Don’t forget that Human Rights Watch, not only OAS Chief Luis Almagro, helped a US-backed military coup in Bolivia

On November 10 of 2019, Bolivian President Evo Morales was overthrown and barely escaped the country alive. The military publicly ”suggested” that he resign. The military and police also made it clear that they would not protect him from vigilantes who wanted to lynch him. His house was ransacked by opposition supporters the night he fled.[1] He received political asylum in Mexico and, later, Argentina. Over the following 11 days, the security forces that refused to protect Morales (the democratically elected president) proceeded to kill over thirty people opposed to the coup.[2] Thirty Morales government officials took refuge in the Mexican embassy after he was overthrown.[3]  On November 13, military men “swore in” opposition congresswoman Jeanie Áñez as the de facto president. She quickly issued a decree giving the military immunity for killing protesters.[4]

The coup was sparked by false claims by Organization of American States (OAS) election monitors that there had been a “drastic,” “inexplicable” and “hard to explain” increase in Evo Morales’ lead over his opponents in the last 16% of the vote count during the first round of the presidential election. The election was held on October 20.  Morales’ lead increased from just under eight percentage points to just over ten. He received 47% of the popular vote which was in line with what polls predicted.[5] Because he received over 40% of the vote, and also beat his closest rival by over ten points, he won the presidency in the first round.[6]

The OAS rushed out its false claims about the election the day after it took place, and doubled down on them repeatedly over the following month. The Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) immediately published very thorough rebuttals. The Mexican government agreed to let Jake Johnston of CEPR present its response at the OAS permanent council meeting on December 12, but OAS refused to allow it.

OAS lies exposed, General Secretary Luis Almagro goes visibly off the deep end

In February, the OAS suffered a big blow when the Washington Post reported on the work of independent researchers who politely confirmed what CEPR has been saying all along: OAS statistical claims about Bolivia’s election were rubbish.  Then, on June 7, the New York Times reported that another set of researchers had come to the same conclusion.

As CEPR observed, the NYT article was actually soft on the OAS. It allowed the OAS to (without rebuttal) dismiss the significance of its bogus statistical analysis, and to “uncritically point to its other allegations of wrongdoing in the election”. Obviously, a dishonest statistical analysis undercuts the credibility of other OAS allegations about the election. More importantly, CEPR has also published an extensive rebuttal of those other allegations which the NYT ignored.

In spite of this favorable treatment from the NYT, OAS General Secretary Luis Almagro directed an amazingly bizarre rant at the newspaper. He managed to invoke Stalin, Fidel Castro and even the Holocaust.

Almagro’s outburst was so wild that it even drew criticism from Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch (HRW).[7]


As Vivanco and HRW (understandably) try to distance themselves from the OAS General Secretary, let’s not forget how HRW contributed towards the destruction of Bolivia’s democracy.

On November 12, HRW put out a press release that said

Bolivia: Prioritize Rights in Wake of Morales Resignation Organization of American States Should Continue Playing Leadership Role[8]

It ignored that Morales’ ”resignation” came at the point of gun. It ignored that Morales was elected in 2015 (with over sixty percent of the vote) to a term that did not expire until January 22, 2020. The least HRW should have done was call on other governments not to recognize the coup-installed dictatorship, and demand that the Morales be allowed to finish off his term.

Morales finishing off his term was the minimal requirement for free and fair elections to take place. HRW chose to pretend that free and fair elections could happen under a US-backed dictatorship that threatened to arrest Morales if he returned to his country, drove dozens of his top allies of his into exile or prison, and brutally imposed a media monoculture.[9] While “dictator” has long been HRW’s favorite way to label Nicolas Maduro, once again, when a real dictatorship was installed with US support, it refused to apply the label.

In fact, on May 15, Vivanco referred explicitly to the coup-installed dictatorship as a “democracy”

Vivanco was not misquoted or taken out of context, he uncritically pointed to the interview on his Twitter timeline.

HRW’s response to the coup was indefensible even if one believed OAS claims about Bolivia’s election. The fact that the claims were obvious nonsense all along makes HRW’s response much worse. The day after the October election Jose Miguel Vivanco took to Twitter to say [in Spanish] that

The OAS must immediately call a meeting of Foreign Ministers and apply the Democratic Charter to Evo Morales. Everything indicates that he is trying to steal the election. My total solidarity with Waldo Albarracin, a great fighter for human rights and public freedoms in Bolivia.

In fact, “everything indicated” that the OAS was, once again, facilitating a US-backed coup in the region through crooked election monitoring. The OAS could not have pulled it off without the complicity of major news outlets.

In 128 articles about the situation in Bolivia between October 20 to December 26, Reuters never mentioned CEPR’s criticism the OAS election monitors.[10]. None of those articles mentioned US financial clout over the OAS bureaucracy. Do you think that would have been ignored if the OAS were based in Caracas and primarily funded by Venezuela’s government?

The New York Times editorial board (the real one, not the pro-Fidel radicals of Almagro’s imagination) portrayed the coup as an attempt to “restore” Bolivia’s “wounded democracy”. It said that “when a leader resorts to brazenly abusing the power and institutions put in his care by the electorate, as President Evo Morales did in Bolivia, it is he who sheds his legitimacy, and forcing him out often becomes the only remaining option.”[11] Alan MacLeod, writing for FAIR.org, showed that the corporate media was unanimous in refusing to frame Morales ouster as a coup.[12]

What about Waldo Albarracin, the university president who HRW’s Jose Miguel Vivanco singled out for praise (in the tweet shown above) as a great human rights hero?

Albarracin is a staunch supporter of the coup and the Áñez dictatorship. One of the first tweets he put out after the coup was (uncharacteristically) in English – denying there had been a coup.[13] He called the Morales government a “dictatorship” on private TV a few days before it was overthrown. During that TV appearance, Albarracin also complained that Luis Fernando Camacho, a far right bigot and long-time associate of the violent groups that spearheaded the coup, was being denied “freedom of movement” within Bolivia.[14] Albarracin also tweeted a warm “welcome” to the Áñez dictatorship the day military men put the presidential sash on her.[15]

It was also unsurprising that Juan Guaidó in Venezuela also gave the coup in Bolivia a rapturous welcome. The Trump-anointed “interim president” of Venezuela tweeted his “recognition” of the Áñez dictatorship calling it an “inspiration”. One-upping those who said the coup had blown a democratic “breeze” over Latin America, Guaidó insisted it was more like a “hurricane”.[16] Even the moderate elements of the opposition, for example Henri Falcon, pointed to the coup in Bolivia an inspiring event.[17] However, Francisco Rodriguez, Falcon’s former economic advisor, did not celebrate the ouster of Morales. Weeks later, Rodriguez also posted a video on Twitter showing murdered protesters in Bolivia.[18] In fact, Rodriguez was one of the researchers whose work the NYT cited in the article that sent Almagro visibly off the deep end.

As for Ken Roth, HRW’s executive director, he put out “both sides” type statements on the coup in Bolivia:

Bolivia’s Evo Morales lost power because of his lawlessness. That is no excuse for Bolivian security forces now to pursue their own (violent) lawlessness in defense of his successor[19]

Roth seemed particularly fond of the Economist’s take on the coup.

There’s so much that is repulsive in this take, but one absurd aspect of it is the assumption that constitutional niceties drove the coup. Suppose Morales had won the 2016 term limit referendum by two percentage points instead of losing it by that margin. Or suppose that Morales had endorsed a successor who went on to win by a narrow margin in the first or second round of the presidential election. That would have prevented the coup?

Surely when violent groups combine with traitorous security forces to drive an elected president out of the country and massacre his supporters we must conclude that constitutional niceties are not the issue. There are clearly much deeper and more dangerous problems. Local oligarchs, backed by the US government and its many propagandists like HRW, are a grave threat to any democracy.

A US-backed dictatorship in Venezuela would get a warmer welcome as it perpetrated even larger scale crimes thanks to western media and human rights frauds like HRW.


[1] Evo Morales’s Life was in Danger, and He Almost Didn’t Make it Out of Bolivia, Guillaume Long and Lola Allen, Nov 20, 2019, http://cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/evo-s-odyssey-how-mexico-got-morales-out-of-bolivia accessed January 17, 2020; Angry Protesters Ransack Former Bolivian President’s House After His Resignation, Nov 11, 2019, https://www.news18.com/news/buzz/angry-protesters-ransack-former-bolivian-presidents-house-after-his-resignation-2382605.html accessed January 17, 2020

[2] Bolivia interim gov’t proposes election bill as death toll mounts, Nov 21, 2019,  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/bolivia-interim-gov-proposes-election-bill-death-toll-mounts-191120222432439.html accessed January 17, 2020

[3] Embajada de México en Bolivia da asilo a 30 exfuncionarios de Evo Morales, Nayeli Párraga, Nov 13, 2019,

https://www.elsoldemexico.com.mx/mexico/politica/ultimas-noticia-embajada-de-mexico-en-bolivia-da-asilo-a-30-exfuncionarios-de-evo-morales-expresidente-4449879.html accessed January 19,2020

[4] Illegitimate government in Bolivia seeks to enshrine impunity for Armed Forces, Tanya Wadhwa, Nov 20, 2019, https://peoplesdispatch.org/2019/11/20/illegitimate-government-in-bolivia-seeks-to-enshrine-impunity-for-armed-forces/ accessed January 17, 2020

[5] Poll Tracker: Bolivia’s 2019 Presidential Race, Holly K Sonneland, Oct 18, 2019, https://www.as-coa.org/articles/poll-tracker-bolivias-2019-presidential-race accessed January 17, 2020

[6] Due to mandatory voting, Bolivian election shave very high turnout. It was 88% in the October 20 election.

[7] Almagro has been saying crazy things for quite a while. In December of 2018, he was expelled from his former political party in Uruguay for parroting Trump’s line that military intervention should be an option in Venezuela. Also mimicking the US government, Almagro alleged that Cuba and Venezuela were behind huge protests against neoliberal policies in Colombia, Chile and Ecuador:

Luis Almagro es expulsado del partido Frente Amplio de Uruguay, Dec 15, 2018,    https://cnnespanol.cnn.com/2018/12/15/almagro-expulsado-frente-amplio-uruguay-partido/ ; OAS Head Almagro Expelled From His Party Due to Interventionism, Dec 15, 2018,  https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/OAS-Head-Almagro-Expelled-From-His-Party-Due-to-Interventionism-20181215-0014.html ; Almagro denuncia “patrón” de desestabilización de Venezuela y Cuba en la región, AFP, Oct 25, 2019, https://www.voanoticias.com/a/luisalmagro-oea-venezuela-cuba-latinoamerica/5140013.html    accessed January 18, 2020

[8]  Bolivia: Prioritize Rights in Wake of Morales Resignation, Nov 12, 2019,   https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/11/12/bolivia-prioritize-rights-wake-morales-resignation accessed January 19, 2020

[9] With the right-wing coup in Bolivia nearly complete, the junta is hunting down the last remaining dissidents, Wyatt Reed, Nov 27, 2019, https://thegrayzone.com/2019/11/27/right-wing-coup-bolivia-complete-junta-hunting-dissidents/ accessed january 19, 2020 ; Notes on a private TV newscast in Bolivia. The contrast with Venezuela is clear as day, Joe Emersberger, Dec 20,2019,  https://zcomm.org/zblogs/notes-on-a-private-tv-newscast-in-bolivia-the-contrast-with-venezuela-is-clear-as-day/ both links accessed January 18, 2020

[10] 128 Reuters articles on Bolivia since October 20, 2019 election with no mention of expert criticism of OAS audit UPDATED, Joe Emersberger, Dec 26, 2019  https://zcomm.org/zblogs/112-reuters-articles-on-bolivia-since-october-20-2019-election-with-no-mention-of-expert-criticism-of-oas-audit/  accessed January 19, 2020

[11]  Evo Morales Is Gone. Bolivia’s Problems Aren’t, New York Times editorial board, Nov 11, 2019,   https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/11/opinion/evo-morales-bolivia.html accessed January 19, 2020

[12]  The Bolivian Coup Is Not a Coup—Because US Wanted It to Happen, Alan MacLeod, Nov 11, 2019,   https://fair.org/home/the-bolivian-coup-is-not-a-coup-because-us-wanted-it-to-happen/ accessed January 19, 2020

[13] According to Ollie Vargas, an independent journalist who has done extensive post-coup reporting  in Bolivia, Albaracin has been credibly linked to right wing extremists who used violence to intimidate university students and faculty to help get him elected. Vargas also says it probably was Morales supporters who burned down his house during the coup on November 10. Inexcusable, but that hardly exempts Albarracin from criticism for the grave crimes he supported. Vivanco also expressed outrage on Twitter that Morales criticized Albarracin (quite fairly) for supporting the coup and its massacres. https://twitter.com/JMVivancoHRW/status/1196119013442670592 accessed January 20, 2020

[14] Waldo Albarracín se pronuncia ante el regreso de Luis Fernando Camacho a Santa Cruz, Nov 5, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0NfN7CJSUk ;  Bolivia Coup led by Christian Fascist Paramilitary Leader and Millionaire – with Foreign Support, Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, Nov 11, 2019,

https://thegrayzone.com/2019/11/11/bolivia-coup-fascist-foreign-support-fernando-camacho/  both accessed January 20, 2020 ;

[15] https://twitter.com/search?q=dictadura%20(from%3Aw_albarracin)&src=typed_query

accessed January 19, 2020

[16] https://twitter.com/search?q=Bolivia%20(from%3Ajguaido)%20since%3A2019-11-10&src=typed_query accessed January 20, 2020

[17] https://twitter.com/HenriFalconLara/status/1193653057118191616 accessed January 20, 2020

[18] https://twitter.com/frrodriguezc/status/1194409109866586112 , https://twitter.com/frrodriguezc/status/1196095685105508359 accessed January 20, 2020

[19] https://twitter.com/KenRoth/status/1196248843848945664  accessed January 20, 2020

[20] For more of the details on the OAS claims and links to other sources see “Reuters Shields OAS Over False Claims That Sparked Bolivia Coup”, Joe Emersberger, Dec 17, 2019

https://fair.org/home/reuters-shields-oas-over-false-claims-that-sparked-bolivia-coup/ accessed January 18,2020

[21] Bolivians spoil ballots in judicial vote to protest Morales, Daniel Ramos, Dec 4, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-politics/bolivians-spoil-ballots-in-judicial-vote-to-protest-morales-idUSKBN1DY2I5 accessed January 18, 2020

[22] See Chapter 10 for discussion of the 2009 Hoduran Supreme Court ruling

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