Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
I spent my earliest years under a Corbynista dictatorship. Peru in the early 1970s was run by a Leftist general called Juan Velasco who, claiming to speak for The Many Not The Few, nationalised industries, seized private property, blocked imports and, in an early example of deranged identity politics, sought to impose the indigenous language, Quechua, even in schools where none of the children spoke it. It was Velasco who inspired Hugo Chávez: the young Venezuelan cadet had visited Lima in 1975 and – incredibly, given the palpable poverty and chaos – decided that Venezuela could do with something similar.
There were not many people that Peruvians could look down on in those days. But they managed, at least, to feel superior to Bolivians, their gnomic, landlocked, penurious neighbours. The children at my nursery school used to point in delight at the map on the wall, and in particular at the massive lake that straddled the border. “Titi para Perú y caca para Bolivia,” they would shriek delightedly. If Peru was poor, Bolivia was poorer. If Peru had an unstable political system, Bolivia – at that time also under a strongman – held the world record for the greatest number of putsches.
This year, Bolivia stretched that record further. There have now been 190 revolutions, unconstitutional seizures of power or serious coup attempts in the history of that luckless republic. To be clear, the coup I am talking about is not the popular movement that ousted Evo Morales earlier this week. The coup, rather, was carried out by Morales himself last month.
A bit of background. In 2005, Morales, a Leftist former coca farmer, was narrowly elected president, the first indigenous leader in a country where two thirds of the population is aboriginal. Following the Chavista playbook, Morales scrapped the constitution and “refounded” Bolivia with a new “plurinational” constitution. Among other things, his constitution provided for a two-term limit on the presidency (though, conveniently, it did not count Morales’s existing term, which had started before his constitution entered into force). In 2016, Morales tried to get around the limit so as to be eligible for a fourth term. He held a referendum on changing the rules but, to his surprise, he lost. He then ignored the rules and ran anyway.
This time, he didn’t leave anything to chance. Widespread electoral fraud was supplemented by the arrest of opposition leaders and targeted violence by pro-government thugs. The Organisation of American States, the chief election monitor in the Western hemisphere, reported “serious irregularities” and “clear manipulation” in the poll. When the results came in after October 20 – who’d’ve thunk it – Morales had miraculously secured just enough votes to win on the first round.
At which point, Bolivians displayed a truly heroic readiness to stand by the law. Crowds took to the streets across the country, making a nonsense of the claimed election figures. The police declared that their first loyalty was to the constitution (the constitution passed by Morales himself, remember) and refused to repress the protesters. The Armed Forces followed suit. This week, seeing that the game was up, Morales fled to Mexico.
A cheerful story, you might think. Indeed, arguably the supreme example in the world right now of benign people power. The crowds in Chile are marching against a government that was democratically elected. The crowds in Hong Kong are marching against a regime which, though unelected, is at least legitimate under the existing constitutional order. But the crowds in Bolivia were protesting against what is known in Latin America as an “autogolpe” – a coup carried out by an existing regime against the democratic system.
Most of the world, including most social democratic governments, have backed fresh elections. Only the most anti-Western states – Cuba, Russia, Venezuela – have come out for Morales.
You can probably guess which side Jeremy Corbyn is on. Precisely as he did over Venezuela nine months ago, he has broken with the mainstream international Left in order to back a Marxist who had dispensed with free elections.
Here is how he greeted the end of the dictatorship: “To see @evoespueblo who, along with a powerful movement, has brought so much social progress forced from office by the military is appalling. I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence.” (Incidentally, Morales’s Twitter handle – “Evo Is The People” – tells you everything you need to know about the megalomania of these socialist revolutionaries, their belief that almost anything can be justified in the name of The People.)
While mainstream Labour MPs, looked on uncomfortably, Momentum repeated its jejune nostrums: “The imperialist coup against him must be condemned. Full solidarity with the Bolivian people in their struggle for sovereignty, justice and democracy.”
In truth, Corbyn is closer to the Chavista autocrats than to European socialists. He sides wholeheartedly and unquestioningly with any Leftist regime, however oppressive its policies and however wretched its people, provided it is sufficiently anti-American.
His attitude ought to worry us. I mean that literally: it ought to make us frightened. Castro, Velasco, Chávez, Morales – all believed that the end justified the means, that the revolution mattered more than the ballot box, that ordinary people should not be allowed to undermine The People. These men are Corbyn’s heroes, his inspiration. Never once has he argued that their contempt for democracy undermines their legitimacy.
What makes you think he’d be any different if he came to office here? Look at the way he has entrenched himself in the Labour Party, removing his critics and entrenching his allies so as to make himself impossible to remove. Can you be certain he’d behave any differently as Prime Minister? Really?