Let’s take a break from the right-wing apologists of a would-be autocrat in the United States to check in with the left-wing apologists of an actual autocrat in Bolivia.
In the face of mass protests, the Bolivarian military has forced the left-wing populist Evo Morales to step down.
Morales served an unconstitutional third term as president from 2014 to 2019. He called and lost a referendum in 2016 on whether he should stand for a fourth term, but the Supreme Court canceled that result, arguing that “American imperialism” had influenced the outcome.
In his latest bid for reelection, observers from the Organization of American States found clear manipulations, including a 24-hour freeze in the vote count, before which Morales was losing and after which he suddenly won.
You wouldn’t know it from reading British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders or New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading light of the American new left, who have all denounced Morales’ removal as a “coup” and are calling for “free and fair elections” — no matter that’s the very thing Morales wouldn’t allow.
I like to think I know a bit about the American and European left, but I know very little about Bolivia, so let me quote Yascha Mounk here, who is an expert in how democracies can be subverted by illiberal strongmen.
He writes in The Atlantic that, far from a coup, what happened in Bolivia was that citizens had finally had enough of arbitrary rule.
Morales for years “concentrated ever more authority in his own hands, denounced the opposition in aggressive terms and placed loyalists in key institutions, from the country’s public broadcaster to its highest court.” Not unlike Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Nicolás Maduro, Viktor Orbán and indeed Donald Trump.
His departure, according to Mounk, “marks both a sea change in Latin American politics and a stinging rebuke to the naïveté of parts of the Western left.”
Morales was a socialist, who loudly and frequently derided neoliberalism. Just like many Republicans don’t care about Trump’s attacks on democracy, the free press and the rule of law so long as he is on their side, leftists like Corbyn, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez were willing to pretend Morales hadn’t become authoritarian so long as he attacked capitalism.
And not for the first time. “Western leftists defend left-wing dictator in South America” is a headline we’ve read before.
The best-known example is Hugo Chávez, but he at least didn’t need to rig elections. When his successor, Nicolás Maduro, did, and stacked the courts, and sidelined an elected parliament, and plunged Venezuela into the worst economic crisis any country has every seen outside war, the European far left still refused to criticize him.
Sanders, to his credit, has called Maduro a “tyrant” and accused him of waging a “violent crackdown” on civil society. Ocasio-Cortez, when asked in May, refused to do the same, calling the situation in Venezuela “complex” and counseling against American intervention.
Why? There is no political upside to carrying water for left-wing extremists. It makes the average voter think you might be an extremist yourself. That’s one reason Sanders lost the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and it is why the Labour Party has lost every election in the United Kingdom since Corbyn became its leader.
If it’s not strategy, it must be conviction.