Why protests in Chile and Bolivia may have more in commonthan you think

Why protests in Chile and Bolivia may have more in commonthan you think

Protest movements in Chile and Bolivia have been the subject of conspiracy theories on both the Left and the Right

Before former Bolivian president Evo Morales had even stepped off the plane and ontothe tarmac in his new home of Mexico City the theory that he had been ousted in a Right-wing coup was well-established.

In a region still haunted by CIA intervention it's perhaps no surprise.

Mr Morales, the longest serving Leftist leader in Latin America,had resignedtwo days earlieramid allegations of vote rigging as he pursued an unprecedented fourth term in power.

Support had come in from across the world for the indigenous leader of the region's poorest country. Jeremy Corbyn said: "I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, socialjustice and independence.”

But while theories of his downfall swirled, rumours of another very different "coup" were rife in neighbouring Chile. Here, in the region's richest country, it was the Left who were apparently pulling the levers on similarly violent street protests

What's happening in Bolivia?

Mr Morales fled the country last week after the Organisation of American States (OAS) found "clear manipulation" in the October general electionand called for the result to be annulled.

The irregularities stem from a suspicious break during the live broadcast of the counting of votes. When the live count returned, Mr Morales had gained a greater lead over his rival, and eventually claimed victory. The results triggered the first round of widespread protests.

The police eventually joined protesters before the armed forces called for Mr Morales to resign. He fled forasylum in Mexico.

Then came the counter protests. On Friday eight people were killed and dozens left with bullet wounds when police opened fire on supporters of Mr Morales in Sacaba in central Bolivia in the deadliest day since the start of the political crisis.

The protesters were mostly coca growers from the region trying to reach La Paz to demand the resignation of the country’s interim government that they accused of taking power in a coup.

Was it a Right-wingcoup?

In the week since his resignation opinions have been split over what Mr Morales calls “the most cunning and nefarious coup in history”.

By publicly “suggesting” Mr Morales leave his position, the head of the armed forces took the crisis into dangerous ground in a country with an inglorious history of military interference in politics.

The Left-wing presidents of Argentina, Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay -as well as Mr Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, the US senator-swiftly agreed that a coup had taken place.

But opponents of Mr Morales believe that there was a groundswell of popular support –including from indigenous and working class groups traditionally loyal to Mr Morales –for his removal.

In the words of Carlos Mesa, the rival candidate who gained 36.5 per cent of votes in the October 27 election, this was a "democratic Bolivian Spring".

Others point out that the transfer of power was fully justified given the evidence found by the OAS.

"In Bolivia, what we are seeing is a popular repudiation of electoral fraud.

It’s a pretty clear case of fiddling with the ballot by Evo," says Richard Lapper, an analyst from Chatham House's Americas Programme."This is not something that is an externally led; it’s a domestic situation."Mr Morales denies any allegations of electoral fraud.

Who's in charge now?

If this was a popular uprising, it now appears to have been captured by representatives of the traditional Right-wing elite.

In her first days in charge, the country’s interim president, Jeanine Añez, a 52-year-old opposition senator, has only fanned the flames.

She has clumsily tried to defend the wiphala, the indigenous checked flag elevated to a national symbol by Mr Morales. But she has gained more attention for historical social media posts in which she is accused of making racist remarks against indigenous people.

Mrs Añez's predominantly Right-wing cabinet -absent of indigenous people -now includes a minister of the interior who promised to “hunt down” his predecessor.

Meanwhile, about 700 Cuban doctors have been sent home -allegedly for withdrawing money to finance the protests against the new government.

In another highly symbolic move, Mrs Añez also overstepped her interim role by exiting two socialist-leaning regional blocs and cutting diplomatic ties with the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Which is where Chile comes in.

What's happening in Chile?

Across Bolivia's south-western border, Chile, like its neighbour,is in a state of revolt.

Violent protests have gripped the country since the government introduced a 3.8 per cent, or 30 peso, metro ticket price rise.

What started as a gate-jumping campaign by students spiralled out of control when demonstrators torched metro stations.

President Sebastián Piñera, a billionaire former businessman, used powers granted under Pinochet-era constitution to bring the military onto the streets. The turmoil has left 22 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.

The initial protests have morphed into a national movement against inequality and the cost of living.

More than 200 have been partly blinded by rubber bullets fired by riot police, and the UN has condemned "excessive use of force" by security forces.

Is it a Communist putsch?

Since the protests erupted MrPiñerahas softened his tone, offering concessions to protesters and blaming foreign actors for initiating the violent protests.

His case was helped by useful allies. The OAS, which gave the damning verdict after auditingthe Bolivian election, was an early promoter of the theory that Venezuela -and even Russia -was behind the unrest.

Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the OAS, told The Telegraph in an interview on November 5, that he believed Venezuela was working to "destabilise democracy"in the region.

He cited the recent protests in Ecuador, whose president has claimed that Cuba and Venezuela have sent “200 to 300” operatives disguised as Venezuelan migrants to sow chaos and topple his government.

"The case in Ecuador was experimental," Mr Almagro said, adding that the Chile meddling was more sophisticated. But pressed on hard evidence, he said only: "We have seen some details, for example40 per cent of tweets asking Piñera to resign come from Venezuela.

He added: "The source was Russia, but that doesn't mean that Russia was operating it by themselves. It could have been people hired by our Bolivarian [Maduro regime] friends from Russia. I think that's more likely.

"A week later Mr Piñera told the Financial Timesof evidence that "foreign forces" were operating inside the country, noting that Mr Maduro had publicly supported the protesters.

Protesters in Chile disagree. Rodrigo Perez, an 18-year-old high school student in Chile who helped organise the turnstile-jumping campaign in mid-October describes the movement as organic.

He told the Washington Post that the burning of Metro stations in October came as a “surprise” to student organisers.“We have questions about these fires, but social discontent has been growing because public policies have ignored education,” Mr Perez said. “So students are becoming more radicalised. There is great frustration.”

"Incumbent elites are always out to blame their problems on external failures," Mr Lapper said. "It’s very easy for Chile to blame someone else. There may be some involvement along the line, but it’s not the main cause."

What's really going on?

The political map of Latin America is being redrawn. The hard-Right has swept away the Left in Brazil. The old Left has knocked the Right out of power in Argentina.

Upheaval across the continent can be traced to the same phenomenon: public frustration with the unmet expectations of the commodity boom.

In Chile -the world's leading copper exporter –wage growth has been stagnant and the working classes are mired in debt as the benefits of global trade have been hoovered up by traditional elites.

In Bolivia the use of natural gas revenues to boost social spending lifted millions out of poverty. But the growing middle classes ultimately demanded greater democracy at the same time as Mr Morales found his autocratic streak.

Protests were perhaps always on the cards. And so too wasthe natural inclination to blame a "coup". "We are living in a period of populism and one of the characteristics is conspiracy theories," Mr Lapper said. Conspiracy theories are amplified by social media.

Mr Lapper sees a common mantra: "If the facts don’t fit the theory, ignore it.""Corbyn can’t make his mind up on Brexit but he’s quick to call out a coup halfway across the world," he added.