Debating Bolivia: A tweet. Silence. And then Bernie Sanders.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Creative Commons photo)

Elizabeth Warren's policy stumble on Bolivia * Updated

Last week Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, took what may appear at first glance as a middle of the road response to the crisis in Bolivia and the resignation of Bolivia's first Indigenous president, Evo Morales.

The presidential candidate’s tweet urged Bolivian security forces to "protect demonstrators, not commit violence against them." Then she added: “The Bolivian people deserve free and fair elections."

That last sentence is controversial because many see the Morales’ resignation as a military coup that limits the rights of the Indigenous population.

Sema Hernandez, a 34-years-old, single mother of four, and daughter of immigrants, civil rights and environmental justice activist is running for U.S. Senate in 2020 in Texas. 

She called out Warren in the strongest terms for supporting the coup. “The interim leadership is ethnically cleansing Bolivia's Indigenous population and declaring Bolivia a Christian nation,” she tweeted.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, is the only Democratic presidential candidate to call the military action in Bolivia a coup. He said at a Univision debate that Morales "did a very good job in alleviating poverty and giving the Indigenous people of Bolivia a voice that they never had before."

Another candidate. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, has also called this a coup. She tweeted: "What happened in Bolivia is a coup. Period. The United States and other countries should not be interfering in the Bolivian people's pursuit of self-determination and right to choose their own government."

An essay in Foreign Policy said that Morales' legacy will be his inclusion of Indigenous people in the government. 

"His administration emphasized the 'refounding of Bolivia' as an “Indigenous” country, reversing decades, and centuries, when Indigenous heritage was largely kept out of public view. Now, it was everywhere in Bolivia’s public sphere," Foreign Policy said.

Morales faced backlash after winning a fourth term in office not allowed under the Bolivian constitution but was permitted by the country's supreme court. A new right-wing government, backed by the military, assumed office after Morales left the country, led by a former senator and now interim-President Jeanine Áñez.

Áñez, leader of the Democratic Social Movement Party, has declared the military exempt from criminal responsibility for any crimes committed while cracking down on protesters. On Nov. 18, Democracy Now! reported military forces had killed 23 pro-Morales protestors and injuring hundreds more. Many were Indigenous. Once part of the vast Inca empire, sixty-two percent of Bolivia's 11.3 million people are Indigenous, and Morales was the first to ever win an election with that majority in 2005.

The murder of so many Indigenous and opposition supporters makes Warren's call for Bolivia's interim leadership to "limit itself to preparing for an early, legitimate election," appear inadequate at best and masking ethnic cleansing at worst. 

sema-hernandez
Sema Hernandez

"She doesn't acknowledge fascists takeover of the [Bolivian] government declaring this a Christian nation," Hernandez told Indian Country Today, "and the people being slaughtered are the Indigenous people.”

Tweets from Áñez are disturbing. She denigrates the Indigenous Aymara nation's New Year celebration calling it "satanic." The Bolivian interim-president, who often has a staffer carrying a cross attending her speeches, added, "nobody can replace God."

The interim Bolivian president has also created a "special government apparatus" to detain members of Morales' Movement for Socialism party, who comprise a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Áñez's minority party won 4.2 percent of the seats in the government's legislature.

On Sunday the Bolivian legislature agreed to new elections and barred Morales from a future candidacy. The interim government has also called Morales a terrorist who should be jailed.

Warren supports U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and has joined President Trump in supporting the new president. Conservative publications lauded her for her support of his position. Progressives decried her support of sanctions claiming they contributed to the destruction of the economy and political instability.

Sema points out that the senator remained silent both about Venezuela and the Dakota Access pipeline. Warren waited until the day Obama rescinded the permit for the pipeline to issue a statement of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

This is not the first Democratic presidential candidate Hernandez has taken on. 

She ran against Beto O'Rourke in the Democratic primaries in 2018. She raised only $4,000 and had no major endorsements, yet earned 24 percent of the vote (to Beto's 60 percent.)

"My decolonization process happened during the 2018 senate race," Sema says. "Indigenous people sat me down and said, you know you are Indigenous? Even if I am, how do I trace it back? So we traced back my grandparents and where my Indigenous bloodline comes from.”

Working as a nurse in the healthcare field, Hernandez has seen the discrimination of black, brown, poor.

"If we really want to address the needs of the forgotten," she says, "it must be the forgotten ones who must run.”

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(Image: Indian Country Today)

Jacqueline Keeler is a Diné/Ihanktonwan Dakota writer. Her book “The Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears” is available from Torrey House Press and the forthcoming “Standing Rock to the Bundy Standoff: Occupation, Native Sovereignty, and the Fight for Sacred Landscapes” will be released next year. On Twitter: @jfkeeler

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