The Real Reason U.S. Media Won’t Call Evo Morales’ Ouster in Bolivia a “Coup”

The Bolivian coup is not a coup—because the United States wanted it to happen.

Alan MacLeod November 11, 2019

Bolivian President Evo Morales arrives on August 7, 2018 at the CATAM military airport in Bogota. (Photo by DIANA SANCHEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

This arti­cle first appeared in FAIR.

Morales was the first indigenous president in his majority indigenous nation—one that has been ruled by a white European elite since the days of the conquistadors.

Army gen­er­als appear­ing on tele­vi­sion to demand the res­ig­na­tion and arrest of an elect­ed civil­ian head of state seems like a text­book exam­ple of a coup. And yet that is cer­tain­ly not how cor­po­rate media are pre­sent­ing the weekend’s events in Bolivia.

No estab­lish­ment out­let framed the action as a coup; instead, Pres­i­dent Evo Morales resigned” (ABC News, 11/10/19), amid wide­spread protests” (CBS News, 11/10/19) from an infu­ri­at­ed pop­u­la­tion” (New York Times, 11/10/19) angry at the elec­tion fraud” (Fox News, 11/10/19) of the full-blown dic­ta­tor­ship” (Mia­mi Her­ald, 11/9/19). When the word coup” is used at all, it comes only as an accu­sa­tion from Morales or anoth­er offi­cial from his gov­ern­ment, which cor­po­rate media have been demo­niz­ing since his elec­tion in 2006 (FAIR​.org, 5/6/09, 8/1/12, 4/11/19).

The New York Times (11/10/19) did not hide its approval at events, pre­sent­ing Morales as a pow­er-hun­gry despot who had final­ly lost his grip on pow­er,” claim­ing he was besieged by protests” and aban­doned by allies” like the secu­ri­ty ser­vices. His author­i­tar­i­an ten­den­cies, the news arti­cle claimed, wor­ried crit­ics and many sup­port­ers for years,” and allowed one source to claim that his over­throw marked the end of tyran­ny” for Bolivia. With an appar­ent nod to bal­ance, it did note that Morales admit­ted no wrong­do­ing” and claimed he was a vic­tim of a coup.” By that point, how­ev­er, the well had been thor­ough­ly poisoned.

CNN (11/10/19) dis­missed the results of the recent elec­tion, where Bolivia gave Morales anoth­er term in office, as beset with accu­sa­tions of elec­tion fraud,” pre­sent­ing them as a farce where Morales declared him­self the win­ner.” Times report (11/10/19) pre­sent­ed the cat­a­lyst for his res­ig­na­tion” as protests” and fraud alle­ga­tions,” rather than being forced at gun­point by the mil­i­tary. Mean­while, CBS News (11/10/19) did not even include the word alle­ga­tions,” its head­line read­ing, Boli­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Morales Resigns After Elec­tion Fraud and Protests.”

Dele­git­imiz­ing for­eign elec­tions where the wrong” per­son wins, of course, is a favorite pas­time of cor­po­rate media (FAIR​.org, 5/23/18). There is a great deal of uncrit­i­cal accep­tance of the Orga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States’ (OAS) opin­ions on elec­tions, includ­ing in cov­er­age of Bolivia’s Octo­ber vote (e.g., BBC, 11/10/19; Vox, 11/10/19; Voice of Amer­i­ca, 11/10/19), despite the lack of evi­dence to back up its asser­tions. No main­stream out­let warned its read­ers that the OAS is a Cold War orga­ni­za­tion, explic­it­ly set up to halt the spread of left­ist gov­ern­ments. In 1962, for exam­ple, it passed an offi­cial res­o­lu­tion claim­ing that the Cuban gov­ern­ment was incom­pat­i­ble with the prin­ci­ples and objec­tives of the inter-Amer­i­can sys­tem.” Fur­ther­more, the orga­ni­za­tion is bankrolled by the US gov­ern­ment; indeed, in jus­ti­fy­ing its con­tin­ued fund­ing, US AID argued that the OAS is a cru­cial tool in promot[ing] US inter­ests in the West­ern hemi­sphere by coun­ter­ing the influ­ence of anti-US coun­tries” like Bolivia.

In con­trast, there was no cov­er­age at all in US cor­po­rate media of the detailed new report from the inde­pen­dent Wash­ing­ton-based think tank CEPR, which claimed that the elec­tion results were con­sis­tent” with the win totals announced. There was also scant men­tion of the kid­nap­ping and tor­ture of elect­ed offi­cials, the ran­sack­ing of Morales’ house, the burn­ing of pub­lic build­ings and of the indige­nous Wipha­la flag, all of which were wide­ly shared on social media and would have sug­gest­ed a very dif­fer­ent inter­pre­ta­tion of events.

Words have pow­er. And fram­ing an event is a pow­er­ful method of con­vey­ing legit­i­ma­cy and sug­gest­ing action. Coups,” almost by def­i­n­i­tion, can­not be sup­port­ed, while protests” gen­er­al­ly should be. Chilean Pres­i­dent Sebas­t­ian Piñera, a con­ser­v­a­tive US-backed bil­lion­aire, has lit­er­al­ly declared war on over a mil­lion peo­ple demon­strat­ing against his rule. Cor­po­rate media, how­ev­er, have framed that upris­ing not as a protest, but rather a riot” (e.g., NBC News, 10/20/19; Reuters, 11/9/19; Toron­to Sun, 11/9/19). In fact, Reuters (11/8/19) described the events as Piñera respond­ing to van­dals” and loot­ers.” Who would pos­si­bly oppose that?

Morales was the first indige­nous pres­i­dent in his major­i­ty indige­nous nation — one that has been ruled by a white Euro­pean elite since the days of the con­quis­ta­dors. While in office, his Move­ment Towards Social­ism par­ty has man­aged to reduce pover­ty by 42% and extreme pover­ty by 60%, cut unem­ploy­ment in half and con­duct a num­ber of impres­sive pub­lic works pro­grams. Morales saw him­self as part of a decol­o­niz­ing wave across Latin Amer­i­ca, reject­ing neolib­er­al­ism and nation­al­iz­ing the country’s key resources, spend­ing the pro­ceeds on health, edu­ca­tion and afford­able food for the population.

His poli­cies drew the great ire of the US gov­ern­ment, West­ern cor­po­ra­tions and the cor­po­rate press, who func­tion as the ide­o­log­i­cal shock troops against left­ist gov­ern­ments in Latin Amer­i­ca. In the case of Venezuela, West­ern jour­nal­ists uniron­i­cal­ly call them­selves the resis­tance” to the gov­ern­ment, and describe it as their No. 1 goal to get rid of Maduro,” all the while pre­sent­ing them­selves as neu­tral and unbi­ased actors.

The media mes­sage from the Bolivia case is clear: A coup is not a coup if we like the outcome.

Alan MacLeod @AlanRMacLeod is a mem­ber of the Glas­gow Uni­ver­si­ty Media Group. His lat­est book, Pro­pa­gan­da in the Infor­ma­tion Age: Still Man­u­fac­tur­ing Con­sent, was pub­lished by Rout­ledge in May 2019.
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