Coups ain’t wot they used to be …

30 Jun
Bolivia’s President Luis Arce with General Juan Jose Zúñiga on the Day of the Army, December 2022.
ON TUESDAY Bolivia’s President Luis Arce fired General Zúñiga for threatening to detain former President Evo Morales should he seek another term in the 2025 elections.
ON WEDNESDAY Zúñiga led hundreds of heavily armed soldiers, faces covered, to surround the former government palace where he declared, “there will be a new cabinet of ministers … our State cannot continue like this. We want to recover our homeland.”  An armored vehicle was slammed into the gates of the Palacio Quemado, and the soldiers invaded it.
ON THURSDAY Zúñiga and Vice Adm. Juan Arnez Salvador, former head of the Navy, were charged with  terrorism and armed uprising.
WSWS, June 27 2024 – Short-lived military coup fails against Arce in Bolivia

There was a time, and not so long ago, when the inner circle of a comprador ruling class in Latin America – alarmed at the leftism of an elected government and, if not having Uncle Sam onside as accessory before  the fact, confident of his blessing after – could make a few calls to usher in one of those military coups the continent once excelled at, with all the usual trimmings of death squad and disappearance, grim repression and rule of law replaced by rule of fear.

The Bolivian government of Luis Arce should have been a case in point. It was and (since a coup of four hours, from kick-off to ringleader in handcuffs, may have passed you by) still is intent on joining BRICS. It has severed ties with Israel, 1 part nationalised oil and other resources, and for good measure saw its president seated by Vladimir Putin’s side at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum a fortnight ago. 2 What could be more infuriating to any self respecting shadowy junta; what more calculated to see it flick switches and pull levers to work that old familiar magic by which such a government is notified by tanks on the palace lawn that its services are no longer required?

All the more so when high inflation grips the country (as it does most others) and a rift between Sr. Arce and Evo Morales – another parliamentary socialist who knows a thing or two about far right coups – weakens the governing party. Said rift being more personal than political, and on the face of it given the lie by Arce’s firing of would-be king-maker, Juan Jose Zúñiga, for issuing threats to Morales. 3

In the late 20th century this would have been a walk in the park. But then, US backed coups – be they in Latin America or Belarus, Kazakhstan or Syria – ain’t wot they used to be. In fact the only ones that seem to work these days are those that eschew US backing in favour of that of The People. Witness those which ejected France from, and weakened the USA within, the West African Sahel. Most recently in Niger.

If you’re still reading, that’s likely because it’s been clear to you – perhaps for longer than it has to me – that our systemically power-serving media will be of meagre value in helping us make sense of what happened in Bolivia on Wednesday, June 26. Might I therefore suggest this, from the Socialist Equality Party hosts of World Socialist Website. I’m not an SEP member and it’s off the scale unlikely I’ll ever become one. I do share a great deal of their analysis of what ails the world but, as I put it three years ago:

I reject revolution as envisaged by Marx and modified by Lenin because, in the West at least, that ship has sailed. Seizing state power is not going to happen for two reasons. One, the industrial conditions so ably depicted by Marx and Engels no longer hold. With manufacturing exported to the global south, the proletariat has lost both its muscle and the conditions whereby its exploitation was experienced en masse.

Two, the British and all other Western ‘democracies’ are armed to the teeth, versed in the black arts of counterinsurgency … and equipped with tools of surveillance beyond the wildest dreams of the twentieth century totalitarianisms.

Nevertheless, this WSWS piece on the coup and its context supplies more detail – and richer by far analysis – than you’re likely to find in Guardian or Economist.

Short-lived military coup fails against Arce in Bolivia

Andrea Lobo,27 June 2024

Bolivian President Luis Arce named a new military high command on Wednesday in the wake of an abortive military coup launched by the former commander of the Army, Gen. Juan José Zúñiga.

In one of the most short-lived attempts in Bolivia’s long history of coups, just over four hours passed between Zúñiga’s declaration of his bid to overthrow the government and his arrest at 7 p.m. (local time). 

On Tuesday, Arce deposed General Zúñiga from his post for threatening to detain former President Evo Morales if the latter seeks another term in the August 2025 elections.

A day later, Zúñiga led hundreds of heavily armed soldiers with faces covered to surround the former government palace, Palacio Quemado, which is adjacent to the new building in the capital, La Paz. 

At the Plaza Murillo in front of the palace, Zúñiga declared, “There will be a new cabinet of ministers, surely there will be changes, but our State cannot continue like this. We want to recover our homeland.”

An armored vehicle was then slammed into the gates of the Palacio Quemado, and the soldiers invaded it with rifles and shields.

Inside the building, Arce unsuccessfully ordered Zúñiga to remove the troops.

Protests and a general strike had been called by Arce, his ministers, Evo Morales and the main union body, the Bolivian Workers Central (COB). Hundreds of demonstrators began gathering around the Plaza Murillo to tell the heavily armed soldiers to “Get out!” 

Morales cited reports that snipers had been placed around Plaza Murillo as proof that the coup had been prepared beforehand …

Read the full piece at WSWS …

* * *

  1. Severing ties with Israel may be of little direct concern to Bolivia’s elite but, insofar as it must irk Washington, is of no small indirect concern. As a comprador class, that elite operates on US sufferance.
  2. I dare say the ‘shadowy junta’ can live with those seating arrangements at St Peterburg. Less so with what they symbolise; viz, deals with Russian and Chinese companies in the critical arenas of lithium and other mineral extraction in Washington’s back yard.
  3. Whatever the nature of the Arce-Morales spat, for Arce to allow a top general to get so far above his station as to threaten Morales with jail time for the crime of running for re-election would have sent the clearest possible signal that his administration had lost the will to live.

4 Replies to “Coups ain’t wot they used to be …

  1. Having been trounced by the people, those behind the coup are arguing that (a) it was a fake coup engineered by the President himself to boost his popularity and that (b) this notion has traction in Bolivia and will undermine what they pronounce an “unstable” government (fostering instability is of course their aim). The West’s propagandists are absolutely shameless (and the Observer/Guardian always happy to act as their megaphone).

    • Indeed. As this article from Strategic Culture observes…..

      “It appears that Bolivian officials let Zuñiga burn himself to test the chances of a real coup being successful. As commander of the armed forces, Zuñiga knew that other officers have serious coup inclinations and that is why he made the attempt, otherwise he would not have been so bold…..

      …..The defeat of the coup impulses in Bolivia is essential to prevent the continental coup plans made by American imperialism, which have already succeeded in Argentina and Ecuador and which have Brazil as their main target, because the USA cannot tolerate Brazil with a government like this one under Lula for a long time…..

      ….Latin America, unfortunately, is still today the “backyard” of the USA. Faced with the complicated international situation, especially in Ukraine, East Asia and the Middle East, with successive defeats, American imperialism needs to ensure control of the continent. This is one of the few points on which Joe Biden and Donald Trump agree. Therefore, regardless of what happens in the American elections, Latin America will be in the eye of the storm from now on.”

      However, there is more than one way to organise and affect a coup.

      As noted here by Simplicus:

      “Biden is obviously no worse today than he was just a day ago, a week ago, or even months ago. The debate showed no sudden inexplicable “change”, apart from his slightly hoarse voice, claimed to be the result of a ‘cold’. As other commentators have noted, it’s obvious they moved the debate up to a much earlier date than normal (the first 2020 debate was nearly in October) in order to give the DNC time to dump Biden and find someone new. That much is indisputable and is only confirmed by the contrived “shock” by people who long knew—but purposely concealed and dismissed—Biden’s total mental incompetence. …

      …..It was, nonetheless, amusing to see how quickly corporate media switched up on Biden, here suddenly characterizing his administration as ruled by the ‘oligarchy’: ”

      Interesting times.

      • Since Strategic Culture offer no evidence for the first of the passages you cite, and since much remains unclear, we can neither rule in or out Wednesday’s move being a feint pending the real deal.

        This much is clear though. Economic activity by Chinese and Russian operators is increasing on the continent, Bolivia included. And Russian warships have steamed into Havana. Acceleration of both would be fully in line with Moscow’s promise of payback after the Crimea atrocity a week ago.

        Let it not be said that steel city scribe missed yet another opportunity to unfurl his favourite double map:

      • The plot thickens. Here’s Andrew Korybko today:

        Former Bolivian President Evo Morales and incumbent Argentine President Javier Milei, who represent the far-left and far-right respectively, have both come out to officially accuse current Bolivian President Luis Arce of faking last week’s failed coup attempt. General Juan Jose Zuniga had earlier claimed that Arce asked him to stage some political drama in order to boost his popularity amidst intra-leftist tensions with Morales and a rapidly worsening economic-financial crisis, but it wasn’t initially deemed credible.

        Here too there’s no evidence. If the fog of war makes things barely penetrable, that just after a coup, failed or otherwise, can be denser than a hexadecimal dump!

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