Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The coup brewing in Bolivia

Posted by Charles II on August 23, 2008

The American military presence in Colombia
The American military presence in Colombia as of 2000, from a report by Adam Isacson

BBC has footage of the city of Santa Cruz from August 19th.

Rory Carroll and Andrés Schipani , The Guardian:

Violent protests against President Evo Morales have shaken Bolivia and cut the Andean nation in half, with rebel provinces blocking government attempts to regain control and tensions running dangerously high between the country’s Indian majority and inhabitants of the richer and whiter eastern provinces.

Militia groups armed with clubs and shields took to the streets last week to impose a strike which paralysed much of the eastern lowlands and deepened a political crisis. Youths opposed to Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, beat up senior police commanders in front of television cameras, underlining the brazen challenge to central government authority.

…Protesters have halted beef supplies to the west, blockaded highways and made moves to create a new police force to assert their push for autonomy from the capital, La Paz….

The eastern lowlands however, which have the richest gas reserves and farmland and a freewheeling capitalist spirit, see Morales as a power-hungry autocrat with ruinous economic policies. They are especially enraged by an attempt to redistribute land and to funnel gas revenues away from the provinces and into a state pension fund for those aged over 60, seen as a populist ruse to weaken the provinces. ‘If there is inflation, it is because the elderly poor are now having money to eat chicken,’ one man grumbled on television.

La Jornada has an impressive video on the coup that occurred in Bolivia 28 years ago, showing the connections of narcotrafficking and neo-Nazism to reactionary politics…. including the nascent coup of today. There are a number of other interesting videos. On the front page of La Jornada is an interview of a couple of journalists explaining how difficult it is to report the news. One is reporting for Quechua-language Catholic TV. She was stalked and threatened with assault and death.

There’s plenty of American firepower in the vicinity should the US decide to take an active role in a coup against Evo Morales.

18 Responses to “The coup brewing in Bolivia”

  1. The coup plotters are pissed because they lost at the ballot box — lost rather handily, and in a fair election. Don’t be surprised if Brazil and other nations send aid to Morales’ government.

  2. Charles II said

    I think everyone (except the people in the gas-producing provinces raising a ruckus) is going to tread lightly. I’d be surprised to see Lula get involved. Chavez, maybe, but more economically than militarily, since the two countries are separated. Chile, conceivably. What will be really interesting is what happens in Peru and Paraguay, the first being a right-wing regime in danger of provoking an uprising and the latter having recently swung left after having been under right wing rule since forever.

  3. One of the few silver linings of Bush’s getting us bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan has been that he hasn’t been able to do diddly about the undoing of disaster capitalism in Latin America.

  4. Charles said

    They have special forces down there, PW, and there’s some slack in air operations. The Bolivian military couldn’t put up serious resistance. The only aircraft they have are trainers and transports. They have 31,000 army troops with virtually no equipment beyond basic arms. Their weapons holdings are below those of Zambia, Laos, and Slovenia.

    In other words, the Detroit police force would have a better chance.

  5. Hi..

    Going to try some searches on the Net, but about the female reporter, did it detail who did the stalking and threatening..?

    Thanks.. :)

    PS.. Saw a “rumor” about some aspect of the nearby “firepower”.. Have it on a search to-do list, too.. Busy little place down there, isn’t it.. :-?

  6. Stormcrow said

    That link doesn’t break down weapons by type, Charles.

    My point is that tanks, aircraft, and large caliber crew served artillery are pretty much white elephants if you’re waging a defensive light infantry war.

    In fact, these days, the bloody command infrastructure is pretty close to an expendable item as well. As the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have demonstrated.

    You need lots of AKs or some other reduced charge assault rifle. You need lots of RPGs. You need defensible terrain: “defensible” in that you can bushwhack the other side’s regulars there, and they jolly well have to run the risk.

    And you need line troops who are willing to die.

    If they’ve got some prior trigger time on the books in light infantry warfare, that’s a much bigger advantage than heavier weapons. Experience counts.

  7. Charles II said

    Cindy Sue, I’d suggest looking at the film (upper right-hand corner of this page; the woman in the green sweater). The people threatening the reporters are reasonably well-dressed. Indeed, in one scene, reporters are among those deriding the reporter for the Quechua station). One can pretty well infer that these are supporters of the counterrevolution, if a revolution it is.

    Stormcrow, it’s not clear whether the army is loyal to the present government. The army has normally been on the other side. The situation you’re describing, where it’s light arms vs. a heavily armed force, only obtains if the army opposes invasion.

    And, yeah, tanks and artillery were pretty useless against the US in situations like Iraq. But the US is probably unable to transport significant amounts of equipment to Bolivia. So, the situation could involve maybe a thousand lightly armed, non-mechanized US forces, probably mostly mercenaries, plus some turncoats and Colombians, plus US air support, ranged against the inexperienced– but larger–Bolivian military. In that case, troop transports would be vital. A few tanks or self-propelled artillery could be very helpful, and a counter to US air support could be decisive.

    Our military is stretched very thin, so an intervention in South America would look very different from what we are accustomed to.

  8. Stormcrow said

    Umm, Charles, I wasn’t really counting the Bolivian military as the major counterweight.

    Look how well Saddam’s army did for him. LOL.

    What we rammed our heads into in Iraq was a crazy quilt of little tiny factions, some only as large as one or two people. Some of these were ex-Army or leavened by same. Quite a few weren’t. I recall reading an extensive interview with one Iraqi geek kid with zero military experience, who was an outsourced IED maker.

    Tanks and SP arty aren’t going to be of much use to either side in a pure light infantry war. If you don’t or can’t mass tanks, then they’re infantry support weapons, period. Unless you have Merkavas which can also carry troops, which we don’t.

    SP arty are useful when you have a target of inviting density.

    If you’ve got a battalion or even a company of hostiles in one place, a round or six’ll do wonders for their unit cohesion and general peace of mind. If all you’re shooting at is a couple of guys with an RPG, then you’re really just playing Whack-a-Mole. With a big expensive SP artillery piece.

    If we start with a thousand or so mercs, we’ll be in there for a decade and by its end, we’ll be fighting half of Bolivia, right down to the women and kids. They’ll be getting under-the-table aid and comfort from 3/4 of the rest of South America. Don’t even ask about Venezuelan oil: we won’t be seeing a drop of it north of the Rio Grande and south of Canada.

    Best to just not start.

  9. Charles II said

    Stormcrow says, “Best to just not start.”

    Well, I can give that a hearty amen.

    Bolivia is very, very different from Iraq. In Iraq, every man had a weapon and knew how to use it. The army–even though they didn’t fight the setpiece war the US had planned– formed the basis of the early resistance (although, as you point out, there were plenty of freelancers and neophytes). The Shi’a militias took some time to form because the army was disproportionately Sunni.

    By contrast, in Bolivia, most of the Indians have probably never seen a gun unless it was pointed at them. I’m sure this is changing, but the people who have and know how to use weapons are Latino. And they hate the Indians. So, an American invasion would look more like a civil war than a simple us-vs.-them engagement.

    I think that the Morales side would lose such a war. But the quagmire would come eventually, as US support dwindled and the economic catastrophe spread. Gas pipelines/transport are the devil to defend.

    Best just not to start.

  10. I think there’s room for hope.

    The situation strongly resembles that in Venezuela circa 2000. The anti-Chavistas — who, like the anti-Morales faction, are made up of Indian-hating whites whose provinces control the oil fields — also had and have US support, and they had it well before Bush decided to sacrifice our troops in the Middle East. They still lost — and now Chavez has the power to assist Morales, whereas Bush’s power to assist Morales’ opposition has waned from what it was.

    Remember too, that Lula was supposed to be toppled by now as well. And of course Argentina and now even Paraguay have reformist governments. Not all of them are capable of helping out Morales, but many of them are.

  11. […] After leftists win free elections in Bolivia, US-supported terrorists attack from Colombian side of border […]

  12. Charles II said

    In a war, Chavez could not substantively assist Morales, PW. Air transport would be vulnerable, and would have to transit Brazilian (or Colombian) space. Indeed, the separatist provinces are largely along the Brazilian/Paraguayan borders, as shown nicely by this map. Transport inside Bolivia is even dicier. You can see the highway and rail grid here.. The highways are typically two or, at most four lane. They wouldn’t be difficult to block, especially in the mountainous west.

  13. Stormcrow said

    PW, nobody’s going to be substantially helping anybody in South America with boots on the ground.

    Certainly not when they’re separated from one another by the territory of at least one sovereign state. The last time somebody tried that in South America was in the War of the Triple Alliance, (1864-1870), and that wasn’t exactly a roaring success for the people who tried it.

    In this case, Venezuela would have to move people through either Brazil, or Colombia and Peru, or some combination thereof. I don’t see it happening even if the roads were worthwhile. Too many places where politics could easily achieve an interdiction that would be expensive for military action.

    Arms would be somewhat easier. Those you could smuggle. And embattled Bolivians would always have recourse to cash from the cocaine trade at their end of the pipeline.

  14. Nobody helped Venezuela with boots on the ground in 2000, and Chavez still managed to pull through. The help I was thinking of would be largely economic, anyway, as the oil barons are trying to starve the rest of the country into submission rather than resort to actual paramilitary action – so far, anyway.

  15. Charles II said

    Chavez had the advantage of being a general with a loyal following inside a military three times larger (and more professional) than Bolivia’s, PW.

    The separatist provinces, while their gas revenue is essential to Bolivia’s economy, are also the agricultural region. Beef shortages and price increases are already occurring. I would expect shortages of vegetables to follow soon after, with hunger becoming a serious problem in short order. The logistics of bringing in food from other places, especially Argentina, just aren’t there, even if Chavez did front them some dough. So, your point about the separatists planning to starve the rest of the nation out is very much on the mark.

    I should add that the silence over at Venezuelanalysis is deafening. I don’t see any comments since Chavez stated that the separatists were trying to assassinate Morales two weeks ago.

  16. Stormcrow said

    Well, the story about the declaration of martial law in norther Bolivia hit the ‘Net a few hours ago, following hard on the heels of reports of street fighting in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija provinces.

    If I were in Morales’ shoes, I’d have punted the American ambassador myself. Why on earth the Mayberry Machiavellis think they can get away with using embassies for their wet work escapes me. But then, these guys wouldn’t be fit to shine Felix Dzerzhinsky’s shoes.

    Apparently, the two sides are still talking. That’s a good sign. I hope.

    Because there’s not a whole lot that Venezuela can do if Bolivia breaks down into a full-blown civil war.

  17. Stormcrow said


    That whole second paragraph looks like it’s still hyperlinked. The apparent link also goes right through “two sides are”, which should be bare text.

    And this time, I used KompoZer to proof the thing before I published. WTF?

  18. Charles II said

    Unlike the geopolitics, repairing the text is a simple matter of a missing /, Stormcrow.

    I agree that VZ can’t do much. Not unless Brazil openly sides with Morales, in which case, it’s game over for the separatists anyway. But Lula has his own military fifth column to deal with. Anti-Indian racism, which is a major factor in what can and cannot happen here, is deeply entrenched in Latin America.

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