What does Cuba want with Bolivia?

The authoritarian strongman of Bolivia, Evo Morales, stepped down from the presidency on November 10, 2019. Since the days leading up to Morales’ resignation after the country’s police and armed forces turned on him, the Cuban regime’s propaganda outlets have been working overtime to paint the country’s brief constitutional crisis as a coup d’etat. The coup narrative is even making its way through North American libertarian circles, which does a gross disservice to libertarians in Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, where libertarians agree with the majorities of people opposed to Stalinist dictatorships and glad to see Morales go.

While the Cuban regime’s propaganda platforms like TeleSUR and its imitators at the Ron Paul Institute parrot the ‘coup’ headline, we at the Mises-Mambí Institute have a different interpretation of the events that led to Evo Morales fleeing from Bolivia to escape his own criminal trial. This interpretation is founded on the understanding that the US government by no means has a monopoly on coups, regime changes, and military interventions, but is merely one shady government in a Game of Thrones kind of world where every ‘kingdom’ is trying to conquer someone else.

First, let’s look at the chain of events leading up to Morales’ downfall to see if it was a coup, and then we’ll answer a critical question: what does the Castro regime want with Bolivia?

Extending/ignoring his term limits

The seeds of the 2019 Bolivian constitutional crisis were planted during Morales’ first term as President of Bolivia. Under the old system, Bolivia’s Head of State was limited to two terms of four years. Morales convened a constituent assembly in which his party, Movement To Socialism, had a majority, and he oversaw a new constitution which was ratified in 2009. According to the new constitution, presidential term limits were extended to five-year terms. Furthermore, Morales argued that a new constitution signified a new government, and that his first term with the ‘old government’ didn’t count, so the clock for his two terms started over in 2009. Unsurprisingly, Morales was backed in this by the judges he appointed.

After extending term lengths and resetting his clock to zero, Morales gave the world another hint as to how he saw himself in relation to his country. At his swearing in ceremony for his “second” (third) term in 2014, Morales wore an embroidered gown and the headdress of an Inca emperor. He specifically chose an emperor, implying a level of nobility and rank above all other indigenous people in the land.

While we appreciate keeping indigenous cultures alive, taking on the mantle of a hereditary monarchy that conquered and subjugated neighboring nations and was supposedly established by the gods is not exactly in keeping with the Communist Manifesto or the republican principles of the 1848 revolutions… (One can only imagine the reaction if an Egyptian president-elect did his swearing-in at the pyramids and wearing a Pharaoh’s crown, or if an Israeli prime minister strutted around dressed as King David.)

Despite there being clear term limits in his own 2009 constitution, Morales very publicly wanted a “third” (fourth) as President. He convened a national referendum in 2016 asking voters to grant him the right to run for a “third” (fourth) term and narrowly lost. In February 2016 he publicly accepted defeat, saying “We respect the results…” but by December he proclaimed he would ignore both referendum and constitution and run again anyway because it was ‘the will of the people.’

The Cuban regime’s presence in Bolivia

Che Guevara captured in Bolivia. Photo from the New Yorker.

The Castro regime’s first infiltration into Bolivia began quietly and uneventfully as Tania the Guerrilla, a German Marxist who had immigrated to Cuba and served in the National Revolutionary Militia, moved to Bolivia in 1964 to begin laying the intelligence ground work for Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s 1966-67 guerrilla war. Guevara arrived in the country in disguise as well as twenty Cuban guerrillas–veterans of the Cuban Revolutionary War–and founded the ‘National Liberation Army of Bolivia’. The guerrilla army was defeated by the Bolivian Army Rangers in a CIA-led operation in which Guevara was executed (overseen by the Cuban anticastrista Felix Rodriguez). Despite losing the guerrilla war, the Castro regime never abandoned its plan to make Bolivia a Marxist state and merely put those plans on hold.

The Bolivian cocalero (coca farmer)-turned-activist Evo Morales was part of a generation of Latin Americans who grew up in the few decades after the Cuban Revolution and idolized Fidel Castro as a hero. The congressman-then-President drew close to the Castro brothers, looked to them as guides and key allies, and he also became close with fellow Castro fanboy Hugo Chavez, the strongman who handed Venezuela over to the Cuban government. Fans of the Castros naturally want to please them and help the Cuban government. Before Morales’ fall from power, his government and the Cuban government had been negotiating trade deals wherein Cuba would keep sending doctors and Bolivia would export milk, textiles, mobile phones computers, computers, and other technology and consumer goods the state-run Cuban economy can’t produce efficiently.

During Morales’ first term as President–his real first term–he opened the doors for Cuba’s medical brigades to come to Bolivia. He sympathized with Guevara’s guerrilla war in Bolivia and on the 50th anniversary of Guevara’s death, Morales hosted a ceremony in the Guevara’s honor in the village where he was executed, while flanked by Guevara’s descendants and veterans of the Cuban Revolutionary War. That same year, a Cuban medical clinic was opened in that same village as a monument to the red martyr.

The Castro regime brilliantly markets its healthcare sector as cutting edge medicine and a godsend to desperately poor people across the world, while veterans of the Cuban medical mission denounce it as slave labor (the regime keeps 75-90% of doctors’ and nurses’ salaries) and fraud. Multiple doctors and nurses who have defected from the missions and escaped to other countries describe being instructed by their superiors to falsify records to reflect visits that never happened with patients that didn’t exist, and then to destroy medication so that inventories matched the paperwork. This begs the question: Why would the Cubans destroy medical supplies?

The Cuban Medical Brigades. Photo courtesy of Translating Cuba.

Politics. The Cuban medical workers were ordered to do so because the Castro regime uses medicine as a political weapon. The regime has a proven history of reserving its famous world-class healthcare facilities for Communist Party members and the politically well-connected, like Young Pioneers alumni. On the other hand, the commoners and the politically unreliable get the other kind of clinics and hospitals, where the facilities are understaffed, severely under-supplied, filthy, where horse-drawn carts stand in for ambulances, and where doctors often have to be bribed by a patient’s family in order to actually do their jobs. (Cuba’s libertarian dissidents and their families get to go to this kind of hospital. The clinics people hear Michael Moore fawning over aren’t available to them.)

The Castro regime uses medicine as a weapon abroad, not just at home. Politically, the regime’s most successful medical mission was without a doubt Venezuela. Cuban doctors who defected from government service decry not only the working condition and having most of their pay taken away, but also that healthcare was a weapon used to coerce Venezuelans into voting for Nicolas Maduro’s United Socialist Party (PSUV). If patients and their adult family members didn’t register with the PSUV, or turn up to vote the PSUV ticket, or didn’t show up to a certain chavista rally, then suddenly the waiting list for that surgery would get longer, or the clinic would run out of the needed medication to fill a prescription. And the Cuban doctors themselves were constantly being monitored by Cuban security officials to guarantee compliance.

A Cuban clinic in Caracas, Venezuela. Notice the political propaganda. Photo courtesy of BBC.

Cuba doesn’t simply use their doctors as cash cows for the regime and enforcers to get out the vote for socialist candidates abroad. The Cuban medical brigades are also used as covers by the Directorate of Intelligence (often called G2), Cuba’s version of the CIA. There are strong links between Cuba’s Intelligence Directorate and the Morales government. First, Cuba’s ambassador serving in Bolivia from 2006 to 2011 was Rafael Dausá Céspedes, a high-ranking officer in the Intelligence Directorate. Second, Radio Havana Cuba announced in 2016 that Bolivian government leaders “proposed to set up an intelligence agency to protect the state and clearly identify the attacks from the opposition in alliance with foreign enemies. Minister Quintana said the government of Bolivia lacks state-run intelligence to face the campaigns against President Evo Morales and the process of changes…” Third, the Bolivian Minister of Communications Roxana Lizárraga Vega revealed last week that at least 100 Cuban intelligence agents entered Bolivia as part of the medical mission.

There’s no doubt that the Castro regime’s interest in Bolivia goes deeper than humanitarian work: the Cuban communists want a vassal state. By 2019, there were over 1,000 Cuban medical workers in Bolivia. Evo Morales was the man the Castro regime needed to turn Bolivia into a Marxist state and satellite of Cuba. Rather than conquering Bolivia by force of arms, which failed the first time, the Cuban regime adopted its Venezuela strategy to start with the doctors, then infiltrate public institutions, and gradually transform the government into a one-party socialist state.

Electoral fraud and protests

“Neighbors from Panama Street in the Miraflores zone of La Paz report finding at least 20 boxes of pre-marked votes in a house.”

The 2019 Bolivian presidential election came in October and without a doubt the 2016 referendum was on voters’ minds. We at the Mises-Mambi Institute watched closely as the results trickled in. By mid evening, the results so far with 88% of precincts reporting were 46% for Morales, 38% for opposition candidate Carlos Mesa, 8% for third party candidate Chi Hyun Chung, and the remaining 8% split among the minor party candidates.

According to the Miami Herald, “…he rigged the Oct. 20 elections, according to his own government-invited 92-member electoral observation mission from the Organization of American States. A subsequent audit by a separate 30-member OAS team, also invited by the Morales government, corroborated that he had not won the first-round vote, as he claimed.”

An audit by the very OAS team Morales had invited into the country stated, “The manipulations to the computer system are of such a magnitude that they should be deeply investigated by the Bolivian government to get to the bottom of and assign responsibilities in this serious case.” The following is our translation of a passage from a Spanish-language news website:

[OAS] technicians conducted a calligraphic expert analysis of 333 questioned records. To form this sample, tables were selected in which Movement to Socialism (MAS, the party of Evo Morales) obtained 99% of the votes and the consecutive tables, that is, those of the same voting center.

From the analysis carried out, it was concluded that 78 records (23% of the sample) presented irregularities from the expert point of view. In some cases, it was verified that all the proceedings of the same center had been completed by the same person. On occasion, it was found that this person was the representative of the MAS party accredited as a delegate at the center. Multiple records were also found in which the ruling party obtained 100% of the votes.

Despacho 505: “How Evo Morales committed electoral fraud in Bolivia”

In addition to both OAS audits finding evidence of electronic voter fraud, on multiple occasions police and delegations of poll watchers caught members of the Movement To Socialism party stashing boxes and boxes full of votes pre-marked for Morales in private homes and smuggling them in privately owned civilian cars. This is a direct violation of Bolivian electoral laws which require votes to be secured and transported in government vehicles manned by Supreme Electoral Tribunal employees.

Thousands of boxes of votes found with ballots unanimously marked for Evo Morales

It’s obvious that Morales and his socialist party meant for him to win no matter what. His history of gradual power grabs, paired with his idolizing of Marxist dictators, and combined with this blatant electoral fraud, reveals that Morales intended to turn Bolivia into a Stalinist state and be a President for Life, just like Fidel Castro and his disciples, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.

The credible news of Morales trying to steal the election spread like wildfire and kicked off a wave of nationwide protests that lasted over two weeks. In the beginning of the chaos, elements of riot police loyal to Morales were out beating protesters and pepper spraying bystanders in the face. In a move similar to the Venezuelan collectives, civilian supporters of Morales were physically attacking opposition protesters at La Paz Airport. Days later, pro-Morales civilians set up a roadblock and physically attacked a convoy of dissidents headed to La Paz to protest. Meanwhile, Morales had already taken to the airwaves to complain that the protesting was a coup against him.

Image from Common Dreams

By the end of the second week of protests, police in one district after another began joining the protesters until all police agencies in all nine national districts were in peaceful rebellion against Morales. Finally, the military high command publicly announced that they would not follow Morales’ orders to repress protesters with military force, and that they strongly recommended he step down.

Morales grew increasingly desperate in his last days as President. First he offered to submit to a second round of voting (a requirement if the first-place candidate has fewer than 50% of the votes and less than a 10% lead). Then he offered to start from scratch and convene a new election. After all the police agencies and the military had abandoned him, Morales took the Chavez/Maduro approach and offered a dialogue to the opposition. The opposition flatly rejected the offer.

Morales fled the country while several members of his cabinet were arrested for participating in electoral fraud. By the process of constitutional succession outlined in Morales’ own 2009 constitution, Jeanine Áñez became the Interim President of Bolivia.

Moreover, we at the Institute took note the press conferences Morales held in his final hours as President, claiming that a coup d’etat was taking place and that he was lawfully reelected with 60% of the vote. Sixty. We simply can’t conclude, with Morales at 46% with 88% of precincts reporting as we had seen, that he could jump to 60% in the last 12% of precincts without there being significant tampering of the vote count. We also can’t conclude that a coup was carried out against Morales; Morales himself was the spearhead in a slow coup to transform Bolivia into a Marxist state and a satellite for Cuba.

Bolivia’s Interim President, Jeanine Áñez

Finally, in the days following Morales’ flight from Bolivia, four Cuban doctors were arrested and caught with backpacks full of cash (over the equivalent of $100,000 USD). The “doctors” were using that cash to finance pro-Morales protests bordering on riots. The Cuban government clearly has an interest in making Bolivia ungovernable for the Interim President. (Just for context, this type of intervention-by-rioting is exactly what the Ron Paul Institute accuses the US government of in Hong Kong.) Days later, the Bolivian government announced that Cuba’s medical mission in Bolivia was canceled and all Cuban officials would be going home.

The war on indigenous people

TeleSUR and other pro-Castro media platforms have been parroting Morales’ victim narrative painting his downfall in scope of racial class warfare, claiming this ‘coup’ was an attack on indigenous people and a rollback of the gains made by indigenous communities since he became President. This argument is terribly flawed in its assumption that Morales represents all indigenous Bolivians. He does not.

Indigenous dissidents (Yungas) from the coca growing region in La Paz District–growing coca plants is legal in the country–say that Morales’ policies favor his indigenous nation from his home region, but not other nations in other regions of Bolivia. Morales has even deployed the police to use force against indigenous people. One example is from 2011, when Morales sent police to crack down on the indigenous residents of Isiboro Sécure National Park who were protesting against a highway being built on their tribal land and nature preserve for the government’s TIPNIS Project.

Es Caracas reports that members of the Aymara, Quechua, and Guarani nations have called for Morales to be arrested for blatant electoral fraud. The day after Morales resigned, the National Coordinate for the Defense of Indigenous Territories, Peasants, and Protected Areas (CONTIOCAP) published a one-page manifesto denouncing Morales for violating the indigenous constitutional principles of “Ama lulla” (Don’tlie), “Ama suwa” (Don’t steal), and “Ama qhilla” (Don’t be lazy).

Finally, the pro-Castro/pro-Morales media and ideologues have no room whatsoever to complain about vague “attacks” on indigenous people. Morales himself has attacked indigenous people who opposed his government’s policies. For the Latin American disciples of the Castro brothers, anyone who disagrees with the socialist strongman leader at any time is an enemy and must be neutralized.

That’s exactly why Nicolas Maduro’s regime, a key ally of Morales’ Bolivia and fellow vassal state for the Castro regime, carried out multiple massacres of unarmed indigenous people in southern Venezuela. Under he direction of Prisons Minister Iris Varela, two prisons were emptied and the convicts (totaling 3,000 men) were armed and deployed to indigenous lands in and around Canaima National Park, where at least 25 Pemon natives were murdered, 80 disappeared, and thousands were displaced. Not one supporter of the Castros, Nicolas Madurro, or Evo Morales spoke out against this modern Indian War carried out by a Stalinist regime. Once again, anyone who disagrees with the socialist strongman leader at any time is an enemy and must be neutralized, and any concerns for the plight of indigenous peoples must play second fiddle to ideological loyalties.

To conclude this report, was Evo Morales’ fall from power a coup? No. Morales himself committed fraud while usurping the constitution to become President indefinitely, and he fled the country to escape criminal prosecution. This by no means absolves the CIA or the US State Department from participating in dozens of military interventions, coups, and regime changes in the recent and distant past. However, again, this is a Game of Thrones kind of world and the US government doesn’t have a monopoly on dirt-bag foreign policy. In that respect, the Castro regime consistently punches above its weight class.

As to the next question, what does Cuba want with Bolivia? In the short term, the Castro regime wants a Bolivian government friendly to Raul Castro. In the medium term, it wants the technology and consumer goods Bolivia can export in exchange for slave labor from Cuban medical workers–which also profits the regime that pockets most of their pay, so the regime wins both ways. In the long term, the Castro regime wants to do to Bolivia what it did to Venezuela: transform the country into a Marxist state and a vassal state in Cuba’s regional empire.

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