Freddy Condo, a former vice-minister under Evo Morales, talks about Bolivia’s coup regime, the role of social movements and prospects for the election scheduled for October.
In November of last year, a coup overthrew Bolivian president Evo Morales, and rightwing politician Jeanine Áñez took his place. Her government has since led a wave of repression that has left over 20 people dead and established a climate of fear and political persecution in the country.
New elections are now tentatively scheduled to take place in October of this year. The Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), Morales’ political party, is participating in the election, as is Áñez, former president Carlos Mesa and other candidates.
I spoke with Freddy Condo in La Paz this past March about the political landscape in the country. Condo is an advisor to the National Federation of Women Rural Workers of Bolivia ‘Bartolina Sisa’, and was a vice-minister of rural and agricultural development during Morales’ first term in office. He worked in the Huanuni mines as a young man, participating actively in the labour struggles in this militant sector. Condo has advised indigenous, labour and campesino movements in Bolivia for decades.
In this interview, Condo speaks about the role of the right, military and police in the coup, the political and social climate under the Áñez government, the MAS’s relations with social movements and prospects for the upcoming general election.
How do you see the conflictive times of October and November of last year?
What I’ve seen from a constitutional framework is a coup d’etat. There is no justification. So, Áñez self-proclaims as the president. But who is the one who puts the presidential sash on her? It should be the parliament, right? But the general commander of the armed forces is the one who does it. That tells us clearly that the protocols established in the legal framework haven’t been observed.
The police and military were crucial in ousting Morales. Can you talk about their role in this coup?
Apparently, during the 14-year period [under the MAS], the armed forces were assisted like never before – their budget was increased, they received war equipment, it was like giving them a raison d’être. The Air Force, for instance, didn’t have planes, didn’t have helicopters, nothing! Now they have all that. So, what happened?
You can’t change a way of thinking going back years and generations. Commanders entered the military 30 or 35 years ago, so expecting to change them overnight is very difficult. I think [the MAS government] didn’t read the situation very well, they thought the Armed Forces had changed.
You have several Mamanis and Condoris [Indigenous surnames] who joined as cadets, but they still are second lieutenants or lieutenants at best, a low rank, while the others remained.
In the police force, however, there were sergeants. And there’s a lot of privilege there. For instance, telling them they will retire with ‘the 100 per cent’. Any member of the military when they retire, they receive 100 per cent of their income. It was a difficult problem. We’re talking about 200,000 or 300,000 high-ranking officers, and more than 35,000 in the police forces. The budget isn’t enough. So, these kind of promises – telling the police their salary will be raised, they’ll have a better standard of living – all that led to a dissatisfaction. Those are existing problems within the forces. I don’t know how they missed this.
Could you please describe the right in power now, their characteristics, economic ties and political horizon?
There have always been – and I don’t think they’ll disappear – groups that are very strong economically speaking, and who are linked to transnational companies, the international banking sector, commerce, sectors who were losing ground.
Nowadays, an Aymara or Quechua person can go to China and get the goods they need without relying on a businessman. The low middle-class sectors who have emigrated from the countryside to the cities became economically strong. That has to be said. The Aymara is a natural tradesman, they like trading. So if he has the chance to go to China, he would go and get what he needs. So, that commercial sector was losing ground.
There are also smaller sectors that are managing credit for the small and medium companies. So, some groups within the banking sector have benefited, but at the same time they began feeling a decline. The same thing begins to happen in other sectors like quinoa growers, cacao producers etc, who have been exporting their product themselves.
As for the right, there’s no leadership. Right now there’s a bid for political power within the right. They can’t unify and build a political front. There’s no possibility of a unified front in the right. They will go for the lesser evil. There are three options in that regard – Carlos Mesa, Añez, Camacho.
So it will be very difficult for the three groups to unite. When I say they’ll go for the lesser evil, it means that what they’re waiting for is the runoff, maybe then it will happen. If MAS can exceed 10 per cent [of a lead in the general election], and the others keep fragmenting, the MAS will govern again.
How do you see the country’s political atmosphere under the Áñez government?
It’s an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty, and many people in the state don’t feel their jobs are secured. Nobody guarantees stability. They wonder what happens if Áñez is not reelected and someone else takes power, and then they have to face another change.
There is a fear of the minister of government [Arturo Murillo], who has a very dark past due to his links to the dictatorship, if you read his speeches and declarations you see they’re violent and threatening. It breaks with the scheme of peaceful coexistence.
And that is in line with the discourse of the economy minister who calls for privatisation, and return to the businessmen who never had the will to reinvest.
I think social movements are making a big effort, even if many leaders feel very insecure and intimidated from different sides and in different ways.
Can you describe the MAS’s relations to social movements now? Can you talk about the present juncture for the MAS?
Had there been a greater political-ideological training, and especially if during these last four or five years the social organisations had worked to become stronger, mainly middle-class sectors, unions etc, I think the force of the response to the MAS [crisis] would’ve been much stronger.
In the peasant-indigenous union movement, they feel twice as committed. First, they’re the creators of the Political Instrument [of the MAS party]. So, they see it as a child who stumbled and needs to be helped.
As for the other actors, such as the middle class, we’ll see how they proceed. It strikes me that sectors considered allies by the Political Instrument, such as the intellectuals and teachers, were expected to be more committed [in defense of the MAS], but there’s no reaction. We see a complete vacuum.
We simply have the initial social base, which was the Unity Pact, the marginal neighbourhoods, like El Alto, although not every place there, because El Alto is a conglomerate of social sectors.
It is the people who are the most committed. I’d say, as a criticism and self-criticism, there is a weakness in the leadership.
The people are forced to accept a candidate who is not the best one for social movements, but out of discipline and love for the Political Instrument, they have accepted it. And they’ve done so without major objections.
We’ll see what happens after this election. We’ll see how much strength social movements still have. I still think that today the idea that the Political Instrument can provide some answers is predominating. And that forces them to unite more in the face of an aggressive, abusive and overbearing social class, a class which is not open to dialogue. Terror and fear is not the best discourse.
Transcribed and translated by Nancy Piñeiro. Edited for length and clarity.