Abolish the Organization of American States

The Organization of American States made unfounded claims of electoral fraud in Bolivia in 2019. Now a growing chorus of Latin American leaders is calling for the end of the OAS, which has long stood as an obstacle to meaningful democracy across the continent.

Then US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (C) sits with OAS secretary general Luis Almagro (L), instrumental to the 2019 coup d'état in Bolivia, at a gathering of OAS representatives in Washington on January 17, 2020. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

If there was any remaining doubt, news emerging from Bolivia last month has utterly delegitimized claims of fraud in the 2019 election. The allegations made by the Bolivian right, the US foreign-policy establishment, and the upper echelons of the Organization of American States (OAS) have now been painstakingly researched in at least seven international studies, as well as in a more recent investigation commissioned by Attorney General Juan Lanchipa. In each case, the allegations were found to be false.

The attorney general sought out expert advice when right-wing leaders brought a case to the courts charging fraud. After months of scrutinizing that election, experts at Spain’s University of Salamanca informed the attorney general that no evidence exists to support the claim of fraud. The oligarchy’s legal case has officially been closed, but threats of a renewed coup continue to haunt the country, despite the Movement for Socialism’s (MAS) overwhelming victory in last year’s democratic election.

Simmering Tensions

Lanchipa’s decision to close the case on fraud has in some respects only further inflamed the Right. Rómulo Calvo is the leader of Bolivia’s arch-conservative Committee in Support of Santa Cruz, connecting business leaders of the wealthy eastern lowlands. That committee possesses well-known fascist roots. A month ago, Calvo warned President Luis Arce that the city of Santa Cruz has found the “recipe for toppling a dictator.” Hardly secretive, the committee has boasted of its role in mobilizing middle-class outrage against MAS and persuading the army and police command to join their coup.

A critical question for the Right is whether it still commands the foreign support it enjoyed in 2019. The signs are ambiguous. Recently, MAS was outraged when the highest official at the US Embassy bypassed the national government and met to discuss business relations with one of the most violent coup actors, Luis Camacho, now governor of the department of Santa Cruz. Camacho’s only prior leadership experience was with the Committee in Support of Santa Cruz; under Camacho, it became the center of the coup plot and racist resistance to former president Evo Morales.

Now, Governor Camacho is trying to usurp the prerogatives — constitutionally limited to the national government — of titling land, and secure millions of acres that the coup government transferred into the hands of the very richest caste of Bolivians. He does not admit that, of course, but rather argues that coca leaf farmers — who are Quechua and Aymara — are invading the lands that belong to other indigenous peoples in Santa Cruz.

False Claims

One of the most critical players in the coup of 2019 was the Uruguayan head of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro. He claims to have submitted an audit of the voting records, but no such document was ever prepared.

Almagro’s charge of fraud relied on dismissing the massive rural vote for the Left — on the order of 90 to 95 percent in many indigenous communities — as not credible. Rural votes take longer to count, arriving up to a full week after election day. Almagro understood this, but seized on the “quick count” — a parallel system that is not binding and not linked to the real vote count — before the influx of votes for the Left came in, to confuse the public. On these spurious grounds, the OAS called for a second round of elections before the vote was even tallied. Predictably, conservatives cite the OAS falsehoods as if they were proven truths.

Despite the now incontrovertible evidence of the investigations, Almagro has only dug in his heels. Last month he issued a document — albeit one that carries no legal value — restating all the original false allegations about the 2019 election. In so doing, he is providing a powerful weapon to Bolivia’s right-wing opposition. An artfully deceptive statesman, Almagro claimed at the same time to have never recognized the constitutional legitimacy of the coup government.

An Alternative to the OAS

After the destruction wrought by the OAS in Bolivia over the course of the last two years, many want to see the organization disbanded. Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), is leading the charge. Cuba already left the organization six decades ago, as did Venezuela in 2019. For both countries, the OAS serves as a “ministry of American colonies” under US command.

AMLO recently revealed that the Bolivian coup regime apparently tried to shoot down — with an RPG launcher — the Mexican Air Force plane sent to rescue Morales during the coup. The Bolivian right and its allies seemed to have wanted the death of Morales even at the cost of breaking relations with Mexico and plunging Bolivia into chaos.

Ironically, the more levelheaded forces within the OAS run the human rights apparatus of the institution found that massacres were committed by the state in the first month of the de facto government led by Jeanine Áñez. Last month, an independent group of interdisciplinary experts under OAS auspices expanded on these findings, based on eight months of technical investigation and the gathering of all the testimonies they could document.

Recognizing the role played by right-wing mobs, the investigation insisted that to achieve reconciliation, the Right’s paramilitary forces must be disbanded, and special attention must be given to ending the practice of torture and gendered violence by the security forces of the state.

Experts aside, the majority of Bolivians have long understood that flagrantly racist crowds provided the cover behind which the Bolivian oligarchy, the United States and their South American allies, and the national army and police forces were able to engineer the ouster of the elected MAS president.

The New Plan Condor

In the last month, more evidence has come to light of a new right-wing campaign in Latin America that, for many, is reminiscent of the 1970s Operation Condor — the name given to the US-assisted campaign of joint political repression and terror exercised by the dictatorships of South America.

The first document to emerge in this respect was a letter from a coup-regime air force commander, Jorge G. Terceros, discussing equipment received from the Argentine government to replenish the ammunition and supplies necessary to suppress protesters during the first weeks of the coup. That stunning finding led to investigations that uncovered military and police records in Argentina and Bolivia, as well as various testimonies documenting the shipments.

This agreement on the shipment took place in advance of the 2019 coup against MAS — and without the knowledge of the MAS government. In this respect, there is evidence to suggest that the presidents of both Argentina and Ecuador had some hand in aiding the pending coup. Legal investigations are underway in both Argentina and Bolivia.

Moreover, documents show that a high-level US envoy came to Bolivia about three months before the elections, as was widely announced, but only recently did the press report the contents of a diplomatic cable regarding the dinner conversation of the envoy, Kevin O’Reilly. He suggested to various South American ambassadors, the European Union, and the OAS that “it is key” that they should tell the world in advance of the election day — absent any evidence — that fraud was a grave concern.

Parlasur — the group representing South American parliamentarians — launched its own investigation into the “violation of sovereignty” in Latin America, including the dispatch of arms. In those same days, when the findings of the OAS expert group were about to be made public, there was an astonishing moment when the OAS secretary general Luis Almagro leaped to his feet in an OAS meeting and declared a minute of silence for the victims of Bolivia’s 2019 massacres. Progressive leaders across the continent expressed their outrage, given how instrumental Almagro’s actions were for the institution of the coup regime in 2019. While news coverage tends to focus on the figure of Almagro, it is evident that the real players are the United States and its North Atlantic allies. Critical to the survival of imperialism is the suffocation of left-leaning political projects around the globe.

Since 2005, Bolivia has been overwhelmingly voting for socialists presidents. The very fact of MAS’s return to power last year reflects this continued support for the Left. Workers and campesinos across Latin America see that Bolivians are navigating a path to radical democracy, and many believe that only the organized strength of the people will protect that journey.