Reading the news regarding Bolivia over the past couple of weeks has left me thinking a lot about Jurassic Park. More specifically what the author of Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton, coined as Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Crichton described this effect as “You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well…You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of the facts or the issues…In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs. And read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read.”
As most of us may know, on Nov. 10, Eva Morales stepped down from his post as President of Bolivia, but this isn’t the whole story. To see a fuller and more accurate picture, we have to know who Morales is in the first place. Morales was born to indigenous farmers in a small mining village where he grew up herding llamas. Later, becoming the union leader of coca growers, an industry that consisted heavily of former miners who had been laid off as a result of mid-80’s financial austerity in Bolivia. Through his life, Morales witnessed the effects of both colonial racism and neoliberal capitalism.
Morales defied all expectations when his campaigned for the Bolivian presidency by opposing corporate globalization and actually won, becoming the first ever Bolivian indigenous president. His supporters celebrated by waving the Wiphala flag, a flag symbolizing Bolivia’s indigenous people. Morales quickly got to work undoing centuries of colonialism by appointing indigenous activists to major positions in government and centering indigenous concerns in the national dialogue as well as the rewritten Bolivian constitution. With the political party he founded, Movement Toward Socialism, Bolivia began implementing recovery measures with huge success. The GDP grew by over 50%, poverty fell from 60% to 35%, and extreme poverty fell even steeper from 38% to 15%. On these popular reforms, Morales was reelected twice.
Like all Presidential administrations, Morales wasn’t perfect. Many have criticized him for seeking a fourth term in office, which was a violation of the Bolivian constitution. The Bolivian legislature narrowly voted to not grant him another term, but the Bolivian courts struck them down and ruled that Morales was cleared to run again. Morales won 47.1% of the vote, a large enough plurality to not require a run-off election against the second-place candidate. The Organization of American States then claimed that there were irregularities in the voting process without any actual proof, with the Center for Economic and Policy Research disputing this claim. Morales, confident of his popularity, offered to run new elections regardless. Despite this, the military asked him to step down. Wanting to stop the ongoing violence against his family members and party colleagues, he did and left for Mexico in order to gain political asylum.
This coup fits a sinister pattern that points to an obvious suspect. The United States has a habit of destabilizing foreign powers if they don’t cooperate in giving American corporations the resources they want or if they get too close to achieving functional socialism. This isn’t a tinfoil-hat conspiracy, these are open secrets that the US government has declassified and admitted. A few notable examples are the following (A more comprehensive list would require one to see Seth Lester’s “U.S. Policy in Latin America” presentation for Alma YDSA): In 1912, the US occupied Nicaragua and installed an authoritarian government for bananas; In 1916, the US began a brutal nineteen year occupation of Haiti for sugar; In 1919, the US engaged in a military intervention in Honduras for more bananas; In 1954, the US carried out a CIA operation to depose the democratically elected Guatemalan president and replace him with a decades-long brutal military dictatorship so the United Fruit Company could maintain profits; In 1973, the US carried out another CIA operation to depose the democratically elected socialist Chilean president and replace him with a 15 year- long fascist regime in order to avoid the positive example a socialist government might set; In 2003, the US started a a war in Iraq for oil; In 2009, the US used the Department of Defense to back coup in Honduras in order to take a leftist President out of office. All of these actions resulted in the unimaginably horrendous torture, rape, and murder of political dissidents that were far too gruesome to ever be described in a school newspaper. Yet all were justified by the American government due to the financial benefits it gave to US companies.
While we won’t know for many years the level of US involvement in the Bolivian crisis, we do know that the Trump administration has very publicly supported the coup. Western media has closely followed in Trump’s example and declared what happened in Bolivia as a victory for democracy.
As coup forces began to assert control over Bolivia and little-known lawmaker Jeanine Áñez declared herself president by ignoring succession rules, western media legitimized the illegal actions and initially downplayed the new government’s atrocities. Instead of reporting on the racist soldiers cutting off the Wiphala flag from their uniforms or how these soldiers were now being deployed to kill indigenous protestors, the media framed them as forces simply trying to “quell violence”. There is no focus on the racist tweets and remarks Áñez made against indigenous people, instead the western media like The New York Times frames the atrocities with calming headlines such as “In Bolivia, Interim Leader Sets Conservative, Religious Tone”.
So why the refusal to acknowledge what this historical pattern or even properly report on what is happening in Bolivia at this very moment? There’s no insidious conspiracy theory here, no shadowy figure secretly pulling the strings from behind the scenes. As I’ve said before, the real truth is that the mainstream media suffers from biases as a result of its structural values. And the structural values of both the media and the US government aren’t truth or justice, but instead the simple generating of profit. And until that changes, we should always take what these two institutions proudly declare with a heavy grain of salt. We might like to tell ourselves that these core democratic intuitions serve the people, but they won’t actually serve us until we really demand it and fundamentally restructure how they independently work. In the words of Jurassic Park’s Ellie Satler, “You never had control. That’s the illusion!”