The NDP is complicit in imperialist violence in Bolivia

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa on Sunday, October 15, 2017. Photo by Obert Madondo (Flickr).

Editor’s Note: Less than an hour after this article was published, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh issued statements on Facebook and Twitter, calling on the Trudeau government to “condemn the anti-democratic actions” that led to the coup in Bolivia. Singh’s statement, however, does not clarify whether or not the NDP believes Morales should be allowed to run in a future election.

It’s now been four days since the right-wing coup in Bolivia, where President Evo Morales — the first Indigenous president of the Indigenous-majority Latin American county — was violently ousted by military forces backed by the United States and Canada. 

The new self-proclaimed president of Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez, is a Christian fundamentalist who has a litany of anti-Indigenous statements to her name, including “I dream of a Bolivia free of Indigenous satanic rites, the city is not for ‘Indians,’ they better go to the highlands or El Chaco.”

Police officers cut Indigenous flags off their uniforms, while one of Áñez’s far-right accomplices brought a Bible to the presidential palace in La Paz with the assertion: “[Indigenous goddess] Pachamama will never return. Today Christ is returning to the Government Palace. Bolivia is for Christ.” What has taken place is unequivocally a fascist, theocratic coup.

There are many theories about the motivating factors for the coup (and it objectively is a coup: Áñez has taken power without Morales resigning in accordance with the constitution and she has since banned him from running in the next election).

Some have speculated that Bolivia’s immense lithium deposits may have been the Iraq oil to this overthrow, with corporations thirsty for privatization of the resource critical to building batteries for electric vehicles; some experts have pushed back at this reading as overly simplistic. 

But here is what we do know, well summarized by Sioux academic Nick Estes in an excellent article for the Guardian:

Evo and his party, the Indigenous-led Movement for Socialism (MAS in Spanish), nationalized key industries and used bold social spending to shrink extreme poverty by more than half, lowering the country’s Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, by a remarkable 19%. During Evo’s and MAS’s tenure, much of Bolivia’s Indigenous-majority population has, for the first time in their lives, lived above poverty.


Morales and the MAS were leaders of the so-called Pink Tide in Latin America, a continental force that has worked to resist neoliberalism and assert national sovereignty over land and resources. Many of these efforts have been crippled by right-wing sabotage and outright assault, including the incarceration of Lula in Brazil and attempted overthrowing of Maduro in Venezuela. Others have betrayed leftist movements, like Lenín Moreno in Ecuador. The movement has certainly been weakened. But Indigenous peoples and trade unionists keep fighting for their lives, even as Morales himself was forced to flee to Mexico to avoid potential assassination. The struggle for socialism continues.

This is a coup with massive repercussions, not only for the people of Bolivia and Latin America but for the left around the world. It requires immediate and unequivocal opposition like that displayed by political heavyweights including UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and union bodies like AFL–CIO, National Nurses United, and the Durham Region Labour Council. The latter called on the Ontario Federation of Labour to “write a public statement that denounces Canada’s support for this coup and calls for our government to support the restoration of democracy and the safe return of Evo Morales.”

It is best summarized as a lowest common denominator response. A statement does not constitute action, only the beginning of organizing against this act of imperialism. 

Yet the NDP, Canada’s supposedly leftist party of labour and solidarity, cannot bring itself to issue a statement condemning the coup. Over the last four days, in spite of consistent demands from NDP membership and allies, the party has refused to even acknowledge that a coup has taken place, let alone issue a strong statement to draw the public’s attention to it. 

In fact, instead of issuing a statement on Bolivia, the NDP published one about fighter jet procurement which bragged of how “men and women are working miracles to make the CF-18s work.” Meanwhile, the party’s defense critic, Randall Garrison, has quote tweeted the Israel Defense Forces while slandering Palestinian resistance as “Islamic Jihad.”

Compare this to a statement issued by the Communist Party of Canada on the day of the coup: “The Communist Party demands that the safety of President Morales and other MAS leaders is protected by Bolivian authorities, and that the Canadian government and the international community must add their voices to this demand.”

This silence from the NDP is a cowardly betrayal of immense proportions. To many, it is not a surprising one given the NDP’s history of complicity in imperialism such as twice voting to bomb Libya and refusing calls to condemn a similar coup in Haiti when Jack Layton was leader.

The NDP has also supported Canada’s training of the fascist-infiltrated Ukraine army, and complained that new military spending is not being released quickly enough.

This particular moment matters because leftists were told repeatedly throughout the federal election that Jagmeet Singh and his team of NDP candidates were different; that they would be pursuing a “New Deal for the People” (whatever that means) and that it was the most leftist campaign in a generation, grounded in commitments to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and challenging of billionaire power.

Many young activists were drawn into the party through organizations like Our Time, helping to canvass and door-knock for candidates who they believed represented a different vision. To be sure, five or so NDP MPs have individually spoken out against the coup: Leah Gazan, Niki Ashton, Jenny Kwan, Matthew Green, and Don Davies. These statements follow consistent support for other principled anti-imperialist struggles like Gazan’s participation in an anti-coup panel when right-wing forces were attempting to overthrow Maduro. Ashton, too, has been an increasingly strong ally to the struggle for Palestinian statehood and an end to Israeli military occupation.

Unfortunately, statements from individual politicians do not constitute a party position. Unless forwarded by the leader and party itself, they remain mere tweets that, while appreciated, cannot translate into helping anti-imperialist social movements fight back against the coup. The response to this violent overthrow of an Indigenous leader of a socialist country was a litmus test for the party leadership: one that it has failed miserably, and should reiterate to leftists why the NDP is not our ally but rather an accessory to imperialist violence.

Rather than mobilize its supporters to rally and advocate for Bolivian comrades facing incredible oppression from far-right radicals, Singh and his team have opted to stay silent and instead gloat about meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk about national pharmacare.

It is clear that the NDP’s “love and courage” extends only to people in Canada, not those in the Global South whose resources Canadian companies plunder and kill for.

However, for leftists who have been long critical of the NDP for its actions both provincially and federally on issues such as foreign policy, policing and incarceration, and fossil fuel extraction, this betrayal should not be taken as an opportunity to pull an “I told you so” about the party and leave it at that.

We must continue to pressure and shame the NDP to do what is right, of course, but more importantly work to build up anti-imperialist movements that can host rallies, panel discussions, office occupations, and outreach campaigns in the coming weeks and months to oppose ever-increasing hostilities to the left in the Global South and include young leftists disillusioned with the NDP’s silence.

Indigenous communities and trade unionists in Bolivia are under deadly assault. The NDP has made it abundantly clear in its silence where it stands on this reality: tacit support, consistent with its silence on the paramilitary raid in Unist’ot’en territory

We must realize that the NDP cannot and will not be our saviours. Even if the party does eventually muster the requisite courage to release a statement, it is almost guaranteed it will not mobilize its resources to fight for it. This should be taken as a reminder that Singh and his senior staff do not care about anti-imperialism and the Global South. They care only about appealing to existing ideological frameworks for votes. The way the party will shift its position is with incredible pressure from community organizers.

We are left to do the work that any legitimate leftist party would be leading: to advocate in our unions, faith communities, and classrooms for Morales to be guaranteed safe return to Bolivia to continue his party’s work of Indigenous socialism.

We cannot have climate justice without being committed to anti-imperialist struggle. This is an opportunity to coalesce fights against mining companies and oil and gas extraction with right-wing violence against Indigenous communities in the Global South and North. A bourgeois, barely social democratic party will not do that for us. It has made its decision. Now we must make ours.

James Wilt is a freelance journalist and graduate student based in Winnipeg. He is a frequent contributor to CD, and has also written for The Narwhal, VICE Canada, The Globe and Mail, Briarpatch, and National Observer. James is currently working on a book about public transportation for Between the Lines Books. You can follow him on Twitter at @james_m_wilt.

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