Recently Bolivia held presidential elections which were highly questioned in terms of legitimacy and led to massive protests in the country accusing the government of fraud. This situation, and the attitude/responses from government officials, led towards the protesting population escalating their demands, from a second voting round between the top 2 candidates, through complete annulment of the elections and a call to new elections without the people involved in the fraud accusations and finally the call for the resignation of the president and most of the government authorities. The fraud accusations were mostly proven on Sunday 10th of November with a preliminary report of the audit being held by the OAS.

As a result of this protests the former president Evo Morales presented his resignation, along with several members of the government.

While presenting their resignations many of the former government officials exclaimed there was a coup in progress.

What constitutes a coup? Can the situation in Bolivia be called a coup?

Disclaimer: I am Bolivian and worried about some information placed on international news outlets declaring a coup while the optics from inside the country don't point to a coup, but rather to the legitimate calls for resignation from the population to the now former president.

Recent events

Given that the Bolivian constitution was upheld and the line of succession respected (with the Bolivian supreme constitutional tribunal validating the succession). Can it be considered a coup?

More recent events

Can be trusted mirrorly in dependancy of your view on the situation - from "aggressive protesters attacks military" to "military suppressing people protesting".

Points above - about constitution and others are still true, but events flows far from constitutional crisis.

  • What else would you call it? It is much easier to decide between two alternatives by checking which of them the situation resembles more.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 10:53
  • @Tom a revolution? A popular protest? A criminal that committed fraud and ran away to avoid justice? I've also heard people compare it to the Arab spring but I'm not well versed on that. So different ways to call the situation exist. I'm just trying to figure out if coup actually is correct. Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 13:32
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    As per a British MP that goes by the name of Dan, there have been about 190 coups in the country. I believe that the recent sham elections represent one such, and the ousting of Morales is the corrective action against the government-led coup, or "autogolpe" as they are called in the local wordage. Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 16:39
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    It's not a coup. It's alternative facts. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 22:02

7 Answers 7


Possibly. There is no internationally accepted definition of a coup.

It is a coup if the legitimate government is overthrown by force. It is not a coup if the government finds it politically expedient to follow the wishes of the population. It is not a coup if the military refuses orders of an unconstitutional government, either.

  • Has the Morales government been legitimate after the 2019 elections? There seem to be strong clues that the elections were improperly handled.
  • If so, should the judgement of this case be left to the Supreme Court or is it considered to be compromised as well?
  • Would the demand by the military leadership that Morales should resign constitute a threat of force?
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    ref Has the Morales government been legitimate after the 2019 elections?, one might point that even if Morales had lost the elections (and even his opponents didn't claim that afaik), he and his government would still have been the legitimate rulers of Bolivia until the 22nd of January, 2020.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 10:03
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    re middle bullet point: Morales attempted but failed a popular vote referendum to alter the constitution to allow him to run for a fourth term. The Supreme Court then said it was legal for him to do it anyway.
    – BurnsBA
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 16:34
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    @hLk dug a bit further and if these allegations are accurate, no point in a recount. Not sure about an audit prior to a revote though, although who would do it? nytimes.com/reuters/2019/11/11/world/americas/…
    – user19831
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 21:43
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    Why would you reject a revote and go straight to overthrowing the government? Wouldn't you want to at least maintain some organization? This is not the first time outside forces have caused unrest in South America.
    – hLk
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 21:49
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    no, "if the legitimate government is overthrown by force" also fits a revolution. revolutions are not coups. coups are results of plots, plotted in secret by small groups of plotters.
    – Genli Ai
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 10:27

The fraud accusations were mostly proven on Sunday 10th of November with a preliminary report of the audit being held by the OAS.

I'm not privy with the details, but I'm familiar with where the coup chatter is coming from.

According to reporting by The Nation (which got picked up by other outlets, such as Democracy Now), the OAS said there was fraud, but provided zero evidence to support the claim – in any of its reports. Fueling the accusations further, Jacobin also pointed to a recent report that laid out Morales' achievements on fighting poverty.

(I've honestly no idea how well founded all this is or not. But those are the sources to look into if you feel like digging deeper.)

  • 2
    I wanted to add the OAS report to the question, but didn't find a version in English. Here's the one in Spanish if you're interested. OAS Audit Preliminary Report. "but provided zero evidence to support the claim" that report presents evidence of flaws in the whole electoral process and some statistical analysis results for the trends in the vote count. It's yet a preliminary report, so that's why I said mostly proven instead of definitely proven. One of your links talks about a military coup? Can you expand on that? Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 18:40
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    @MaxRasguido: As I wrote in the answer, I've honestly no idea of what's going on. I noticed the Jacobin post earlier this morning, and watched the Democracy Now segment this evening, but have little idea about what the specific claims being put forward are how trustworthy they are. That being said, the military calling a president to resign (which they did) is a military coup by any reasonable definition. Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 19:01
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    Just to be clear, the direct quote from the military leader was “Nos sumamos al pedido del pueblo boliviano de sugerir al señor presidente Evo Morales presente su renuncia para pacificar al pueblo de Bolivia en estos duros momentos que atraviesa nuestra nación” which translates to "We adhere to the bolivian peoples petition of suggesting Evo Morales to resign in order to restore the peace in Bolivia on this hard times the country is going through". Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 19:11
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    Here are the English versions of the preliminary report and the press release. (I couldn't find any claim of outright fraud, only irregularities. This seems to be widely misreported.)
    – nwellnhof
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 12:20
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    I'm sorry, but the report of Morales achievements does not add anything to whether or not there was fraud. It's just nudge nudge wink wink.
    – user19831
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 20:49

That is highly likely a coup.

Just consider the speed of OAS giving support to the opposition.

Let's also consider the face of an opposition. It is common for western-supported South America leaders to be:

  • Right-wing
  • Christian, or position himself so
  • Rich
  • Considering US as a very close ally
  • Western education

Those points can be applicable to each and every US/OAS-supported South American leader:

  • Bolsonaro (Brazil)
  • Luis Fernando Camacho (Bolivia) - haven't found more strict information, but even BBC calls it a copy of Bolsonaro.
  • Markes (Columbia)
  • Guaido (Venezuela) - hardly can be named a leader, but still should be mentioned

So, what scheme do we have:

  • criticizing elections. This is just a trigger for the second point - to motivate people crowding on the streets
  • causing protests in a capital. Here may appear some unknown snipers - to cause victims, or may not.
  • US/OAS/"international community" supports opposition. Legitimizing aim of the protests and protests itself.
  • military rejects to support the president. That is the core point. The Venezuelan army is loyal to a leader, so all coup attempts have failed.
  • the Coup. And that is.

But it may be more difficult than the West thinks - Morales supporters for now are approaching the capital, in an attempt to stop the coup.

Also, some non-mainstream information can be also considered, to ruin the one-side image.


According to (and thanks to - I've continued to gather materials) readers, asking for evidences. La Jornada published a leak from US embassy, revealing the link between US and the coup.

For now it is definetly a coup. It is not surprising, though. It is not the first coup, with the help of US intelligence services in South America, and I doubt if it would be the last.

Notice also, that La Jornada is not a small newspaper. It is a big newspaper, with many readers, Naom Chomsky noticed it as the only independent in the hemisphere.

And some more material about "legitimate coup":

  1. peaceful Bolivia opposition right-wingers
  2. Bolivian right-wing groups with the police terrorizing Moralez supporters

As long as situation escalates, THE SECOND EDIT:

Seems that highly likely transforms into "definitely". Military officers placing presidental sash on a "new president": Not a military coup

Note, that there was NO QUORUM in pairlament while "voting" for Jeanine Áñez. Note also, that Jeanine is openly racist - even its wiki page mentioned her twits racist towards indigenous people of Bolivia (which are about 70% of Bolivian population).

Rephrasing an old wisdom, "If it looks like a coup, walks like a coup, swims like a coup and quacks like a coup, it's a coup".

For now pairlament (WITH quorum) elected new pairlament-speaker, Serhio Choke, which do not recognizes Áñez as president.

Moralez supporters do not stop protests against the coup, some starts blocking roads: enter image description here enter image description here


For now, there is still some sort of "civilian" standoff - if police and military shooting at the protesters can be considered as "civilian". Many pro-Moralez protesters have been killed since coup begins - heard about ten victims. Most victims are from protests suppressing in Cochabamba town.

From the last news

  • Aniez canceled criminal laws for protest suppressors - for now there is no punishment for police and military officers free killing protesters.
  • Fascist terror from the neo-nazi groups supported by Aniez and military like para-military UJC is intencifying.
  • Bolivia quits US-opposing structures, such as ALBA, treats Guaido as 'president' of Venezuela.

I'll try to maintain answer actual further - but it becomes very hard, as media reports become very short, only twitter still produce information.


Despite of suppressing Moralez supporters from MAS party, arresting opposition leaders and repressions, junta totally failed on the last elections: enter image description here

demonstrating its total unpopularity. Now coup is over.

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    I'm not a downvoter, but all of your arguments are entirely circumstantial and you have not presented any real evidence. That is perhaps why someone else downvoted. You could improve the answer by providing some genuine evidence.
    – JBentley
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 18:13
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    Not the down voter but your first "argument" is pure sophistry. And the Venezuela case it was literally the maduro appointed high court that never mind complained about the election, but literally abolished the parliment in response. So now adding my down vote
    – user19831
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 21:28
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    @user2501323 how did Pinochet come into it? I literally said that a) the speed at which people come to decisions does not have any bearing on whether it was a coup or not and b) in Venezuela the coup is very clearly the other way around.
    – user19831
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 6:37
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    The numbers I find put Bolivia at 92.5% Christian or 97% Christian, so democratic elections are almost certain to put someone professing to be a Christian into high office. Politicians tends to be wealthy (ironically, Morales cutting the wage of politicians makes it harder for poor and middle class to afford to take and keep the job), and about half of them tend to be right-wing. A wealthy right-wing Christian in Bolivian office is expected, not a sign of a coup.
    – prosfilaes
    Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 16:03
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    @user2501323 I find no sources for the information provided in la Jornada's article (meaning they don't display the audio files they claim to have), or maybe I'm using the website on a wrong way. Could you support that claim with the mentioned audios and intelligence reports? Otherwise it just seems like a misinformation spreading article. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 18:41

A few facts related to Morales and the election. Until a few years ago, he was rather popular. In 2016, he considered running for a fourth term, in violation of the constitution. Wikipedia's page on Evo Morales summarizes

In February 2016, a referendum was held on the question of whether Morales should be allowed to run for a fourth term; he narrowly lost.[256] His approval rating had been damaged by the allegations concerning his relationship with Gabriela Zapata Montaño.[257] In December 2016 the MAS nominated Morales as their candidate for the 2019 presidential election regardless, stating that they would seek various avenues to ensure the legality of such a candidacy.[258] In November 2017, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice of Bolivia ruled that—in contrast to the constitution—all public offices would have no term limits, blaming American imperialism and influence for the referendum's outcome, thus allowing Morales to run for a fourth term in 2019.[259]

About the election, the thing to note is that "less than 10 point lead results in another round of runoff voting" (via Wikipedia). On election day, a difference up to 7.87% between candidates was reported by the TSE with 83.85% of results recorded, and then no more updates were given. This causes some concern -- why suddenly stop reporting results? One explanation, from the president of TSE was to avoid confusion. A second explanation from a press release a week prior was that results would stop being reported after 80%. A third explanation was also given, that technical difficulties prevented any further updates.

The following day, tally updates were resumed, showing a gap of 9.36% (still within realm of a re-vote), before reaching a 10.14% difference between candidates. The above facts are from a summary report by OAS, which also notes

At the same time, it is especially alarming that on Tuesday, October 22, the Vice President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Antonio José Iván Costas Sitic, resigned, giving as the grounds for his resignation: "the erroneous decision by the TSE to suspend publication of the results of the Preliminary Electoral Results Transmission system (TREP)," which "triggered the discrediting of the entire electoral process, causing unnecessary social upheaval."

AP also notes

The head of Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal has resigned after an audit of the Oct. 20 presidential election concluded there were irregularities in the vote.

The tribunal president, María Eugenia Choque, announced her resignation on Sunday.

Is it a coup? Let me summarize the above:

  • A once-popular president attempted to change the constitution to serve additional terms.
  • When a popular vote referendum for the change failed, the nation's highest court said it would be legal anyway. The president then ran for another term.
  • Vote tallies were initially within the margin to trigger a re-vote
  • But nearing the end of the election, tally reporting abruptly stopped.
  • When tally reporting resumed, vote difference was enough to just barely pass the threshold to no longer require a re-vote -- this may be perfectly valid, but events unfolded in the most suspect manner possible.

This is almost certainly not a military coup. If it is a political coup, it seems so in only a weak sense.

  • 1
    Is there any indication that there was any election fraud? The OAS report is picking data very selectively and not really providing any hint of real evidence for the fraud, not even a statistical one. cepr.net/images/stories/reports/… But it's not clear to me why Morales backed out from the situation so quickly, by which I mean his promise of new elections while he still was President. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 10:19
  • @JirkaHanika, I also think, that it is strange. This is a coup, and military heads are on the coup side, but he still could move into native provinces (Moralez is Bolivian native), which greatly supports him - which then provokes a civil war, of course. But I don't think, that right-wings raging for power (as now) are better - so I don't understand his resign. Commented Nov 13, 2019 at 10:36

What constitutes a coup?

There's no real definition of what a coup d'etat really means. The Britannica Encyclopedia suggest for example:

Coup d’état, also called Coup, the sudden, violent overthrow of an existing government by a small group. The chief prerequisite for a coup is control of all or part of the armed forces, the police, and other military elements.

So, by this definition there were no coup at all. While there's outrage and violence in the streets, the militaries didn't make a direct thread to the President. But Latin America is a place where military forces still running power.

Can the situation in Bolivia be called a coup?

Yes but no in the traditional definition. See, above we exposed the need of a violent overthrow that didn't happen in this place but we have to check one more thing: the intervention of military forces against the Executive Branch (Evo Morales). The Military Chief, Williams Kaliman blames the President for the violent situation in the streets and makes the following statement:

After analyze the conflictive internal situation, we suggest to the President to resign, allowing the pacification and stability for Bolivia's sake.

When the military asked for something, especially in LATAM, usually is not a friendly advice, given the military history in the region late 20th century. Military forces also participated in this because they're afraid of losing prestige, what academic calls institutional fracture, the military leadership will not stand by a regime that deeply divides its forces and threatens their defection or can lead to a civil war. Given Bolivia´s history, it's something they try to avoid.

I should consider this a political coup rather than military coup but too ambiguous considering their participation in the political. The international community couldn't stand either for the President, given the OAS' Report conclusions about the elections:

The Audit Team cannot validate the results of the present election, therefore recommend another electoral process. Any future process should count with new electoral authorities(...)

The Report considered the elections fraud and supported the actions taken by militaries.

Given that the Bolivian constitution was upheld and the line of succession respected (with the Bolivian supreme constitutional tribunal validating the succession). Can it be considered a coup?

Yes. You can hide a coup inside a veneer of legality. These actions happened before. In Paraguay (1954), after General Alfredo Stroessner made a coup overthrowing Alfredo Chaves. To preserve the legality of the actions, Stroessner didn't assume power; instead, he named Tomás Romero Pereira as acting President and called elections where Stroessner won.


The CEPR (Center for Economic and Policy Research) released a paper criticizing the OAS' findings, arguing the data taken was misinterpreted and therefore we can't talk about fraud. As a form of resume:

In addition to not presenting any evidence that irregularities that could have altered the vote count actually occurred, the OAS mission does not even provide a possible means by which they could have occurred.

  • The military asked the president to step down. In a country like Bolivia this is an obvious threat. There was plenty of violence on the streets before the coup. And it wasn't the security forces who were violent. After the coup, several peaceful protesters have been killed. Commented Nov 18, 2019 at 22:22
  • @dan-klasson I arealdy established it in the answer: "When the military asked for something, especially in LATAM, usually is not a friendly advice(..)
    – nelruk
    Commented Nov 19, 2019 at 11:38

Yes, the situation most resembles a coup, compared to alternative namings.

There are many different ways to call the same thing, and when the situation is unclear, the position of the speaker often influences what he chooses to call it.

From the known facts, we can establish that some kind of not entirely voluntary change of government has taken place. Police and military have an active role in it.

This could be called a revolution. However, for now it appears that only the government is overthrown, not the government system. A revolution should change the social or political landscape, not just the ruling party.

It could be called a political power struggle. However, the actions taken go beyond the political arena. Violence has been used and supposedly non-political entities such as the military have taken a political position.

We could draw up a few more words, but they get even further from the situation. The one that fits best is, indeed, "coup" - the military is involved, the government has been overthrown, and it has happened through violence.

The one argument against calling it a coup is that Morales et al have "stepped down". Both from his words and the events we can, I believe, see this clearly as a step forced on him by circumstances.

It might not be the textbook example of a coup, but it does have the elements of a coup and no other description matches the situation more closely.

  • What if its proven that the elections were rigged and Morales shouldn't have been declared winner? Is it a coup too? Commented Nov 14, 2019 at 22:31
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    Yes, because a military interventions, mob riots and burning of houses is not what the constitution states as the proper actions regarding alleged election fraud. At the very least, any actions should have waited until such allegations are confirmed. If they had been (they still are not) and he had refused to step down at the end of his legal term (which, AFAIK isn't yet, either), then a discussion about actions may have been in order. Without those two things happening first, it's an extra-legal overthrow of government, hence a coup.
    – Tom
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 6:40

Not a coup. Yet

During a coup, several individuals or groups vie for control of the state and the monopoly on violence is not existing. What is happening in Bolivia is that all the people within a stone's throw of legal justification for controlling the state, has stepped down (or even fled) and the military has in addition to expressing their non support for the president, has also not vocalized any support to another candidate.

This is a power vacuum. It might very well degenerate into a coup or anarchy shortly, but right now it is teetering on the brink.

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