Arts & Entertainment

We Can All Learn from Bolivia: a review of “Coup: A Story of Violence and Resistance in Bolivia”

Authors Farthing and Becker tell the story of Bolivia’s 2019 coup by placing it in the context of colonialism, racism, and a history of resistance in their most recent book Coup.

“Coup: A Story of Violence and Resistance in Bolivia” is hot off the press, having just been published on Nov. 30 by Haymarket Books.

Linda Farthing and Thomas Becker wrote an accessible, helpful, and orienting book about the events leading up to and through the 2019 coup in Bolivia. Centering the history of colonial and racial oppression and the resulting resistance, I would recommend this book to anyone trying to learn about the indigenous and anti-imperialist struggles of Latin-America or Bolivia in particular.

At just over 200 pages, the book is a pleasant read. The text benefits from photographs inserted throughout, giving life to the moments and individuals discussed. Most of these photos were captured by Becker, himself. Lastly, the authors do not rely on the reader to have significant knowledge about Bolivia while still being much more than a simple introduction to the recent and ongoing history.

The authors share, in a forward, initial skepticism about writing a book on the events of 2019-2020 as a journalist and activist from the global north. Both authors have spent significant time in Bolivia over the past two decades and were on the ground for much of 2019 and 2020. Fortunately, they ultimately decide that their experiences and knowledge do in fact set them up to share an important, informed, and unique perspective on the events.

Ultimately, the authors effectively detail the months of Evo Morales’ and his Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) political party’s fall from power with the help of international capital and intervention from both the Brazilian government and, very likely, the United States.

Written in English, “Coup: A Story of Violence and Resistance in Bolivia” will, without a doubt, inform discussions and understanding of these recent events in Bolivia through-out the global north and the world.

Evo Morales and the Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS, political party came to power in 2006 following the 2005 elections. The party and it’s support grew out of labor and indiginous struggles over the previous decade, notably the Water War in Cochabamba in 2000, a militant protest movement opposing the privatization of the water supply.

The Morales government represented a major shift in politics away from neoliberalism and rule by white and wealth elites towards prioritizing feminist and indiginous issues. These changes were part of the pink tide, a left political trend, that rolled over Latin America around this time.

Losing support in recent years, Morales chose to ignore the constitutional limits on presidential terms and run for a fourth term, winning by a slim margin. While the government was initially accused of foul play in the election, MAS’s defense of a fair election have since been reputed. 

However, concerns over undemocratic norms, including running for a fourth term, led to popular resistance which was then hijacked by right-wing forces. Collaborating with far-right elements; the US backed Organization of American States, OAS; and right-wing governments like Bolsanaro’s in Brazil and likely Trump’s in the U.S., protests effectively led to intervention by the Bolivian military which pressured Morales to step down before they acknowledged the right-wing supported Jeanine Áñez as president.

The racism of the anti Morales movement is described vividly and accompanied by useful photographs. 

For instance, the authors explain,“Bolivia’s deep-seated racism, never far from the surface, predictably erupted. ‘Indians out of the university,” read graffiti in front of La Paz’s public university a week after the elections. Morales’ supporters were quick to point out the demonstrators’ hypocrisy. ‘The protestors and the opposition talk about democracy all the time… but it’s clear that they don’t think poor people and Indigegnous people should have the same rights as them. Is that democracy?”

The taking of power by Áñez was unconstitutional and made possible by military intervention. While some debate whether this should be called a coup, the authors are clearly of the opinion that it should.

It is a testament to the popularity of the feminist and indigenous agenda of the MAS party that they re-took control of the government via the 2020 election. However, the authors caution that the contradictions leading to the 2019 coup are not gone.

The book is most useful in that it puts contemporary issues in historical context. It is not possible to understand the rise of Evo Morales and MAS without reviewing a history of colonialism, racism, and extractivism. It is only in this context that one can understand the current fights around indigenous control of extractive industries like the natural gas or gold industries

Similarly, it is only in this context that one can discuss the racial and class makeup of the MAS party and their project. It is without a doubt that, speaking broadly, the anti-Morales coup were dominated by the wealthy and white elites while Morales’s greatest centers of support were among the indigenous and rural populations.

The authors do not, however, fall into the trap that so many political commentators fall into and simply defend every action of the Morales government. In fact, they are at times highly critical of his regime.

The accolades the book has received are reason enough to take the book seriously. An array of authorities praising the book adorn the cover. The Argentinian feminist group, Madres de la Plaza de Mayo; Lula, the leftist and ex-president of Brazil; Vetlzé, president of Bolivia in 2005; and an assortment of authorities on the subject all give the impression that this is a book to take seriously.

While the story is Bolivia specific, the lessons are for all of us. Those watching the rise of far-right politicians, the changes in indigenous struggles, the fights for gender liberation, or the limits of liberal capitalism could all learn from the recent Bolivian experiences. If that describes you, read this book!