Kicking out the IMF: Bolivia recovers and learns after defeating Western-backed coup regime

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Phoenix Media Co-op asked Ollie Vargas of Bolivia’s union-owned Kawsachun News about how Bolivia is recovering and learning after defeating the 2019-2020 coup regime. He emphasised the importance of quickly closing accounts with the neoliberal International Monetary Fund (IMF). He also stressed that people in the country are now “much more aware” that it’s not only the US that interferes in Latin American politics, but also the UK and Europe.

In October 2020, after months of resistance from supporters of the overthrown Movement towards Socialism (MAS), the party’s candidate Luis Arce resoundingly won elections to become president. But the path forward for Arce’s government won’t be simple. And as Vargas explained, it knows what a tightrope walk it will be. One key step that was a no-brainer, however, was to kick the IMF out of the country (again).

Immediately reversing the coup regime’s IMF debt

Under the coup regime, Bolivia took out a loan worth [around $346m] with the IMF. And one of the first steps that President Luis Arce took when the MAS retook power was to literally return that money with the interest that had been accumulated in that time so as to completely close accounts with the IMF and  to say: ‘we don’t want anything to do with you; we’re not defaulting, we’re not going to cause a conflict with you, but we are returning the money so that we no longer have a relationship’.

…the IMF was expelled from Bolivia under Evo Morales because the IMF [had] always had an incredibly strong presence in Bolivia through the neoliberal period before Evo Morales. And the IMF even had an office within the building of Bolivia’s Central Bank in the period before Evo Morales took power, and they would pass down economic policies written in English for the government and the Central Bank to then implement.

And what that caused was massive economic collapse in the country. Bolivia was the poorest country in South America at that point. And when the IMF was expelled from Bolivia under Evo Morales, Bolivia became the fastest-growing economy in the region – something even recognised by the IMF itself, by the IMF’s own figures.

The “incredibly bad footprint” the IMF leaves

So it’s an incredibly important step that [Bolivia] took because there are other countries such as Argentina and Ecuador that have very large debts with the IMF and are now unable to pay them and in return have to implement austerity policies. In Ecuador, they do that happily because that is the ideology of the… government in power at the moment.

Whereas in Argentina, there is now a more progressive government that’s trying to renegotiate that debt. But coming out of… [the $45bn] debt that they have with the IMF is enormously difficult, because simply defaulting on it would create a huge amount of tension internationally and would deter economic investment and economic activity within the country. … Now that they’re in this extraordinarily large debt which they cannot simply return like Bolivia did, they’re now having to find newer, creative ways to be able to come out of this. So they’ve proposed a wealth tax, for example.

But the IMF leaves an incredibly bad footprint in the countries it deals with. Because it leaves countries as debt slaves. And then, those countries have to implement free-market reforms in exchange when they’re unable to pay that debt, which in most cases they’re unable to.

Careful steps to prevent another coup

the government has to walk a tightrope on [the issue of preventing another coup]. There are sections within the MAS that say that a hard line should be taken against those who supported the coup. They call for the arrest of not only Jeanine Añez, but also the coup leaders such as Fernando Camacho, Carlos Mesa, and for a total transformation of the police and the military.

However, the difficulty with that is that the MAS needs to be able to… work with the police and military to avoid them carrying out another coup. So totally transforming all of that could put the government on a collision course with the armed forces of the state, which is something that resulted in the coup in 2019.

There have been reforms to the police and military. All of the leadership within both institutions that were there under Añez have been taken out, and new commanders have been put in place – commanders that are more sympathetic to the MAS.

However, there’s obviously a much wider structural and cultural problem within both the police and military that’s going to be very hard to combat. So that is the tightrope that the MAS is having to walk. It’s, on the one hand, wanting to deliver justice for the massacres, for the authoritarianism of the coup regime. But on the other hand, needing to be able to work with the armed forces and the police to make that happen. So it’s going to be a very gradual process.

How did Bolivians respond to the Declassified UK article about Britain’s support for the coup?

The article by Declassified UK was incredibly important because it outlined in a lot of detail and with a lot of sources – both from the UK government and the Bolivian government – about the manner in which the British embassy in Bolivia lobbied the new government for a share of the lithium natural resources that Bolivia has. Bolivia has the largest reserves in the world of lithium – a technology of the future because it can provide batteries for electric cars and other electronic devices. So it’s something that’s incredibly important. And the article by Declassified UK, using Freedom of Information requests, set out how they did that.

And that article was received in Bolivia by the majority who voted for the MAS last year… people were happy to see it because it was a source that they could cite for what they already knew; that the coup had taken place so that foreign countries such as the United States and [countries in] Europe could loot the natural resources in Bolivia in the same way they did in the colonial period. So that article was used by people in Bolivia on the ground to show what had happened last year – to back up arguments that people had been making for over a year about what happened… in 2019. So it had a hugely positive impact within Bolivia.

The article also showed the manner in which the British ambassador himself was playing an activist role during the coup – promoting right-wing forces and endorsing, through his official channels, right-wing political forces within Bolivia.

So that has led to a cooling of relations between Bolivia and the UK. The British ambassador was called in to the foreign ministry in Bolivia to answer for this evidence. And now, people are much more aware that it’s not only the United States which intervenes in Latin America to loot natural resources; also, Europe has an incredibly important role, [and] the UK. The European Union… recently passed the motion calling for the release of Jeanine Añez.

So it’s given Bolivians a much wider idea of the colonial forces that are looking to dominate Latin America.

Main article image via Haydn Blackey