Local activists press McGovern to denounce Bolivia coup

  • U.S. Rep. Jim Mcgovern, D-Northampton, speaks over speaker phone about the recent coup in Bolivia to UMass Amherst history professor Kevin Young, left, and activist Celina della Croce, center, as McGovern's district representative, Koby Gardner-Levine, right, holds the phone on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • Surrounded by fellow activists, Celina della Croce reads a tweet Wednesday rom U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Northampton, denouncing the recent coup in Bolivia. The group had come to McGovern’s Northampton office to implore him to denounce the coup. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN


Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2019 11:53:46 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Squeezing shoulder-to-shoulder into a tiny conference room in their U.S. congressman’s office Wednesday, a group of activists had a primary demand for Rep. Jim McGovern: Denounce the recent coup in Bolivia.

“There are some really reactionary, violent and racist people who are in the opposition,” Kevin Young, a University of Massachusetts Amherst history professor who studies Bolivia, told McGovern’s district representative.

Young noted that there are also Bolivians on the political left who have been protesting against recently deposed leftist President Evo Morales, the country’s first-ever indigenous leader. “There is a layer of complexity … That complexity doesn’t negate the fact that it is a coup.”

McGovern, D-Northampton, appeared to have prepared for the activists’ arrival at his office. As his district representative, Koby Gardner-Levine, held his cellphone in the air, McGovern read to the 14 activists — over speakerphone — what he was about to tweet.

He began by saying Morales had been “illegitimately forced from power by violent protest and the intransigence of hard-line opposition leaders.” He called for new, free and fair elections in which Morales’ political party is fully represented.

“I’m deeply worried about the #HumanRights of Bolivians, including their right to peacefully protest,” the tweet reads. “A peaceful transfer of power after elections is a cornerstone of democracy — the time for military coups, in Latin America or elsewhere, is over.”

Mass demonstrations have broken out the wake of the longtime president’s resignation on Sunday under pressure from protesters and the military after his disputed presidential election victory last month.

The Senate’s vice president, Jeanine Anez​​​​, declared herself interim president Tuesday — a move that’s been endorsed by Bolivia’s highest court as well as the Trump administration and the administration of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. Morales and his supporters have said her claim to the presidency is illegitimate, and have received support from regional leaders such as Argentina’s president-elect, Alberto Fernandez, and former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

McGovern stopped short of promising that he would introduce a resolution in the U.S. House condemning Morales’ ouster, but said he would check with other politicians who have spoken out about the situation — including Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — to see if they could all collaborate on a statement.

McGovern has a history of speaking out against human rights abuses and military regimes in Latin America. As a staffer for then-U.S. Rep. Joe Moakley in the 1980s, he led an investigation of the killings of six Jesuit priests and two others in El Salvador, helping to expose that those murders were committed by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military.

The activists, highlighting McGovern’s past work, asked him to use his position to investigate any possible U.S. involvement in the coup in Bolivia. They also implored him to look into and denounce human rights violations against indigenous Bolivians, who are a majority in the country.

“It’s a real threat to the lives of indigenous peoples,” local activist Celina della Croce said of the crisis currently taking place in Bolivia.

After the meeting, the group joined others outside McGovern’s office, where della Croce read McGovern’s tweet to applause.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.

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