The right to free yourself

A comment by Dagmar Henn.

Faithful viewers of the Tagesschau are once again led around by the nose in the most perfidious way as far as the Bolivian coup is concerned. As always, when the Federal Government and the Federal Foreign Office are hiding something, all means, from the most subtle to the most coarse, are used to distort reality.

Demonstrators are killed “in violent clashes with the police”, which creates the notion of equal violence on both sides; an absurdity when the police and military use live ammunition to crack down on the protests. The “protests demand more and more victims”, not the coup against which they are directed. The pictures illustrating the articles have been carefully selected. They don’t show tanks on the streets, but rather give the impression of poor, helpless police officers facing aggressive demonstrators. And around the central word, which clearly names the events, an ingenious egg dance is performed: “Morales accuses his self-proclaimed successor of a coup.”

Well, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. The Duden defines coup d’état as “a coup [attempt] by a smaller group of [military] to take over the power of the state”, which is a true description of what happened in Bolivia. But the Tagesschau does not drop this word without immediately devaluing it – it is only Morales who “accuses” a coup. After Morales had already been adorned with the label “ruler” when he was still in Bolivia, this formulation is supposed to suggest that this is not exactly what it is about.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert finally described the resignation of Morales, forced by the coup, as an “important step towards a peaceful solution”. Thus the official German attitude to this event was set, and the media follows obediently the given direction. Even though a coup is usually the exact opposite of a “peaceful solution”, as everyone knows, Chile in 1973 and Argentina in 1976 still have some memories. A coup by the right-wing military is always a guarantee of violence, torture and murder. There were times when politicians from the right wing of the Union parties were left to express their sympathy for the military dictatorship in Chile, and publications such as the ZEIT sharply criticised them (the article at the time should be read to see how deeply the German press has fallen since then). Today, even the Neue Deutschland has disappeared so far into the butt of German power politics that it seriously publishes a pro and contra debate about the coup, and the foreign policy spokesman of the Greens finds that the military “made the right decision”.

Germany’s love for the putschists is in no way inferior to that of the US, nor is its greed for raw materials that can be captured as cheaply as possible – the termination of a contract by Morales with a German company for lithium mining probably contributed to this. In Anti-Spiegel, Thomas Röper dealt extensively with what led him to write about the “Greta Putsch”.

As in Brazil and, less successfully, in Venezuela, the supporters of the coup d’état are recruited from the white middle class. This reveals one of the Achilles heels common to all social democratic reform governments in Latin America. All of them, be it Lula and Rousseff in Brazil, be it Morales or Correa, have succeeded in improving the situation of many people in their countries, even without seriously damaging the existing property system. As a small example, only 13% of the Brazilian population in the early 1990s had an education equivalent to a lower secondary school degree and only 4% had a university degree – by 2018, 55.6% of the non-white majority were able to attend school beyond primeiro grão, which is a huge step forward, even though the proportion of white Brazilians is still significantly higher at 78.8%.

But it is precisely these advances that make the white middle class a willing dispositive mass for the oligarchy and foreign string pullers. This white middle class was accustomed to being able to afford service personnel and firmly booking well-paid positions in business and administration for their offspring, regardless of their abilities or performance. However, more than ten years of expansive education policy have created competition, and this class reacts viciously to these changes. This was evident even in Germany in the referendum on the six-year primary school in Hamburg. In Latin America this attitude manifests itself even more strongly when those who live in condominiums with air conditioning, three cars and maids suddenly find their children competing with the children of those who live in huts without bathrooms and pushing their way into public buses. When the privileges of skin colour are called into question, the existing racism appears on a broad front, and the contempt for the majority population, black or indigenous, becomes the driving force behind a fascist mob. (And it has its very own charm when the Greens, who like to act as banners of anti-racism here, embrace him intimately, in Bolivia as they did in Ukraine).

The development in the whole of Latin America seems from a distance like a repetition of the coup threshold from Guatemala (1954) to Argentina (1976) in fast motion. The social democratic governments, more or less tolerated for years, are all targeted and overthrown together; one could believe that colonial power is in the process of strengthening. In reality, however, these actions are signs of weakness, and a reaction to a new player on the Latin American field – China. The Chinese are now not only the most important trading partners for large parts of Latin America, they are also the largest investors. No wonder that this is not only causing the displeasure of the United States (even the competitors for the Bolivian lithium treaty were Chinese). Parts of the comprador elite could be tempted to reorient themselves. The attempt to tighten the reins in Latin America is intended to prevent them from slipping completely out of hand; there is no other explanation for the fact that so many places are ignited simultaneously.

However, the drama has not yet reached the final stage, as the majority of the populations of the countries concerned are also involved. In Chile, 3.7 million people were on the streets in one day to protest against the neoliberal president, which is almost one in four inhabitants. In Brazil, Bolsonaro has not achieved half the dictatorship he would have liked and is now in a media war with Globo, the largest television station that helped bring him to power. In Bolivia, it is not thousands but tens or hundreds of thousands who continue to protest against the coup, despite arrests and dozens of deaths. The Aymara militia, Ponchos Rojos, which has up to one hundred thousand militarily trained and presumably armed members, has called for armed resistance. Even if the putschists can rely on extremely right-wing, white militias and meanwhile guarantee police and military impunity for any act of violence, this will not be enough.

In exile in Mexico, Morales was also questioned about the call of the Ponchos Rojos. “I am surprised that there is talk of civil war, because if the armed power does not stand up for democracy, it means that the people are forced to arm themselves. We did not want that. I personally do not want that, but when such groups emerge, when we are heading for a civil war, it is the fault first of the extreme right and then of those commanders who do not stand up for democracy. Of course, the people have the right to free themselves.”

This is not only true in Bolivia. The fires set in many places could unite to form a conflagration at the end of which there is a new Latin America that has finally stripped off the old colonial shackles.


In the meantime the coup government has set up a special unit at the public prosecutor’s office to arrest members of parliament and senators who are “subverting”. … It can no longer be denied that this is about fascism.



Thanks to the author for the right to publish.


Picture hint: Devin Beaulieu / Shutterstock


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