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'Nothing But Disdain for Democracy': Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Pressley Join Letter Condemning Trump for Fueling Crisis in Bolivia

"Rather than supporting a military coup, our government should make it clear that the unconstitutional removal of an elected president is unacceptable."

Riot police repress supporters of former Bolivian President Evo Morales during the funeral procession in La Paz, Bolivia on November 21, 2019. (Photo: Aizar Raldes/AFP via Getty Images)

As the Bolivian military's violent repression of Indigenous anti-coup protesters sparked fears of a full-blown civil war, more than a dozen members of Congress including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley sent a letter Friday condemning the Trump administration for supporting the November 10 ouster of former President Evo Morales and "contributing to an escalating political and human rights crisis."

"We are troubled by statements from administration officials, including President Trump, that welcome these developments in Bolivia that bear the hallmarks of a military coup d'état," reads the letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, which was led by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and joined by 13 other House members.

"The administration's current approach is dangerously misguided, and could well contribute to a further breakdown in the rule of law in Bolivia and a full-blown humanitarian emergency."
—Letter

Two days following the overthrow of Morales on November 10, Trump issued a statement celebrating the coup as a victory for "democracy." Pompeo issued a similar statement of support Thursday for the right-wing regime of Jeanine Añez, an anti-Indigenous right-wing senator who declared herself president days after the coup.

"Over the last week, Morales allies have faced attacks, and threats and protests have been violently repressed by security forces, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries," continued the letter from members of the U.S. House. "Senior Trump administration officials have failed to denounce violent attacks by security forces, even as demonstrations made up largely of Indigenous Bolivians have been fired at with live ammunition."

The lawmakers also expressed alarm about the role of the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS) played in the ouster of Morales. As Common Dreams reported, the OAS issued multiple statements questioning the integrity of Bolivia's October 20 presidential elections, which Morales won in the first round over right-wing former President Carlos Mesa.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found in a statistical analysis earlier this month that OAS claims of "irregularities" in the vote count had no basis in fact.

"Unsubstantiated and misleading statements made by the OAS electoral mission in Bolivia on October 21, which subsequently were echoed by the State Department, contributed to further polarization at a moment in which violent politically-motivated incidents were taking place throughout the country," the lawmakers said in their letter to Pompeo.

The House members called on the Trump administration to change course and "support calls for dialogue mediated by the United Nations and other international bodies," a demand that has been made by Morales and his supporters in Bolivia.

"The administration's current approach is dangerously misguided," the lawmakers wrote, "and could well contribute to a further breakdown in the rule of law in Bolivia and a full-blown humanitarian emergency."

More than 30 people have been killed and hundreds injured since Morales was deposed by the Bolivian military on November 10. Almost immediately after taking power, the Añez government issued a decree exempting the military from criminal prosecution for gunning down protestors and threatened to arrest members of Morales' socialist party.

In a statement, Rep. Johnson said he is "appalled by the Trump administration's reaction to the emerging crisis in Bolivia."

"Rather than supporting a military coup, our government should make it clear that the unconstitutional removal of an elected president is unacceptable, as is the persecution of individuals based on their race or political affiliations," said Johnson. "This administration is once again showing that it has nothing but disdain for democracy and human rights when they get in the way of President Trump's agenda."

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Read the full letter:

Secretary Pompeo,

We are deeply concerned that recent statements and actions on the part of senior Trump Administration officials are contributing to an escalating political and human rights crisis in the Plurinational State of Bolivia following contested elections held on October 20, 2019. 

On November 10, Bolivia's democratically elected president, Evo Morales, announced that he was stepping down after the commander of Bolivia’s armed forces called on him to resign. In a live television broadcast, Morales stated that a coup was underway and that he was resigning in order to avoid further bloodshed and unrest. Other resignations of top officials followed, resulting in a dangerous constitutional power vacuum. On November 12, opposition Senator Jeanine Añez declared herself President of Bolivia, in violation of Bolivia's constitution. She received immediate support from the high command of the country's armed forces.

Over the last week, Morales allies have faced attacks, and threats and protests have been violently repressed by security forces, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Bolivia's de facto authorities have issued a decree exempting members of the military from prosecution as they engage in the violent suppression of demonstrations. Morales meanwhile has received asylum in Mexico and pro-Morales legislators and journalists have been threatened with arrest for "sedition."

Given this context, we are troubled by statements from Administration officials, including President Trump, that welcome these developments in Bolivia that bear the hallmarks of a military coup d'état. On November 11, the White House released a statement saying that "Morales's departure preserves democracy" and that "we are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere." On November 12, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Michael G. Kozak recognized Senator Añez as "interim constitutional president of Bolivia." Senior Trump Administration officials have failed to denounce violent attacks by security forces, even as demonstrations made up largely of indigenous Bolivians have been fired at with live ammunition.

We urge you to consider an immediate change in course and to take action to support democracy and human rights in Bolivia.  While there is legitimate debate surrounding Morales' decision to run for a fourth term, it is simply not acceptable for the U.S. administration to welcome the forced removal of a democratically-elected leader before the end of their mandate. Our government should call for the prompt restoration of constitutional order, and for an immediate end to all persecution and attacks targeting leaders and supporters of Evo Morales and his political party. Additionally, we call for the adoption of protective measures for those facing threats.

Your Administration should support calls for dialogue mediated by the United Nations and other international bodies. It should also support new elections and work with other countries in the region to ensure adequate conditions that guarantee that every voter and every candidate can safely and freely participate in the next election campaign and electoral process. The legitimacy of Bolivia's government will depend on whether former President Morales' party, which continues to be supported by millions of Bolivians, can fully participate in these elections.

We wish to also express our concern regarding statements made by officials from the Organization of American States (OAS), a multilateral organization that receives the majority of its funding from the U.S. government. In particular, unsubstantiated and misleading statements made by the OAS electoral mission in Bolivia on October 21, which subsequently were echoed by the State Department, contributed to further polarization at a moment in which violent politically-motivated incidents were taking place throughout the country. United States officials should exercise greater caution and assess the merits of Organization of American States officials' claims before repeating them, particularly when post-election tensions are high.

Finally, we are deeply dismayed that the Administration has failed to denounce racist attacks targeting Bolivia's indigenous communities and their symbols, such as the Wiphala pan-indigenous flag which is one of the country's official flags. Evo Morales was Bolivia’s first indigenous president and Bolivia’s 2009 constitution enshrines rights and protections benefiting indigenous peoples that experienced centuries of oppression and racist discrimination. Self-declared interim President, Jeanine Áñez has a history of appalling statements about indigenous people, including tweeting comments that refer to indigenous religious rituals as "satanic", and after supplanting former President Morales, she declared that "The bible has returned to the palace". Your Administration should be publicly critical of attacks and racist hate speech targeting members of indigenous communities and call for the constitutional rights of Bolivia's peoples to be respected. 

Bolivia's escalating crisis threatens to spiral into violent internal conflict. The Administration's current approach is dangerously misguided and could well contribute to a further breakdown in the rule of law in Bolivia and a full-blown humanitarian emergency, with large migrant outflows. We strongly urge you to revise this approach and support the prompt restoration of constitutional order, dialogue between opposing political factions, fair and inclusive elections, and respect for the human and cultural rights of all Bolivians.

Sincerely,

Rep. Hank Johnson
Rep. Ilhan Omar
Rep. Susan Wild
Rep. Raul Grijalva
Rep. Jan Schakowsky
Rep. Jared Huffman
Rep. Deb Haaland
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Rep. James McGovern
Rep. Jesus G. "Chuy" Garcia
Rep. Bobby L. Rush
Rep. Ayanna Pressley
Rep. Alan Lowenthal
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton

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