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When the Organization of American States misled everyone into thinking that Bolivia’s presidential elections were fraudulent, it made the coup against Evo Morales possible, says CEPR’s Mark Weisbrot.

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GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Arlington, Virginia.

Protests against the coup government in Bolivia and the violent repression of these protests have continued almost every day since President Evo Morales was forced to resign last week. Last Thursday, the de facto interim president, Jeanine Anez, issued a decree that exempts Bolivia’s military from criminal prosecution when maintaining public order.

In other words, she gave the military a free pass to use lethal force against Morales supporters, which immediately they took advantage of. As a result, the death toll has climbed to 23 with nine protesters being killed just over the past weekend. The Anez government is a far right Christian fundamentalist one that has promised to bring the Bible back to prominence in Bolivia. Also, she has broken off relations with Venezuela, expelled Cuban doctors and withdrew Bolivia from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.

As the consequences of the coup have become clearer, it makes sense to look back at how the Organization of American States, the OAS, enabled this coup. Bolivia’s opposition justified the coup on the basis of OAS election observer claims that the October 20th presidential election was highly suspicious. Even though Morales had committed to holding new elections as a result of an OAS audit, this was not good enough for the opposition and the military, which proceeded to force his ouster. He is now an exile in Mexico.

Joining me now to discuss the OAS role in the coup in Bolivia is Mark Weisbrot. He is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and is author of the book Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong about the Global Economy. Thanks for joining us again, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for inviting me, Gregory.

GREG WILPERT: The main controversy about the election, which the OAS generated, had to do with the margin of victory. The very first election result report from the so-called quick count showed Morales ahead with about 8% of the vote, which was below the 10% point margin that was required to avoid a runoff election. And later official results show that Morales had 10.4% ahead of his main opponent, Carlos Mesa, but the OAS expressed “deep concern and surprise at the drastic and hard to explain change in the trend of the preliminary results.” Now, however, an analysis that your colleagues at CEPR conducted last week shows us that Morales’ vote count was actually part of an existing trend and quite easy to explain. Tell us about what you found.

MARK WEISBROT: Yes, this is very, very, very important because I think this allegation that they promoted on three separate occasions in their publications; starting with the first press release that the OAS Observer Mission, Electoral Observer Mission issued right after the election. This idea that something happened, that the election was somehow stolen is the foundation of this coup, and it’s completely false. And furthermore, I think what you can see if you look at the data is that the OAS was really dishonest about this. They had to know that the story they were telling was false, and I’ll try to explain that.

What happened was, as you mentioned, there was an interruption in the vote count at 84% of votes tallied and Evo was ahead by 7.9%, and then vote, the tally resumed… And by the way, this is not even the official tally, so we shouldn’t even really be arguing that much about it because it doesn’t count for anything. It’s just a quick count that’s done to let people know what’s going on as the votes are coming in. And they don’t tell you that either in most of these… In almost none of these articles do they even tell you that this isn’t even the official count, and the official count was never even interrupted. But leaving that aside, this count, this quick count was interrupted at 84%, and then when Evo came back, as you mentioned, his vote was over when the… I’m sorry, when the reporting resumed, Evo’s margin was over 10%, which was the amount that he needed in order to avoid a runoff election. And the OES reports this as though something that they were surprised and concerned and this kind of stuff.

Well, if you have ever watched an election return, or maybe can do eighth grade arithmetic or anything like that, the first thing you would ask when this happens is, are those later reporting districts, any precincts, are they different from the ones that reported earlier? And they never mentioned or asked that question in any of their three press releases or two reports so far. Now that shows you right there that there’s something dishonest because they’re not innumerate, okay. The data is all on the web, so anybody can go and look at it and figure out whether those districts were different. It turns out they were very different, and in fact they were much more pro-Evo. And that graph you put up is a very revealing one.

That’s another thing that was very, very dishonest about the OAS reports because the OAS never mentioned that it wasn’t a jump from the first 84% that had a 7.9% margin to over a 10% margin. It was a gradual trend that was going on the whole time for a very simple reason, and the simple reason was that the pro-Evo districts reported later… or precincts, I should say. The pro-Evo precincts reported later than the earlier ones. And that’s the whole story. And they know it, and they never told it. They misled the media, and the media, almost all of them swallowed it and reported it over and over until it became a kind of truth in our post-truth Trumpian world.

GREG WILPERT: We’ve got a clip here of what Evo Morales had to say about the OAS the other day in an interview that was conducted with him in Mexico.

EVO MORALES: The OAS took a political decision, not a technical or legal one. This is a report, and I realize from the recommendations of some leftist brothers and sisters that the OAS is not in the service of the people of Latin America, less so the social movements. The OAS is at the service of the North American

GREG WILPERT: I believe that Evo Morales might be referring to CEPRA here actually. Now, talk to us about the OAS’s role in all of this since it’s been used to justify the coup.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, the OAS is not always going to do the same thing. It depends on the situation. So in this situation, the Trump administration wanted very much to get rid of this government, and I think Almagro… And they made statements showing this, and in fact, of course the Trump administration issued a statement supporting the coup itself and saying that it was bringing democracy to Bolivia. So it was very clear where they stood. Luis Almagro, who’s done a lot of terrible things as the Secretary General of the OAS, I think he saw an opportunity here. Once the election was close, he saw an opportunity to intervene. Because I think it had to come from high up in the OAS because the people in the Electoral Observer Mission, they have at least the knowledge that somebody who watches election returns come in. They could’ve asked that question: “Well, how are these precincts different from the first returns?”

And also, they didn’t have to focus so much on the TREP count, on this quick count because, again, it wasn’t the binding count. It wasn’t even supposed to, intended to, or intended to or announced as something that reports the entire account. That’s probably why they stopped at 84 because in previous elections they stopped at 70. It’s not the official count. It’s just something to keep people informed when the count is still going on. The official count has more safeguards and takes longer. So this was really a deliberate thing. And they have done this before, by the way. Again, I’m not going to characterize the OAS as being on one side or another in all situations. It’s not like that. In fact, probably most Observer Missions are clean, but they have put their finger on the scales before.

In 2010, for example, there was an election in Haiti, and the OAS did something that probably no electoral election monitors have ever done, which is they, actually, they set up a commission that looked at the results and they reversed it without any kind of a recount or even a statistical test. In fact, the head of that mission admitted on video that it was a political decision. They didn’t have any evidence for it, so they changed the results of Haiti’s election in 2011. And, in fact, Susan Rice, not long after that in 2011 when Haitians were struggling not to accept that change of election results, she threatened them with a cutoff of aid, desperately needed aid, after the earthquake if they didn’t accept this decision, which was really made by the US government through the OAS.

That’s just one example. There’s worse ones. There’s another one in Haiti in 2000, which was the foundation of a coup that took place in Haiti in 2004 where the OAS changed its report. After they initially had issued a favorable report on the election, they changed it in order to support a cutoff of almost all international aid to Haiti that took place between 2000 and 2004 until the United States-backed coup succeeded in overthrowing democratically-elected president. So this has happened before, and it’s a shame that so many journalists don’t know this history, or they wouldn’t just take the OAS’s word for it because really all they have to do is look at the data themselves. Or if they can’t or don’t have time, just assign that to somebody and they would see that the OAS is really being extremely dishonest here.

GREG WILPERT: Finally, given all of this history, why do you think Evo Morales gave into the OAS so easily when he agreed to abide by its audit?

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah. I think that was a mistake, and I think he was hoping that the audit would be… If I just have to guess, I don’t know what he was thinking. But he might’ve been hoping that the audit would be cleaner than what they did in the election because there was Mexico, for example, was involved, and Mexico, the Mexican government. They had denounced the OAS first, their first incidents of lying about the election in their press release. They denounced that at the OAS, and so he might’ve figured that these other countries could keep an eye on them, and I think he miscalculated there.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Thanks again, Mark, for having joined us today.

MARK WEISBROT: Thank you, Gregory.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press).