ABC and SBS fail in their reporting on Bolivia coup

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Evo Morales was forced out of Government by internal opposition (screenshot via YouTube).

The notion that Australia’s SBS and ABC are politically “Left” is wildly incorrect. 

A far-Right military coup in Bolivia forced a sitting socialist President, Evo Morales, to resign and escape the country, yet they hardly reported on this fact. Instead, they devoted much favourable coverage to Right-wing demonstrators and security forces.

Need I mention the anti-coup mostly indigenous and poor demonstrators were not covered, and more than this were blamed for the violence?

Of course, there are a lot of background details and dissenting views on how events in Bolivia have unfolded and there were some apparently genuine concerns with the direction Evo Morales’ Government was taking. Nevertheless, at this point, the concrete facts are that army generals appeared on TV demanding (“suggesting” in their words) a sitting president resign, potentially constituting an illegal coup by the military and that a violent crackdown ensued against protesters at the hands of pro-coup security forces.

The lead-up to recent events is a broadly familiar story in the post-colonial Global South, especially during the Cold War. 

Evo Morales’ Socialist Party came to power in 2006. They nationalised parts of key industries including mining, depriving (mostly) Western multinationals from exploiting the nation’s resources and human capital, but also creating determined enemies out of these interests.

Poverty was cut in half, Bolivia’s economy tripled in size, inequality declined, and the wealth generated by natural resources was managed equitably so as to benefit the country as a whole. Even the International Monetary Fund, an organisation certainly not known for supporting democracy and socialism, conceded in a 2016 report that Bolivia’s economic indicators were impressive.

Laura Carlsen notes that Evo Morales’ openly socialist Government set a "terrible example" by successfully improving the living conditions of its population and attaining the highest growth rates in the region.

Legitimate concerns began to be raised about Morales’ Government recently, provoking legitimate democratic opposition. However, this was exploited by the far-Right, which has since taken complete control, with the help of Western special interests and media.

But another crucial factor played into recent events. Bolivia has by far the world’s largest known lithium reserves, the key element of course in high-end battery manufacturing. Lithium has taken on a strategic significance, and earlier this year Evo Morales’ Government cut a $2.3 billion deal with China to develop Bolivia’s lithium reserves. This decision put Morales’ Government in the deep end of the new Cold War between China and the West, making Bolivia vulnerable to Western aggression.

Whatever legitimate opposition was aimed at Morales’ Government has been co-opted by the far-Right, which is being supported by Western interests and is now consolidating its power with violence and terror, and our media is tacitly supporting this.

Security forces have killed over twenty mostly peaceful pro-Morales protesters, injuring hundreds more; the acting Government has issued a decree exempting security and police forces from prosecution for the use of force; the coup leaders have said they may ban Bolivia’s largest political party from future elections and that its Senators will be arrested for 'subversion and sedition'. Displays of anti-indigenous sentiment are on the rise, with videos emerging of pro-coup demonstrators burning the indigenous Wiphala flag and police tearing it off their uniforms.

Our public broadcasters have failed to mention any of this. They have failed to clearly state that the Party that has taken control belongs to the far-Right and that it garnered a mere 4 per cent of the vote in October.

The “resignation” of Evo Morales’ Ministers is not being given any context: namely, that the Ministers stepped down because they were afraid for their lives, their relatives were kidnapped and some of their homes burned.

The injuries and deaths that are occurring are being vaguely attributed to “ongoing protests”, rather than the security forces loyal to the coup who are using live ammunition against protesters.


SBS's shared New York Times piece quoted the new far-Right president's gushing description of events without a word of criticism:


The challenge has fallen to Jeanine Añez, an opposition politician and the Senate minority leader, who promised to swiftly call new elections and restore stability. She appeared on television Monday morning, sobbing as she described the chaos of the night before.


‘Bolivia doesn’t deserve this, all these deaths and destruction,’ she said, before promising a quick transition ‘that is absolutely necessary to return to a democracy’ … In the scramble to cobble together a civilian government, fears rose of increased violence by looters or Morales’ supporters.

This represents an absolute failure in reportage. Australia’s public broadcasters, so eager to signal their virtue when its easy to do so, loudly and often declaring whose traditional lands they are on, but when there are economic and geo-strategic stakes at play involving the U.S., we get to see the shallow depth of their journalistic integrity and the depth of their commitment to justice for indigenous peoples.

There’s no shortage of reliable sources documenting what’s happening in Bolivia, but our public broadcasters chose to avoid them.

Daniel Safi has an honours degree in history and politics and now works as a music teacher.

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