Over the weekend, Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced out by the country’s military, after which he accepted exile in Mexico. Almost as soon as the news hit the wires, it was obvious that mainstream American media was going to absolutely shit the bed when it came to reporting the news.
Dicey times in Bolivia. Morales had taken several end runs around a democratic process but let’s hope it is a democratic process that succeeds him https://t.co/UIFf639orU— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) November 11, 2019
Morales was the nation’s first indigenous president, a left-wing populist who first took office in 2006; nearly 14 years later, his presidency has been broadly acknowledged, even by capitalists, as being hugely successful in growing the nation’s economy and drastically reducing inequality and poverty. In October, he ran for a fourth term and won a heavily scrutinized re-election with a plurality of the vote; because Morales’s margin of victory was over 10 points larger than that of Carlos Mesa, the runner-up — thus avoiding a December runoff — the nation’s elections board confirmed Morales as the winner of a fourth term.
This weekend, the Organization of American States published an audit of the election arguing that the results had been manipulated, and thus new elections should be held. (Kevin Cashman of the Center for Economic Policy and Research has an informative Twitter thread calling into question the OAS’s findings.) The next day, Morales yielded to the call for new elections, but it was too late: by the end of the weekend, Morales had been forced to resign after a demand from the country’s military to step down.
THREAD: If you haven't been following the situation in Bolivia here's a rundown. Briefly, the OAS, an emboldened opposition (which clearly is not the most popular party in the country), the media, and the Trump admin ousted a successful leftist leader. For the longer story:— Kevin Cashman (@kevinmcashman) November 11, 2019
If you were getting the news from most mainstream outlets in America, you could be forgiven for interpreting Morales’s resignation as the result of a polite request, rather than what it really was: a coup d’etat.
Few media organizations would come out and say this. The New York Times, for example, said that Morales resigned as a result of “unrelenting protests by an infuriated population.“ The paper also noted that Morales had sought a fourth term in office, only being able to do so after a “court packed with loyalists” had ruled term limits to be unconstitutional in 2017. Bolivian judges are elected, and while the list of candidates was selected by the majority-socialist legislature, the OAS — the same organization that said the most recent election results were tainted — reported that in the judicial elections in 2017, “popular will was expressed freely and peacefully.” In terms of blatantly undemocratic actions, it falls somewhere shy of, say, changing the rules of the legislature to ram a bunch of unqualified, right-wing judges through to lifetime seats on the nation’s highest courts.
Furthermore, let’s introduce just a bit of context. The New York Times is the paper of record in a city where new Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg effectively did the same thing to run for a third term as mayor in 2009, in a state where the recently re-elected governor has already announced plans to run for a fourth term in 2022. There are valid criticisms to be made of allowing someone to be elected an unlimited amount of times, but no one at the Times would’ve dared call Bloomberg an authoritarian for bending the council to his will.
And given the other very real threats to democracy in America — restrictions on access to voting, gerrymandering, jailing people for the crime of casting a ballot, and so on — the fact that the Times isn’t raising hell every day gives the impression that they hold other countries to not only different standards than the U.S., but higher ones as well.
Not to be outdone were the ghouls occupying the nation’s worst editorial boards. The Washington Post editorial board blamed Morales’s “insatiable appetite for power” for Bolivia’s troubles, and more broadly “polarization between left- and right-wing regimes” for the uncertainty on how all of this will shake out — the United States definitely bears no blame for how we got there. And while acknowledging the military’s role in Morales’s ouster and that it “led to a dangerous power vacuum,” the Post insisted it “was not a coup in the usual sense.”
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, wouldn’t even grant that, saying Morales is a “a victim of his own efforts to steal another election,” noting again the abolition of term limits under Morales. Just three days ago, the same editorial board groveled at Bloomberg’s feet to jump into the Democratic primary. It’s different, though. Why? Because it is.
Also missing from much of the reporting is an acknowledgment that many Bolivians can still remember a time when a line of military dictatorships, some worse than others, ruled the country. Which brings us to probably the worst piece of Bolivia punditry, Atlantic writer Yascha Mounk’s insistence that what happened in Bolivia was in fact not a coup but a “victory” for “democracy” that should “terrify” both leftist leaders like Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and “far-right populists, such as Hungary’s Orbán or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.” To believe this, you’d need to believe that the military is usually a neutral and non-ideological actor in a nation’s political proceedings, and not what it usually is: An institution that’s nationalist by definition. Which is to say you’d have to be hopelessly naive to believe this shit.
No, Evo Morales' resignation is not a coup; it is one of the few big victories democracy has won in recent years.— Yascha Mounk (@Yascha_Mounk) November 11, 2019
Both leftist dictators, like Venezuela's Maduro, and far-right populists, like Hungary’s Orbán, should be terrified by it.
Don’t take my word for it. Morales’s resignation was such a resounding victory for democracy, such an impressive warning shot to far-right populists that it was applauded by the White House. “These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail,” Donald Trump said in a statement. “We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.” Sure we are.
There is no world in which you can credibly claim to be both a supporter of democracy and also welcome the notion that it is generally delivered at the barrel of a gun. But more importantly, it’s exceedingly clear that considering our track record on exporting democracy to Iraq (and Libya, and Honduras, and so on), our most visible sources of punditry — in a country that bears as much responsibility for any “instability” in South America as any one leader — have absolutely no credibility when it comes to differentiating a good democracy from a bad one. If anyone should be scared by these events, it’s hardly those in power.