By Comrade Aziz
On November 10, 2019, President Evo Morales of the plurinational state of Bolivia was forced to resign and subsequently flee the country due to pressure from the armed forces and the upper segments of Bolivian society. Both groups had the support of the United States. The general view among socialist or communist circles is that the president was removed due to his resource nationalist and anti-imperialist tendencies, epitomized by the gradual renationalization of the oil and gas sector in Bolivia, as well as alignment with Venezuela and Cuba in international affairs.
The above standard narrative in the aforementioned circles has a problem because it does not consider the timing of the coup: the positions and actions of the Morales government date back nearly 15 years (2004) before the coup d’état. Why is the coup’s timing significant? The traditional imperial master of Bolivia, the United States, was more preoccupied with the Middle East during that time, and perhaps only had limited resources to dedicate to a relatively minor country in South America.
The timing of the coup could also partly be attributed to the difficulty in regrouping and reorganizing the varied and often conflicting domestic opponents of the Morales administration. After all, the Morales government policies appealed to a solid majority of the population — while the individual material interests of the domestic bourgeoisie remained in competition.
However, since the capitalist economic crisis of 2008-9, the rate of profit has remained low and world economic growth is significantly below the pre-crisis period. This is especially the case in the traditional centers of imperial power, North America and Western Europe. Austerity policies failed to reverse this and have only increased domestic, social, and political tensions in these respective countries
Meanwhile countries such as China and India, while also being hit with slower growth, still remain influential economically in comparison. Moreover, in many industries, including advanced technology, they are beginning to challenge the oligopolies of the traditional imperial powers. This has given them more ability to flex their muscles on the geopolitical scene, depriving the traditional imperial powers of sources of profit in resource rich and low cost labour regions. These profits could have been used to ease the internal problems listed earlier.
Imperial Competition and Inter-Imperial Rivalry
In this context, trigger for the coup in Bolivia may indeed have been the decisions of the Morales administration to allow Chinese and (to a lesser extent) European companies to develop its lithium deposits in exchange for 51% ownership stakes in many of these operations. Such development would further realign Bolivia into non-U.S. spheres of influence, thereby increasing its dependence on competitors both major (in the case of China) and minor (in the case of Europe). The profit sharing would also present an opportunity for the Morales administration to further cement its domestic support, at least in the short and medium term by providing funding for popular social and development programmes.
This latter point may also help explain the domestic elite’s alignment on this issue with the United States, since Morales’ government has been a significant impediment to their relative wealth and status.