A coup by any other name: on Bolivia

Kevin Leon


On Sunday, November 10, Evo Morales abruptly stepped down as President of Bolivia after protests against the recent election that declared him President again intensified. This came after his presidential campaign’s recent win over Carlos Mesa.

Opponents of Morales claimed that the election had been tampered with, and that a runoff election between Morales and Mesa should have been held. As votes were being totaled, the count froze for twenty-four hours before resuming, with Morales having gained a decisive lead.

Hours before his resignation, Morales had declared that a new election would take place, a promise he said he would fulfill if the Organization of American States had found irregularities in the election. The OAS published a report saying they had.

Many articles have been posted on news sites since the event. What stands out about the majority of U.S. news coverage is the reluctance to use the word “coup” to describe what has happened in Bolivia.

The New York Times has published several pieces chronicling the timeline of events that led to Morales’ resignation. None, however, directly refer to the resignation as a coup. Instead, they feature phrases such as “Military calls on president to step down” and “Bolivia’s President Resigns Amid Election-Fraud allegations.” The framing in these headlines diverts attention from the violence that took place and instead makes it seem as though the demonstrations were honorably calling for democracy.

Morales resigned shortly after the Bolivian military called for his resignation. Many leaders have called this power grab a coup, ranging from Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro to the UK Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn.

A common argument to hear is that it isn’t being called a coup because it’s not one. It’s people who want democracy reestablished in their country protesting and fighting for their human rights. And while there are definitely people who are unhappy with Morales, if it weren’t a coup, why is he fleeing the country? If the protesters were marching for a new, fair election, then shouldn’t Morales be a part of that election? The democratic route would see him lose in a follow-up vote, not by being forced to leave the country.

As President Trump celebrates Morales’ resignation, the memory of the United States’ twentieth-century interventionism in Latin America resurfaces. It’s not extreme to label what has happened in Bolivia as a coup. It’s more extreme to brush it off as just democracy in action, given what other South American countries have gone through due to military coups.