Bolivian UN Ambassador: Racist Elite Engineered Coup to Restore Neoliberalism

Bolivian UN Ambassador: Racist Elite Engineered Coup to Restore Neoliberalism

Thousands marched across Bolivia Monday to demand the resignation of Jeanine Áñez, the right-wing senator who declared herself president of Bolivia last week after longtime socialist President Evo Morales resigned under pressure from the military. The coup d’état has thrown Bolivia into crisis, with violence across the country leaving at least 23 dead. On Friday, the military gunned down nine pro-Morales protesters outside Cochabamba, where indigenous people took to the streets again on Monday. Thousands more marched to the presidential palace in La Paz. The wave of protests are condemning the spike in anti-indigenous violence under interim President Áñez and demanding the return of Evo Morales. Áñez has a history of using racist, anti-indigenous language, and last week she issued a decree protecting the military from prosecution for violent acts and said that Morales would face prosecution if he returned to Bolivia. Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president, and Bolivia has a majority indigenous population. We speak with Sacha Llorenti, Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations since 2012. “We are going through not just a coup d’état, but a violent one,” Llorenti says.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Thousands marched across Bolivia on Monday to demand the resignation of Jeanine Áñez, the right-wing senator who declared herself president of Bolivia last week after longtime socialist President Evo Morales resigned under pressure from the military. The coup d’état has thrown Bolivia into crisis, with violence across the country leaving at least 23 dead. On Friday, the military gunned down nine pro-Morales protesters outside Cochabamba, where indigenous people took to the streets again on Monday. Thousands more marched to the presidential palace in La Paz. Self-proclaimed President Áñez canceled a trip to her home province after receiving a death threat. The wave of protests are condemning the spike in anti-indigenous violence under the interim president and demanding the return of Evo Morales. Áñez has a history of using racist, anti-indigenous language and has vowed to bring the Bible back to the presidency. Last week, she issued a decree protecting the military from prosecution for any violent acts and said that Morales would face prosecution himself if he returned to Bolivia.

AMY GOODMAN: Evo Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Bolivia has a majority-indigenous population. He spoke to Al Jazeera from Mexico, where he fled after his ouster.

EVO MORALES: [translated] I am absolutely convinced that these violent groups are bringing racism back. And racism turns into fascism. They burned union buildings, the houses of my comrades. They attacked the house of my sister. They looted my own house.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Sacha Llorenti, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, president of the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly. He’s speaking to us by — he’s speaking to us by phone.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Ambassador Llorenti, we don’t know where you are. Do you fear for your safety?

SACHA LLORENTI: I think that all Bolivians do right now. There’s a systematic persecution being directed by the ones that took power through violent means. Allow me to say good morning to you all also. But, I mean, those are not — those were not just threats. Who is now running the minister of government, who is the interior minister, has threatened to hand down members of MAS, of the Movement Toward Socialism, like animals. That’s what he said. But not just that, but also the woman who is in charge of the minister of communication, she said that she will persecute journalists, or “pseudojournalists,” as she put it, because they were committing acts of sedition. And those were not just threats, Amy. But if you read the report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, they reported that so far 23 people was killed — were killed, and more than 700 are wounded. So, we are going through not just a coup d’état, but a violent one. And they are continuing using violence against peaceful demonstrations.

One issue that is of our concern, and I think the international community has a common position on that, is that this dictatorship, they issued a decree — it’s called a supreme decree — that allows the military to act with impunity. This decree says that the military is able to conduct their operations, so to speak, without any fear of a legal procedure or for them not to be accountable. So, I think that people in my country is, of course, afraid. As President Morales also said in the interview that you just showed, not just members of our political party are being persecuted, not just members of the legislative body are persecuted, but also social leaders. Many houses were burned to ashes. And, I mean, there are some members of Evo’s Cabinet who are in asylum in embassies or had to flee to exile. So, it is like going back to the ’70s, really, Amy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ambassador Llorenti, I wanted to ask you — a lot is still not known in terms of details of what happened in the hours or days before President Morales resigned. Have you been able to talk with him and get a better sense of what happened? Because, clearly, there was a public announcement of the military that they recommended that he step down, but at that point, as far as the rest of the world knows, there was no direct activity by the military. Could you talk about, if you’ve had conversations with him, what you know about why he decided to resign and leave the country?

SACHA LLORENTI: Well, Juan, this was a very well-planned coup, because there were many, many factors that can really — that are being discussed right now. I had the chance to talk many times with President Morales, who is still the president, by the way, constitutionally speaking. We can get to that later.

But what happened was that, first, it was — as you know, the police and the military are the two institutions that have weapons, that are armed in Bolivia. The first one that joined the coup was the police. At the beginning, they refused to comply with the instructions of President Morales’s government. But then, after, they joined the demonstrators against the government. That was one part of the armed coup.

The second part was, even after President Morales publicly said that he’s willing to call for new elections, to elect a new electoral body and with new political actors, meaning that he will not be running for — on those elections — even when he said that, not just the chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces, but also of the police, recommended him to resign. But when someone that has weapons recommends you to do something, it’s a threat.

But even beyond that, Juan and Amy, this goes, I mean, to the safety of President Morales. Even before he resigned, even before he resigned, all his security was dismantled. He couldn’t use the presidential plane. And some loyal members of his security team showed him messages in which people were offering them $50,000 if they would hand him over. And there are videos that you can see that the police was handing him down even before his resignation. And it was worse after his resignation. Beyond that, when Mexico offered him asylum, the Bolivian military did not allow the Mexican plane to leave the country. Not just that, they didn’t allow the Mexican plane to fly over Bolivian airspace. So, there are many, many factors.

And just for me — I think this is very important. But once the self-proclaimed president, Senator Áñez, in his first interview, he thanked the police — she thanked the police, and she said that they will comply with all the offers they were given — I mean, the police was given, all the offers that were given. So, it was clearly a coup d’état run by the right-wing politicians and the eastern elite of Bolivia, but also by the police and the military.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play some of those who were talking about the Sacaba massacre. The Andean Information Network interviewed more than two dozen witnesses of the massacre in Bolivia Friday, speaking with the Institute of Forensic Investigations, and viewed the death certificates of those murdered. The witnesses did not want to be identified by their name, out of fear for their safety. This is one of them.

PROTESTER 1: [translated] They are saying the people from the MAS are attacking, but this is not true. They have come peacefully. And the journalists of Bolivia are not talking with people from here because they know they are going to tell the truth, and they do not want to unveil the truth. We are just asking for peace for Bolivia. Please. We do not want more dead. We do not want more sadness. You can see by yourself how many people have died.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is another demonstrator in Sacaba, speaking just after the massacre on Friday.

PROTESTER 2: [translated] I want to share my concerns with these police officers that have sold themselves to the ones that have the money, Camacho and Mesa. They are shooting us with helicopters like if they were at war. But they never had this war when Evo was president. But they are sending bullets and helicopters and tanks against us now. Today we have almost five or seven people dead.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it looks like there’s at least nine people dead, over a hundred injured. And you have the self-proclaimed president of Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez, previously calling indigenous communities “Satanic,” declaring her presidency will bring the Bible back to Bolivia. Bolivian Ambassador Sacha Llorenti, can you respond to who Jeanine Áñez is? And what is your role right now? I mean, can you walk into the consulate in New York where you resided?

SACHA LLORENTI: Well, first of all, this is — there’s an elite, mainly in the eastern part of the country, with a lot, a lot of money, that in 2008, you might remember, Amy, they wanted to split the country. They wanted to — they started a movement of secession of that part of the country. It’s powerful people that were directly affected by Evo Morales’ policies, mainly in terms of land, of other — of the administration of other natural resources and also the banks. So, it is not just Senator Áñez, but behind her there is a class, there is a — there are economic interests. They already started different policies that want to restore neoliberalism in Bolivia. Just I’m going to give you one example. They want to privatize some of the endeavors that Evo Morales built during the last 14 years, and they want to get rid of all the regulations for exports in Bolivia. We used to regulate exports in order to keep the prices low in Bolivia and to guarantee that everyone gets those products in the country. But now they are getting rid of those regulations in order for them to get more, I mean, profit mainly. So, there is a clear economic project by these people. It is not just this senator that is now the self-proclaimed president of my country. There is a real path to destroy all the things that we have achieved in the past 14 years. That’s one thing.

The second thing is that it is a racist elite. You know, one of the first things they’ve done, not just in one place, in many — in different cities in Bolivia, they burned down the Wiphala. That’s the indigenous flag. I remember that they’ve done that in 2008, and the U.N. clearly stated that that was a racist act, because that is an indigenous symbol, that is also recognized by the Constitution adopted by — in 2009. So, we are talking about an economic plan. They do have an economic project. They do have a social project, which is, I mean, the restoration of this racist way of running the state.

But at the same time, they are aligned with the policies of the White House. The first things that they’ve done is to recognize the other self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, Guaidó. They expelled all the Venezuelan diplomats, and they expelled the medical workers, the Cuban medical workers, the Cuban staff that helped a great deal in terms of reaching the more isolated communities in Bolivia. So, this is what’s happening. And it’s no surprise that one of the first countries that recognized Senator Áñez was precisely the United States.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ambassador Llorenti, we only have a couple of minutes, but I wanted to ask you two questions; I’m wondering if you could respond to them briefly. One is: What’s been the response of the international community? Because, clearly, the self-proclaimed president, as I understand it, has fired most of the ambassadors that President Morales appointed around the world. How are they reacting to those orders? And also, your — looking back at the original unrest under President Morales as a result of his decision to continue to run for another term, even though it was against the original referendum that he supported of term limits, your sense of whether any mistakes were made by the movement that he’s a part of?

SACHA LLORENTI: Well, as for to your first question, Juan, I mean, I think that the most part of the international community is looking closely to what’s happening. They are really concerned about, for example, that decree that gives impunity to the military. And they want fair elections. I think that the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, Michelle Bachelet as the high commissioner for human rights, I mean, they stress that very, very clearly. There are many, many governments that are not recognizing that one. There’s just a handful that have. And I think that the only ways in which we could solve this problem is through a negotiation, in order to have transparent elections and with the full participation of the Movement Toward Socialism. And they have to guarantee that. And also they have to stop the repression and persecution.

And your other question about was mistakes. I think that, of course, I mean, we made mistakes. The process of change, as it is called, the Bolivian revolution, was made by human beings. And we made many mistakes along the way, but there were great successes, Juan. I mean, we have reduced poverty like no other, from 38% of extreme poverty to 15%. We have raised the quality of millions of people that now are part of the middle class — and, in parentheses, many of them are now protesting against the government that set all the conditions for them to improve in their lives. And also, in terms of child mortality, to protect — you know that Bolivia is the — according to the World Economic Forum, it is the 17th country in the world in terms of reducing gender gap, the 17th, way behind many, many European countries, because there were policies directed to that goal. So, we’ve done — of course there were mistakes, but I think that many, many, many, many, many good things were done correctly.

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Llorenti, we only have 30 seconds. Do you think the U.S. was involved with the coup?

SACHA LLORENTI: I mean, I think that the OAS is the pawn of the United States government, and of course they were involved. They were part of the coup, and also they acted in coordination with the calendar of the coup.

AMY GOODMAN: And were you fired?

SACHA LLORENTI: Well, they tried to fire me, but they can’t because I’m recognized by the Credentials Committee of the United Nations. I’m still the ambassador of Bolivia to the United Nations. I will not recognize that dictatorship, and I’ll continue to do my job in the best of my capacities.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the president would be killed if he went to Bolivia?

SACHA LLORENTI: They will try — they tried to kill him. They tried to him, for sure. And he saved his life because of he was protected by peasants in Cochabamba.

AMY GOODMAN: Sacha Llorenti, we want to thank you for being with us, Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, president of the First Committee of the U.N. General Assembly.

When we come back, in an abrupt reversal, the Trump administration announces it no longer views Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to be a violation of international law. Stay with us.