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Lessons From Bolivia

“Democracy has won!” decried Luis Acre on Monday after firmly securing his place as the next President of Bolivia. Backed by the consistent will of the people, the former finance minister of Evo Morales took back the nation.

This remarkable victory for the Movement Towards Socialism Party (MAS) has haphazardly brought on vague conversations around the “power of voting.” The discussions are void of not only what happened in Bolivia in 2019 but how indigenous and Afro-Bolivians have spent every day since resisting together to complete the socialist aspirations of their party. 

It is a complete misdirection to make the lesson of this recent Bolivian election only “voting works.” Voting was a strategy enacted once Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians forced the election to happen. It would be foolish to believe that socialism can be voted in. Socialism must be BUILT. The real lesson from Bolivia comes directly from the organized masses of people.

Image of Elena Flores, the union leader of the association of coca leaf farmers of the Yungas region

Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians have been actively and continuously engaging in fighting back against fascist-state repression of the paramilitary with collective armed resistance since the coup began. Many who have resisted the coup have lost their lives in the struggle to regain control of their country. In August, after Jeanine Áñez’s government, which usurped power following the OAS/ US-backed military coup, postponed the general elections for the fourth time since March this year, conveniently citing the coronavirus global pandemic, tens of thousands took to the streets across Bolivia in rejection of the postponement. 

Image of Indigenous workers participating in an 11-day general strike

This level of organizing is not seen here in the US. It is certainly not seen in the Black voting bloc that continuously splits their votes between two imperialist parties (the same parties who fully supported the Bolivian coup). The issues around voting are not voting itself, but rather people’s expectations about their voting power in a capitalist-imperialist nation that has openly shown that our votes do not count. However, instead of assessing what is materially true about our (lack of) political power and organizing to create independent Black political power, Black people are further and further embedded into the fabric of the system. The lines of what is and is not fascism have become blurred as the country, and its voters, move further and further right while “settling for Biden.”

When the neoliberal democrats promise to “govern for all,” it means they’ll appease their voter base by pretending to support whatever will bring them out to vote. Biden will still stack his cabinet with neocons invested in fattening up the Department of Defense budget further to wreak havoc on Africa and the Global South. Yet because he “isn’t Trump,” this is presented to colonized people in  America as a good thing. These are our options. 

Is that political power? Is this Black liberation? 

Appointed Black leadership (either politician or celebrity) has been the avenues for any perceived Black political power. However, these people are primarily concerned with protecting their vested influences under this same white power structure that people have spent an entire summer mobilizing against. These “leaders” are not worried about Black political power gained through organized collective struggle and engagement with Black communities, ultimately instilling the ability for community members to advocate for themselves. They, instead, want to continue with a self-serving narrative that “your vote matters.” 

If we are looking to Bolivia, we must first understand that the elections that recently took place were a concession made after a mass People’s movement forced the hand of the fascists. People looking to Bolivia should also understand that the Indigenous and Afro-Bolivians would continue to be vulnerable to counter-revolutionary forces both internally and externally. The fight towards socialism will be a continuous one. 

Voting in this country can not be viewed as a working strategy or a process to ensure Black political interests so long as we have NO Black political power. What we must do is organize to BUILD that type of power for eventual TRUE democracy. 

¡Viva el MAS!

For more context on the Bolivian coup, the almost year-long resistance of the people, and the election results, check out this interview with Telesur’s Camila Escalante on Millennials Are Killing Capitalism. 

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.

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