire.
But not only the fire spread in Nicaraguan territory. A student sector of the country also did the same, accompanied by environmental NGOs that over estimated the forestry problem, and by the opposition media, covering and spreading the accusations towards the government of Daniel Ortega.
Once the environmental problem has been overcome, it is easy to collect each of the data that attests to the correct emergency protocol operated by the State agencies. In an interview with RT, President Ortega stressed that US technicians who had evaluated the situation determined that the fire “would last for months”, but only extended for ten days, until they were put out.
Although it damaged areas of the wetland , in strictly percentage terms, the 5,484 hectares damaged corresponded to 0.85% of the total territory, according to a report prepared by specialists from the Department of Basins of the Faculty of Natural Resources and the Environment (Farena).
The official figures do not differ much from the approximations made by independent institutions, such as the Humboldt Center, which estimated 5,553 hectares were impacted.
The government of Nicaragua issued a yellow alert, deployed 1,500 military personnel, 9 aircrafts, 17 ships and accepted international assistance from Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. Likewise, it determined those responsible for the great forest fire, which had to do with a burn of land for rice planting.
None of these actions could prevent the organization of violent protests that lasted until October 2018. While the central demand of the sectors that initiated the revolts was related to the series of reforms of the Social Security Institute (INSS), the movement #SOSIndioMaiz, which alone did not acquire enough strength to work as a regime change operation, did serve as a trial run for what would come next.
On April 12 (2018), a few days before the fires in the biological reserve were controlled, a group of violent protesters in the “student movement”. gathered at the entrance of the Central American University (UCA) to address the National Assembly.
The march failed to reach the scheduled destination, however, it triggered a confrontation with the security forces that was immediately used to display the narrative of the “repressive state”, manipulating images that would later be exported to show the violent as “fighters for the democracy”. A classic narrative that Venezuela knows in abundance.
The motive that initially summoned them was displaced by the real background of the operation: violent pressure to depose the Sandinista government.
This is the only argument that could explain the disproportionate and virulent accusations of the protesters against the Sandinista front, which also embraced the cause of the Indian Corn Reserve with a suspicious speed, which was not on the agenda until that moment.
There they were foreshadowed as symbolic images of the movement, NGOs and new faces that covered up implicit transnational interests. Madelaine Caracas and Jessica Cisneros were the names that emerged from the student group that led the protests.
On the other hand, the Fundación del Río and the ecological NGOs associated with the Cocibolca Group also capitalized part of the leadership in the operation. Both actors transcended the specific events of Indio Maíz, since the emergency was overcome by the relevant Nicaraguan government agencies. They definitely joined the following phases of the coup plan.
THE ACTORS IN FRONT AND BEHIND THE SCENES
In October 2018, Caracas and Cisneros participated in the Caravan of International Solidarity with Nicaragua, a tour carried out by European countries where they met with high political leaders with the aim of lobbying the pressures of the West against Daniel Ortega.
There, Madelaine Caracas was interviewed by the German outlet DW, that questioned her for the allegations that indicated the financing of the United States government for violent protests. “That is part of the government’s delegitimization campaign towards this spontaneous and civic insurrection,” the Communication student responded.
Later it would be known that both she and Jessica Cisneros organized the Civic Youth Movement (MCJ), a group that received support from the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), as referenced by journalist Whitney Webb in an investigation for Mintpress.
The NDI established its project with students from Managua thanks to funding from USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The journalist Webb says that the NED disbursed “about 4.2 million dollars to opposition groups and affiliates between 2014 and 2017”.
USAID, on the other hand, is the institution that has allocated the most resources for destabilization in Nicaragua. With the 52 million dollars granted, training courses were paid for emerging leaders who promoted Madeleine Caracas’s rise to fame.
Ecological organizations were also latent anticipating a moment that gave signs of being easily driven to the level of a political coup. Evidence of their arbitrary participation in the scene? The Rio Foundation was instrumental in financing the riots in which civilians mutated into armed criminal gangs.
In early April, the Ministry of Government had warned of a scam that this NGO carried out, by collecting funds that had an unjustified destination. When the coup had been calmed in December, the legislative branch proved its participation in it, together with eight other civil organizations, providing funds for the execution of terrorist acts. All these groups were disbanded by the National Assembly.
It should be noted that these “environmental protection” platforms that covered the logistics of the armed movements in 2018, base their existence due to industrial development projects that, coincidentally, threaten the prevalence of the United States as an economic hegemon in the region.
An example: The Cocibolca Group declares in its description that the organizations that compose it require “more information” on the Grand Interoceanic Canal, a 50 billion dollar plan that plans to draw an alternative transoceanic route to the Panama Canal. The work was awarded to a Chinese company in 2013 and since then it has been involved in conflicts of apparent environmental character that have delayed its execution.
The obvious geopolitical connotation of a project that would take away commercial privileges from the US in this hemisphere, in a context of increasingly stable relations between countries of the continent and the economy of the new eastern powers, set the role of ecological organizations. Under the mantle of “non-governmental” activity, the rest of the opposition groups conspiring for a political change that favored Washington were unified.
Similar institutions in the United States that promoted the leaders of the color revolution against Sandinismo, now come out in Bolivia.
This is the case of the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), a foundation funded by the oligarchy Koch and the CANVAS group, an expert in the strategy of “nonviolent struggle”. Both organizations have links with the environmentalist Jhanisse Daza, currently one of the visible faces of the soft coup against Bolivia. Daza is in charge of the NGO Ríos de Pie, which makes accusations against Evo Morales. This is reflected in an article by the US journalist, Wyatt Reed for The Grayzone portal.
For these promoters of harassment of the Bolivian government, the Amazon theater of operations has favored the ideal scenario. The forest disaster (with continental implications), its damages and the difficulties to assuage it, facilitate the construction of a narrative that blames Evo Morales. Fabricated indignations give way to the violent stage of the coup attempt.
Now, the Morales government has to resist on two fronts simultaneously: the environmental emergency itself and the next sieges organized by opposition groups driven by the propaganda of La Chiquitania.
While army personnel, firefighters and brigades, carry out the work of fire mitigation in the affected areas, local opposition media, NGOs and political figures, take advantage of the fact that the issue is on the international agenda to standardize a story against Evo Morales, justifying the interruption of the elections and escalation in the destabilization under the narrative that Bolivia faces a “disaster”.
So far, Bolivia has focused its efforts on implementing an efficient protocol in the departments where fires occur. In a matter of weeks, it managed to reduce heat sources by more than 80%. Foreign aid enters with the exclusive condition of being managed through the State, respecting the sovereignty of the country.
The scenario is difficult. When it was thought that it had been controlled, local authorities reported that at least 2,000 hot spots remained active, as a result of gusts of wind that reach 90 kilometers per hour, of the same climate change, which brought a period of drought with high temperatures. President Evo Morales was helped by Russia to attack these new outbreaks, with the participation of the Russian firefighter Il-76, which joins the work being carried out by the Supertanker.
Despite this, the government emphasizes that the emergency has not overwhelmed the institutions’ capacity to act, as mentioned by Communication Minister Manuel Canelas in early September.
According to the minister, the administrative figure of “disaster” does not apply since the State has not exhausted its technical and economic resources. Instead, it acts under the declaration of “national emergency situation”, allowing the speed of aid and economic funds.
WHO CAUSED THE FIRE?
The story that has been internationalized directly accuses decree 3973 and law 741, ordinances of the national government that regulate agriculture and livestock activities in that country. In social networks the marketing campaign was based mainly on the argument that these regulations caused the fires in La Chiquitania. The additive of influencers, ecological activists and celebrities on the first front of the operation, guaranteed that the movement managed to simulate “spontaneity.”
On the other hand, although it is assumed that environmental movements would be against any agribusiness activity that affects the Chiquitano Dry Forest, it is striking that propaganda is focused only on demonizing “chaqueo”, a controlled burning peasant activity to enable agriculture on their lands.
“Small families, if they don’t “chaquean” (burn), what are they going to live on?” This phrase from Evo was taken out of context by the media to fuel the campaign and suggest that it agrees with the intensive use of the land.
The reality is that the Bolivian government tries to protect the small farmer who has this labor as the only source of work, while creating a consensus with other interests of the nation stipulated in its laws (remember that the country enacted a law that recognizes the rights of all biodiversity).
Cliver Rocha, former director of the Forestry and Land Control and Social Control Authority (ABT), holds the view that he wants to blame the peasant sector, politically linked to the indigenous president. He says that they seek to “racialize” responsibility, creating a border between agricultural power groups and the small producer. In addition, the climatic factor stands out: high temperatures and low humidity make mitigation complex. “A spark in a grassland is fulminating, ” Rocha said.
The same argument supports the peasant movements that favor Evo Morales grouped in the National Coordinator for Change (Conalcam), who also pointed to Mennonites and Brazilians as key factors of deforestation in the lands of the affected municipalities.
“We denounce the alienation of the land, that in the hands of Mennonites and Brazilians, is what has brought about that industrial logic that today causes the dismantling at the cost of life,” says a statement from the Conalcam after a meeting with Morales.
Bolivia is not a State outside the extractive practice to which the continent was relegated and just as Venezuela has to combat smuggling mafias of gasoline and other mining resources, La Chiquitania and other Bolivian forest reserves are inserted in an illegal extraction flow of wood, given that the country is the sixth place in the world with the greatest extent of tropical forests.
Before creating ABT as a mechanism to combat illicit trafficking, 80% of the timber sold came from smuggling. The main destinations in the area are the United States, Brazil and China, while Peru is the border area from which the largest amount of timber species is illegally extracted. In 2017 alone, Bolivia lost $ 26 million from smuggling to the neighboring country, as reported by ABT.
The management of the environmentalist account of the actors of the coup avoids a debate that places these predatory practices of transnational capitalism on the table.
THE ELECTIONS OF OCTOBER 20
In a recent evaluation made by Vice President Álvaro García Linera, he acknowledges that La Chiquitania’s media activity had an effect on the growth of the intention to vote for Evo Morales. Garcia says that “it slowed down a bit from the issue of fires,” but it is still an upward trend.
On the other hand, the opposition candidate Óscar Ortiz (of the 21F party that led the violent protests of September 12) perceived a certain regionalized increase and the main MAS contender, Carlos Mesa, had a reduction in the polls.
Unquestionably, one of the aims of the aggressive campaign against Morales is to prevent his re-election in the face of the presidential elections that will be held next month. But this is not limited to taking away popularity in the social bases of the country and providing credibility to opposition alternatives.
The lesson of the models tested in Venezuela and Nicaragua demonstrates that the option of a political path is the last one taken into consideration. On the other hand, destabilization and the imposition of a state of general exception to weaken the image of the Bolivian president are more likely to be detonated.
Most likely, heat sources in the Chiquitano Dry Forest will be stifled before the October 20 election. The other civil fire, which started with the help of the ecological story, will have to look for new fuel to keep Bolivian streets lit, with the implicit desire for clashes that result in deadly balances.
Human costs are highly appealing as evidence to mutate the accusations of the “incompetent State” into the “repressive State”. They are also the perfect input of social media and networks that will be responsible for projecting these events as a reality that envelopes the entire country.
For Evo’s detractors, it is not about measuring themselves in an electoral contest, but about boycotting all the structures of the State, installing chaos and making it unmanageable to manage fires, so that the intervention of foreign governments can be justified, either under financial punishment or diplomatic isolation.
A manual of political coup that does not go beyond its own margins, applied on so many previous occasions that today it is identifiable with the naked eye. There is the fundamental advantage that Bolivians can take advantage of.
Featured image: Violent protesters of the Bolivian opposition attack a MAS house in Santa Cruz (Photo: APG)
Translated by JRE/EF