Bolivia is living through another moment of social and political rupture in its long history of instability and civic-police-military coup d’état. What happens over and above the tragedy experienced by this heroic people, has many paradoxes that cannot be ignored.
By Ernesto Eterno
Published in translation on Internationalist360, Nov 22, 2019
Original article published in Spanish on Contexto, Nov 22, 2019
Bolivia is living through another moment of social and political rupture in its long history of instability and civic-police-military coup d’état. What happens over and above the tragedy experienced by this heroic people, has many paradoxes that cannot be ignored. The first of them is the incomprehensible destructive venture of a country that was on its way to the 21st century through the unprecedented path of becoming a democracy. Never before had the country achieved what many envy for themselves: sustained economic growth, political stability, national unity under construction and respectful international engagement, as well as social achievements and the secular defeat of the two curses of underdevelopment: extreme poverty and illiteracy.
The second paradox is to maintain that there was constitutional succession when in reality what happened was a planned assault on power. From the holding of successive town halls in the country as a democratic simulation to the police mutiny, what was involved was the handling of the political chessboard artfully orchestrated, for some time now, in the bowels of the empire with the complicity of the regional racist elites who are sheathed in a religiousity that is macabre. Jeanine Áñez, who calls herself “Constitutional President,” represents an illegal and illegitimate rise to power that is nothing more than the corollary of the finely woven coup design of the last three or four years. This fascist finale was preceded by a set of covert operations that were systematically deployed and that the intelligence agencies were unable to detect or that they concealed.
The third paradox is the distressing role of the media, which, when it pleases them, call themselves democratic, transparent and independent. Today they are merely an unscrupulous and vile pack of biased information, a shameful manipulation machine at the service of monopolistic business interests. Together with the panoply of systematic lies, directed by American public diplomacy, social networks fulfilled the perverse role of disproportionately filtering, both in contents and in scope, the supposed “masista evil, including the enormous fraud,” while covering up the brutality and violence of Santa Cruz paramilitarism, of the cochalas armed gangs, or of the military police of La Paz.
The fourth paradox has to do with the role of the monopoly structure of legitimate violence designed to protect the State and citizens while in reality it actually generates violence, death and state terror to sustain an illegitimate regime against the majority popular will. Never before have the police and the military, sheathed in the supposed defense of democracy and the control of street protests, taken their repressive weapons commandeered from “war rooms” so far.
Sheltered by the new violent regime, the military and police coexist united by the blood and mourning of dozens of Bolivians in the midst of their ancestral hatred with a transitory political command that ignores their controversial past.
How can we understand that the military and police, whose reciprocal resentment throughout more than a century of distant institutional histories marked by fire, today support the gelatinous structure of a regime that has only caused deaths and injuries?
Beyond the surrealism that surrounds us, the police and the military are waging a silent war in the midst of the coup d’état that continues unabated despite the number of dead people who bear the seal of their lethal weapons. The resentment that surrounds both institutions whose history has not yet cleared up in the 21st century constitutes the real limits of the coup regime.
The symptoms of bitterness began to emerge in the midst of turbulent social demonstrations. Both repressive fronts accuse each other of having shot defenseless civilians, bearing responsibility in the midst of social upheaval. Police accusing the military and military accusing the police is a constant that tends to deepen as the hours go by.
The tragicomic role of the Attorney General’s Office appearing on stage trying to calm the corporate panic with the argument that large calibur weapons caused the deaths. is a symptom of the crisis that is irreversible. To avoid further conflict between the two and to distract the attention of public opinion, the coup government, advised by U.S. agencies, blamed armed foreigners like the FARC, Cubans, Colombians and Venezuelans for the deaths caused by official repressive forces.
The perennial dispute to preserve political power through both institutions is producing its own internal schisms with the consequences of a potential debacle of the fascist coup regime based on the power of bayonets, gases and lead.
The Military Inside
Sixteen years after carrying out one of the greatest bloody massacres against the people of El Alto, which resulted in criminal sanctions and imprisonment for the commanders of the time, the Armed Forces returned to the streets dressed in their unmistakable American persimmon with the mission of confronting the escalation of social conflicts throughout the country. On Sunday, November 10, the commander in chief of the Armed Forces, General Ejto Kalimán, apparently disconcerted and with a trembling voice, ordered the exit of the Armed Forces to the streets, whose tragic result to this day surpasses twenty dead. Half of the victims, mostly young people, correspond to the “Sacaba Massacre” last weekend. There is nothing to suggest that this decision will lead Kaliman and his Sayon commanders to the same place where their predecessors responsible for the El Alto massacre in October 2003 are serving their sentences.
Kalimán’s decision, which contrasted radically with that of President Morales, is one of the major expressions of the educational and pedagogical failure of the Armed Forces in situations of political crisis. Evo Morales resigned precisely to avoid unnecessary deaths, contrary to Kalimán, who ordered the military out, knowing the consequences. Who imposed on Kalimán the order for the soldiers to be deployed in the streets? Why was this decision modified twenty-four hours later, when he promised his general captain that he would not move any military unit on the pretext of a lack of equipment, ammunition and chemical agents?
Kaliman’s political autonomy at the height of social and political crisis that precipitates the final coup portrays in some way not only the failure of the political command over the military, but also incomprehension of his professional ethos, his conservative, pragmatic, opportunistic and immediate corporate ideology and culture. Even the autonomous functioning of the Anti-imperialist School did not serve to moderate Kaliman’s decision in circumstances that required a minimum of state fidelity.
The High Command played its most critical role based on previous conversations with Luis Fernando Camacho and U.S. Embassy officials. It should not be forgotten that Kalimán was a military attaché in Washington for a couple of years and that some of his family remained in the United States.
Currently, the military personnel who occupy the middle chain of command are faced with the dilemma of going out into the streets to continue repressing people or stay in their barracks because of the disastrous consequences of their street intervention. But the strongest doubt arises from the military or police responsibility once the calm returns to the country. Many of the officers consider that the police will place all the responsibility for the dead and wounded on the shoulders of the Armed Forces since only they use such weapons. Post-conflict calculations are beginning to undermine the confidence of the rank and file in their commanders who they deem irresponsible and inadequate.
The assessment of Evo Morales’ management runs through the corridors of the barracks. They maintain that Evo kept them out of any social conflict for thirteen years, a situation that allowed them to increase their institutional legitimacy in the eyes of the public in the face of the discredit of the police for their evident acts of corruption and lack of discipline. The officers admit that their salary level and quality of life changed substantially with the “process of change”, at the same time that their incursion in social tasks allowed them to be considered by the government as “soldiers of the homeland”. The payment of the “Juancito Pinto” or “Renta Dignidad” bonus or their role in the management of natural disasters entrusted to the Armed Forces facilitated a sensitive relationship with society. In addition to the foregoing, the assessment of the increase in the Defense budget, the purchase of assets and the improvement of the soldier’s quality of life form part of his or her immediate memory.
However, today, in less than a week, a de facto regime commanded by a radical political group and fanatical religious leaders is leading the Armed Forces towards confronting society’s utter contempt and international condemnation, the effects of which will not be overcome in the coming decades.
With the collective cry of “military murderers!”in the streets, middle managers are afraid to suffer consequences: desertion of soldiers in the middle of the conflict, which means an unprecedented moral defeat; loss of power in spaces that Evo Morales had managed to build to guarantee fidelity, as is the case of the Presidential Security (USDE), access to high level public positions (managers of state companies) and even to diplomatic positions; institutional discredit that would result in the dramatic decrease of conscripts for the obligatory military service that in reality justifies the institution’s existence; permanent popular repudiation in the streets; penal processes.
Military unrest in the face of events and the high number of fatalities resulting from repression is leading to questioning of the high command and to an unprecedented level of internal mistrust. In a report sent to the military units of the 8th Army Division from the Command in Chief of the Armed Forces on November 14, 2019, it is stated that the officers’ corps “watch the conduct of the cadets. They maintain that Evo kept them out of any social conflict for thirteen years, a situation that allowed them to increase their institutional legitimacy in the eyes of the public in the face of the discredit of the Police for their evident acts of corruption and lack of discipline. The officers admit that their salary level and quality of life changed substantially with the “process of change”, at the same time that their incursion in social tasks allowed them to be considered by the government as “soldiers of the homeland”. The payment of the “Juancito Pinto” or “Renta Dignidad” bonus or their role in the management of natural disasters entrusted to the Armed Forces allowed a sensitive approach to society. In addition to the foregoing, the assessment of the increase in the Defense budget, the purchase of assets and the improvement of the soldier’s quality of life is part of his immediate memory.
However, today, less than a week away, a de facto regime commanded by a radical political group and fanatical religious leaders is leading the Armed Forces to meet the overwhelming contempt of society and international condemnation whose effects will be difficult to overcome in the coming decades.
Military unrest in the face of events and the high number of fatalities resulting from repression is leading to questioning of their high command and to an unprecedented level of internal mistrust. In a radiogram sent to the military units of the 8th Army Division from the Command in Chief of the Armed Forces on November 14, 2019, it is stipulated that the corps of officers “watch the conduct of the cadets, students and soldiers from the Chapare region within all the activities that are developed in the units”. This disposition expresses an almost visceral fear about its own soldiers confirming once again its status as a colonial occupation force.
This report expresses the atrocious fear of the indigenous world, but at the same time the contempt and distrust generated by their presence in the Armed Forces. A veritable cultural and corporate aberration after more than 35 years of democracy and 13 years of apparent indigenous inclusion in the Armed Forces. This is the best example of the failure of alleged military democratization and plurinational and intercultural coexistence in the uniformed world.
Many officers sensitive to the historical conflict with the police question Kalimán’s unwise and inopportune decision because it would have “saved” the police at a key moment in their operational crisis. The burning of the Whipala by police officers and the removal of that symbol from their uniform provoked a deep social unrest that led to attacks on their facilities, forcing them to demand military support in order to be saved from popular anger. The grievance against the constitutionally recognized flag caused a breakdown between the police and the rural and indigenous population.
The truth is that the proverbial hatred between the military and police continues to flow in the midst of a grotesque coup that is sustained by the irrational use of force and the racist behaviour of the government that bears a great resemblance to the old military dictatorships guided by foreign ultramontane slogans.
The coup d’état against the democratic process led by Evo Morales has the unmistakable seal of the Armed Forces as a leading actor, although it was the National Police who led the coup from the city of Cochabamba on Friday, November 8. Apparently, Sunday, November 10, 2019 will go down in history as one of those tragicomic days in which a mediocre and opportunistic general like Kalimán, with a pusillanimous and degraded General Staff, decided to resign themselves to serving the interests of an ethically decayed, morally ruined and pathetic police circus that used the Bible as a religious shield to legitimize its survival.
Some sectors of the Armed Forces considered that the popular siege against the Police constituted the best moment to settle accounts for the events that occurred in February 2003. On that occasion, sniper police, trained by the United States, murdered several soldiers of the Presidential Escort Regiment in a cowardly manner when a crowd attempted to enter the Government Palace in reaction to an anti-popular economic measure. According to many officials, Kaliman became a proverbial hero of the disgraceful police coup days, a phenomenon never imagined by the Armed Forces.
A sad political role was played by the military who had to save the life of their historic and bitter enemy when it was on the verge of repressive collapse. The departmental commander of the La Paz Police was tearfully begging for help from the Armed Forces to defend themselves against the siege of the social movements that were fighting for the dismissal of the self-appointed president.
The Military support to a languishing Police in a political dispute scenario was an exceptional episode. In 1952, the Army had been defeated by the labour movement that led the Police to ride on the revolutionary foam to avenge the bad treatment that the military gave to the carabineros of the time.
Normally, the National Police aligned itself with military coups like a dog with its tail between its legs in an attempt to secure some bureaucratic feast. On November 10, the opposite happened.
The Police Inside
The coup d’état promoted by the police forces from the city of Cochabamba against the government of Evo Morales was an open secret that was maliciously ignored by the Minister of Government, skillfully managed by the Commander General of the Police and efficiently articulated by the right-wing opposition forces who knew from previous years that the National Police constituted a formidable ally for their destabilizing plans. The opposition, advised by external agents, started working within the Police while the government either ignored them or only appealed to them in situations of social conflict.
There is no doubt that in the police structure’s geographical chain of control and command, the department of Santa Cruz, and in particular the city of Santa Cruz, was the weakest link in which a kind of complicity pact was built between the Ministry of Government and police forces led by officers linked to the regional criminal constellation. Paradoxically, the place where the crime had acquired transnational and cross-border dimensions was precisely where an architecture of police regulation of crime was constructed, as in the case of Palmasola prison. Similarly, this political-police complicity network extended to mafia circuits of drug trafficking, arms trafficking, gambling houses or land trafficking in favour of foreigners whose activities were managed by police officers with political sponsorship.
Santa Cruz was a kind of autonomous police territory that was skillfully used by opposition forces that saw in its margins of state autonomy the best conditions for armed seditious conspiracy.
During the thirteen years of the government of Evo Morales there was no capacity to generate a policy of institutionalization, modernization or professional discipline of the police forces. On the contrary, the police commanders, encouraged by continuous rotations, benefited from unimaginable privileges to which was added a culture of scandalous, clumsy or deliberately neglected corruption.
Only by the end of Morales’ mandate did the police benefit from a modern system of territorial control within the framework of citizen security known as BOL 110, which only increased the capacity to produce information for informal purposes. The technological support served as a gracious electoral concession that the Police received without the enthusiasm expected.
The relationship between government and police in over a decade suffered from structural flaws but the worst of them was to entrust a high-level official with a central responsibility when his priorities were to lead football teams.
Morales faced several episodes of insubordination, riots and police sedition that were appeased after complex negotiations but never resolved structurally. The roots of police discontent were fed back internally, maintaining this invariable and cumulative climate over time. Simultaneously, the colossal practices of police corruption did not receive adequate or proportional treatment from the government.
Police privileges, corrupt practices as well as wide corporate criminal margins only operated and functioned at the command levels leaving the subordinates with only the crumbs, a situation that exacerbated the subordinate police malaise for which the national government was responsible.
On the other hand, the privileged political-military relationship generated deep resentment in the National Police. The police saw themselves as second-class citizens in the face of the government’s treatment of the military as firstclass citizens. The presence of President Evo Morales at military anniversaries, the solicitous speeches valuing military work as well as the privileges and prerogatives granted periodically, constituted “systematic offensive blows” against a Police that operated daily in deplorable conditions.
The national government’s unequal treatment in favor of the Armed Forces – construction of buildings, sports fields, purchase of military equipment and material, costly investments in technology such as radars, etc. – fed a strong anti-military and anti-government grudge within the police forces. The Morales government’s explicit bias in favor of the Armed Forces was assumed as a persistent humiliation that was translated into an anti-government narrative by the corps of officers about their underprivileged information subordinates.
In addition to the disdainful relationship between Evo Morales and the Police, the national government also carried out a policy of cutting off its main institutional sources of revenue. Although the decisions were correct, aimed at eliminating corruption, they were interpreted differently by the police in their desire to preserve niches of bureaucratic privilege.
Morales went much further in cutting police prerogatives by assigning the Armed Forces the task of fighting smuggling. The specialized anti-smuggling police units were dissolved and replaced by military units. The military occupied the border, breaking networks of illegality and territorial control, which meant a double amputation: for the civilian criminal groups that lived off the fertile business of smuggling, and for the police who lived off the protection of the networks of illegality to which they granted protection and impunity.
It was this seditious police that confronted the government of Evo Morales and directly or indirectly produced his resignation. Never before had the police succeeded in overthrowing a democratic government as this undisciplined and politically diseased organization did.
The civic-police coup had not only a political component but also a vindicative nature nourished by a memory of perceived opprobrium, deprivation and mistreatment.
The police riots reflected an atrocious hatred against the government that was contained and that exploded in successive waves supported by a middle class that expressed itself in the streets letting its deep discontent and contempt flow against a government in full retreat.
The police coup, supported and driven in the streets by protests of the middle class, allowed a glimpse of its multifaceted purpose.
In the first place it served as the best opportunity to take revenge on the government for institutional mistreatment and displacement, a sort of corporate catharsis inflamed in a rhetoric of hatred and religiosity that exploded without anyone realizing its potential effect.
The riots incarnated the task of regaining their corporate privileges that had been severed for political reasons and ceded to the Armed Forces by the government. The first objective that the Police managed to recover for its symbolic effects was the Presidential Security Unit (USDE) out of the hands of the Army. Once the resignation of Evo Morales was completed, the National Police did not delay a minute in taking charge of the security device of the Casa Grande del Pueblo, forcing the presidential security corps to immediately vacate the building. The more than seventy members of this special team that protected Morales for more than a decade were forced to withdraw, humiliatingly, from the General Staff of the Armed Forces to receive their new assignments.
Similarly and by assault, the National Police restored control of the Personal Identification Service (SEGIP) buildings that had been institutionalized by the Morales government to nip one of the major sources of police corruption in the bud.
The police retake of institutions, spaces and prerogatives was part of the promises of Santa Cruz caudillo Luis Fernando Camacho to lead them to the coup, an objective that was fulfilled almost surgically. In one of the councils held in Santa Cruz, Camacho promised to return all the institutions “unjustly taken away by the national government” and to grant them a wage and pension treatment similar to those of the Armed Forces, an irrefutable incentive.
Beyond the complex problems faced by the new police command, the officers are experiencing dangerous signs of physical exhaustion after more than twenty days of street work and repressive practices. However, police empowerment in this context of crisis translates into dangerous action by small groups operating independently of central command. This uncertain climate, with a government appealing to recalcitrant discourse and a government minister driven by atrocious hatred against government officials, is promoting the formation of armed police groups in conjunction with paramilitary gangs that work under a vindictive and mercenary logic.
Amidst the political turmoil, a new factor of police unrest has arisen, generated by the granting of 34 million bolivianos to the Armed Forces to cover the costs of repressive logistics. Members of the National Police suspect that these resources would serve to favour military commanders translated into “loyalty bonuses”. At the same time, the unrest is aggravated against the coup government and against the Armed Forces by the approval of DS 4078, whose objective is to authorize the use of military force, equipment and weapons, granting them immunity, a condition not enjoyed by the police force.
It is clear that the military and police constitute the cornices on which the power of the coup government is based. It also seems clear that these cornices hold historically unresolved and irreconcilable disputes that with the passage of time will create scenarios of greater fracture and polarization. Beyond its provisional character, a government with common sense should learn about the deep corporate fractures in order to avoid being defeated by their consequences. Fortunately, the coup government only looks at the shadow and not the reality and therefore its time is as short as the convulsive explosion of both bodies that begin to twist to annul or destroy each other.
Whether the blood reaches the river does not depend on the coup plotters, it depends on the deep wounds that have been reopened under an ignorant, arrogant, rabid and suicidal political command. Coup d’état has its paradoxical limits through the use of police and military force and that hinges on how this historic duel is resolved in the bowels of fascist power.
With a National Police alienated by its multiple internal contradictions and Armed Forces disconcerted by the dimension of the conflict and their future political, legal and institutional responsibilities, Bolivians are living in a desolate panorama.
Translation by Internationalist 360º
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