Recently released United States embassy cables from Bolivia have provided additional insight to the events leading up to the September 2008 coup attempt against the Andean country’s first indigenous president.
On September 9, 2008, President Evo Morales expelled then-US ambassador Philip Goldberg as evidence emerged that Goldberg and embassy officials had been meeting with several key civilian and military figures involved in an unfolding coup plot.
These meetings took place in the midst of “civic strikes” and roadblocks called by the right-wing opposition prefects (governors) of the eastern states. These actions were denounced by the government as an attempted coup.
The prefects announced their intentions to begin implementing “regional autonomy” statutes, which they claimed had been approved by illegal referendums held in the four eastern states between May and July.
These statutes were aimed at securing regional control over natural resources and state security bodies.
Taking over government buildings and cutting off food supplies, the right-wing insurgents carried out a reign of terror on the streets, mobilising paramilitary forces.
Soldiers and police officers were targets of their violence. The hope was to trigger an armed confrontation, banking on important sections of the military refusing to obey government orders.
The secret US cables released by WikiLeaks show how such a scenario was already envisaged months before by the US embassy.
A December 12, 2007 cable assessed the situation within the military. It said that, faced with conflict, the government could “at best” rely on only “sporadic and half-hearted compliance from a minority of commanders”.
Based on intelligence gathered from military officers, the cable concluded: “Although they can be expected to protect government infrastructure and transportation, most commanders are likely to sit out any violent confrontation with opposition forces.”
Field commanders were “prepared to stand down and confine their troops to barracks”, even if a written order was signed by Morales.
Sounds very similar to the US’ historical military involvement in Latin America.