Bolivian Police Are Still Repressing Anti-Coup Protests
Friday, November 22, 2019
GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
Bolivia continues to be convulsed in the wake of a right-wing coup that ousted President Evo Morales on November 10. The Bolivian military killed up to nine people, nine anti-government protesters Tuesday night at the gasoline plant of Senkata where protesters were trying to block fuel deliveries. The death toll since the coup and President Evo Morales’ exile in Mexico has reached a total of 32 dead now. The numbers have been rising ever since the unelected far right interim president Jeanine Áñez passed a decree giving the military immunity from prosecution for human rights violations. Meanwhile, Eva Copa, the President of Bolivia’s Senate and a member of Evo Morales’ MAS party announced that her party will introduce a bill annulling the October 20 presidential election and setting up a timetable for new elections. De facto interim President Áñez introduced a competing bill that would do the same. Despite the deaths and the promise of new elections, it does not look like the protests in Bolivia will stop anytime soon.
Joining me now to discuss the ongoing situation in Bolivia is Medea Benjamin. She’s co-founder of the peace group Code Pink and is in Bolivia at the moment, where she has been reporting on the protest against the coup. Thanks for joining us today, Medea.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me on, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So shortly after the October 20 presidential election, the opponents of Evo Morales took to the streets. And many media outlets spread the impression that Evo Morales has become quite unpopular because he was running for a fourth term, and because of electoral fraud allegations. Now, what are you seeing on the ground? Who is protesting now and why? And also, how are they perceiving this new coup government? How is it being perceived?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: People hate the new coup government. It’s interesting, Greg, because you don’t hear as many calls for Evo Morales’ return, as you hear calls for the resignation of the coup leaders–and particularly Jeanine Áñez. people are furious about how they feel that this new de facto government has disrespected the culture and traditions of the indigenous community, and then how she has had a decree that gives impunity to the security forces as they try to “pacify” the country. And this has led to so many deaths. The last of the massacre was two days ago–as you talked about–in Senkata, which is in the indigenous city of El Alto, a million person city that is known for being very pro-Evo Morales; and now very much against the coup, and people who will not sit down and allow the government to take them back to the last century.
So there have been massive blockades that’ve been set up all over the country; shutting off the roads, making it hard for deliveries of food or gasoline or cooking gas to get to the cities like La Paz, and using this as pressure against the coup. And because that gasoline plant is so critical for getting gas to La Paz, the military went in guns blazing to try to break this blockade and in the process killed many people, wounded dozens more. And this now seems to be the modus operandi of the coup government. And today when thousands and thousands of non-violent people came in holding the caskets of the dead ones, they were met with terrible tear gas. I am still trying to recover in my eyes from the tear gas. And there was no reason; this was a totally peaceful funeral procession. So the military has been very vicious and has been given a green light by Jeanine Áñez, the de facto president, to use force against peaceful protestors.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah. I think we were just showing images of that protest. It seemed like it didn’t last very long. Can you say a little bit about that? And it seemed to be enormous and it basically seems to have gone through most of La Paz. And at what point did they stop it and how far did they actually get?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: It was enormous. And these people walked all the way from Senkata in El Alto all the way down to LA Paz, a long walk in the hot sun, and got into the city. And as soon as they got here, they were marching down the principal street of El Prado. It’s important to say that where they wanted to go was the Plaza Murillo, which is where the government offices are, but since the coup started that whole area has been blocked off by barricades. So this funeral procession could not even get anywhere near the government offices. They were merely marching down one of the main streets in La Paz, and as you could see, they didn’t get very far before they were tear gassed. And it’s important to note that these were, for the most part, very humble indigenous people, many of them older people, older women, older men. We saw a number of them fainting from the tear gas. People had to be carried away in makeshift stretchers. It was very brutal.
So no, they didn’t get far into the city before they were repressed in a very brutal way that was totally uncalled for, for a procession that was so peaceful. I also want to say, Greg, that I saw the same thing the other night when there were peaceful protesters from indigenous communities who came into the city calling for the resignation of this government. And they planned to spend the night just lying down on the sidewalk. And while they were sleeping, some people were eating, others were sleeping, but again totally peaceful. The military came in with tear gas and did the same thing to destroy their peaceful protest. It’s interesting that just today when this funeral procession was tear gassed, the Trump administration state department came out with the statement of calling for people to have the right to peacefully protest, and then saying that they were totally behind this new government.
GREG WILPERT: Now, earlier in the day on Thursday, you also streamed a protest that was happening against the Bolivian media. Tell us about why they were protesting against the media. How is actually the local media covering this? We also know that actually relatively little is getting out about these protests, at least not the same kind of coverage we saw, for example, when protests were happening against the government in Venezuela. So what’s the media situation like, and what were people opposed to in this earlier protest today?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: The media is atrocious. It was quickly taken over by this coup government so that they control the media, both the TV, the radio, most of the written press as well. You turn on the TV and the news that you get is pure propaganda. They say that, for example, in the Senkata massacre, they quote the minister of defense saying not one bullet was fired by the military. When if you walk to Senkata you could pick up bullets on the street. They said that it was the protesters who were violent, which is totally false. In general, the media is calling the protestors terrorists, communist, and so there are chants by the people saying, we are not terrorists, we are not communists. They also are constantly calling the media liars and surround the media when they do show up, because for the most part they don’t even show up. And when they do show up, they say, tell the truth. Stop lying. Tell the truth.
So the local media is absolutely atrocious. And the only way people are getting their news is either through word of mouth or through social media. A lot of Bolivians do have smartphones and they are sharing videos immediately. Twitter is very active, Facebook as well. So that’s the only way that people are really getting news and sharing the kind of atrocious repression that is going on. I’m also two blocks away from a jail where every day they are rounding people up and taking them into this prison. It takes days before they’re even allowed to see a judge. The families, who are mostly poor people oftentimes coming in from other cities, have nowhere to go and have been sleeping outside the jail. So in addition to those who have been killed and those who have been wounded, there have been many, many hundreds of people rounded up, mostly for peaceful protest, oftentimes people just walking down the street who were rounded up by the police.
GREG WILPERT: Well, of course we’re going to continue to follow the situation in Bolivia as it continues with this coup government, but we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group Code Pink, who is in Bolivia at the moment. Thanks again, Medea, for having joined us today.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me on, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.