Union Juvenil Cruceñista Bolivia fascists
Members of Bolivia's extreme-right Santa Cruz Youth Union (Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, or UJC), and Luis Fernando Camacho (on right)

Bolivian coup leader freaks out on The Grayzone for ‘fascist’ label in complaint to OAS ‘human rights’ arm

The director of far-right Bolivian coup leader Camacho’s presidential campaign threw a slander-laced tantrum against The Grayzone in a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, blaming our factual journalism for a report on repression.

By Ben Norton

The director of the presidential campaign of far-right Bolivian politician Luis Fernando Camacho, the leader of a US-backed military coup against his country’s elected government in November 2019, has attacked The Grayzone in a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Ronald MacLean, a conservative politician, former World Bank official, and longtime Harvard Kennedy School professor who is currently overseeing the Bolivian coup leader’s campaign, condemned the commission for its mild criticism of Camacho and for citing a report by The Grayzone in just one of the 2,223 footnotes in a 392-page appendix to its 2019 annual report.

In his apoplectic letter, MacLean also published defamatory claims about The Grayzone and its journalists. He falsely and maliciously asserted that this completely independent news website is funded by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. And in an outburst about our factual reporting on Camacho, he smeared The Grayzone’s reporters, claiming we have “no respect for the truth.”

MacLean’s absurd statements are absolutely false and libelous. They are the latest in a series of attacks on The Grayzone’s journalism by right-wing US-backed forces in Latin America — which have included the arrest of editor Max Blumenthal on outlandish charges fabricated by members of Venezuela’s opposition.

The Grayzone published the first major journalistic exposé on Luis Fernando Camacho after the November Bolivia coup, documenting his extremist views, his work with an explicitly fascist organization, and his support from foreign governments.

That December, The Grayzone reported on an anti-coup protest at an event featuring Camacho, who was invited to speak at a US government-funded think tank in Washington, DC.

In fact video evidence shows that MacLean tried to steal the phone of The Grayzone journalist Anya Parampil, who was reporting on the demonstration at the time.

With his letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Camacho’s campaign manager is escalating his attack on The Grayzone, clearly seeking to discredit our investigative reporting with a wild firehose spray of outright lies.

Harvard Kennedy School professor and World Bank functionary returns to Bolivian politics after coup

Ronald MacLean Abaroa is a long-time right-wing activist and politician of Bolivian and British descent, who previously served as mayor of the city of La Paz.

MacLean was a member of Nationalist Democratic Action (ADN), the party formed by Bolivia’s right-wing military dictator Hugo Banzer. The ADN absorbed part of the fascist Bolivian Socialist Falange, an extreme-right party formed by exiled supporters of Spanish fascist dictator Francisco Franco. He served as the ADN’s presidential candidate in the 2002 election, in which it got just over 3 percent of the vote.

With the rise of Bolivia’s first indigenous President Evo Morales, a committed socialist and anti-imperialist who won democratic election after election in historic landslides, MacLean went into retirement.

He spent many years living in the United States, working as a senior official at the World Bank and teaching for more than 20 years at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

MacLean returned to Bolivian politics after the coup, in which military and police forces – many trained at the US military’s notorious School of the Americas – overthrew Morales and installed a far-right Christian fundamentalist regime led by the unelected Jeanine Añez, a fringe politician from an extremist party that received just over 4 percent of the vote in the 2019 election.

Camacho served as the muscle behind the coup, breaking in to the presidential palace and kneeling on the floor with a bible, while his putschist associates declared that they had “returned God to the burned palace,” because “Bolivia belongs to Christ.”

Añez subsequently declared herself “interim president,” after the junta systematically purged the politicians from Evo’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party who were in line for presidential succession. With the staunch support of the Donald Trump administration, her coup regime killed dozens of mostly indigenous protesters in a series of massacres aimed at crushing opposition, exiled leftist leaders, and shut down dozens of independent media outlets.

Having liquidated much of the left-wing opposition, Añez pledged to hold elections. And Camacho announced his intention to run to replace her.

Ronald MacLean, a major figure in the Bolivian right-wing with years of experience organizing in the United States against Evo and his socialist movement, came back to Bolivia to direct Camacho’s presidential campaign.

Ronald MacLean Abaroa Bolivia Camacho The Grayzone
Ronald MacLean Abaroa, right-wing Bolivian politician and director of coup leader Camacho’s presidential campaign

False, defamatory accusations in letter to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

MacLean has since turned his attention to demonizing the few journalists documenting Camacho’s extremism.

On April 13, MacLean wrote a letter to Joel Hernández García, a Mexican diplomat serving as president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, harshly condemning the body.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, known more commonly by its Spanish acronym CIDH, is the so-called human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS), a pan-American group created by the US government during the Cold War to combat socialist influence in the Western hemisphere.

Like its parent organization the OAS — led by a right-wing regime-change lobbyist Luis Almagro, a staunch advocate for US military intervention in Latin America who played a key role backing the Bolivia coup — the CIDH has shown a flagrant bias against the few remaining leftist governments in the region. (Read to the end of this article for documentation of CIDH’s blatant double standards.)

While it is disproportionately fixated on demonizing the socialist governments of Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, the CIDH has also tepidly criticized the right-wing US-backed governments in Latin America.

In his letter, which was made public by right-wing Bolivian media outlets, MacLean excoriated the CIDH for its soft, muted criticism of the extreme human rights abuses committed by the Bolivian coup regime. He expressed his “surprise and anger” at the commission’s annual report.

Ironically, the CIDH report on Bolivia amounts to a whitewash that contains just over four pages of documentation. The same commission has published a massive 69-page special report on supposed human rights abuses in Nicaragua — a small country that is half the size of Bolivia. But even mealymouthed criticism of Bolivia’s military junta was too much for the extremely irritable MacLean.

The Camacho campaign director outrageously claimed without a shred of evidence that he had “no doubt” that the section on Bolivia in CIDH’s 2019 report “was not written by jurists who specialize in the American Convention on Human Rights, but rather with the participation of activists linked to the government of ex-President Evo Morales.”

MacLean declared that this wholly unsubstantiated accusation “compromises the legitimacy and professionalism of the institution” itself, adding, “There is no other explanation to understand the bad faith and twisting of the facts shown in this document.”

As his supposed proof of this absurd claim, MacLean cited a lone footnote in a 392-page appendix to the 2019 annual report published by the CIDH. Just one of the 2,223 footnotes in this enormous tome mentioned a report by The Grayzone. And this document cited by MacLean is not even the main CIDH human rights report, but rather one of the 10 appendices published alongside it.

In this immense appendix, which is devoted to the state of the freedom of expression in the Americas, there is a single paragraph recalling an anti-coup protest against Camacho in the United States.

The CIDH report appendix noted that Camacho was invited to speak at a December 12 event in Washington, DC hosted by a think tank called the Inter-American Dialogue, which is funded by the US government, the OAS, and a slew of banks and massive corporations.

When community members protested the event, the CIDH noted that “different groups that supported him [Camacho] verbally and physically attacked the journalists and activists who were demonstrating against Camacho’s presence in the country.”

“The activists were kicked out of the place and exposed to attacks by Camacho supporters, who threatened to call migration authorities to detain them,” the CIDH report appendix added.

In its footnote in the paragraph describing these proceedings, the CIDH cited the only media report published on the protest: the December 17 The Grayzone report by Anya Parampil titled “Fascist Bolivian coup leader fails in DC charm offensive.”

The CIDH only cited The Grayzone in the footnote; the massive report appendix did not once mention The Grayzone.

But MacLean blew a gasket over the CIDH citing The Grayzone in one of the 2,223 footnotes in a 392-page document that is just one of the 10 appendices to its annual report.

MacLean wrote in his letter that the CIDH’s factual recounting of the protest against Camacho was based on “an article in an obscure publication by US activists linked to and financed by the dictatorial regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, who operate in the United States, called ‘The Grayzone.'”

This claim is totally false and defamatory. The Grayzone is editorially independent and has not taken money from these governments or from any other governments or state institutions. MacLean’s smears against The Grayzone have no basis in reality; they are recycled rumors spread by malicious right-wing actors like himself.

He went on to add in his letter to the CIDH president, “The characterization as fascist, like the assertion that there was a coup d’etat in Bolivia, are gratuitous claims of political character that do not correspond to the constitutional transition that was carried out in my country.”

Here MacLean is again mistaken. The CIDH did not echo The Grayzone’s language. In its report appendix, the CIDH did not refer to Camacho as a fascist, nor did it describe the military junta as a coup regime. In fact, despite MacLean’s protestations, the commission’s language is very clinical, even euphemistic. It referred to Camacho merely as a “civil leader” and Añez’s coup regime as the “interim government,” writing that the anti-coup activists “protested that the civic leader was one of the main figures in an alleged coup d’etat in Bolivia.” The CIDH carefully qualified the word coup with “alleged.”

But MacLean went on in his letter, attacking the women-led peace group CODEPINK, which organized the protest against Camacho. He made false claims about the activists and tried to link the anti-war organization to Venezuela’s elected President Nicolás Maduro, whom he called a “dictator.”

MacLean also outlandishly claimed that CODEPINK activists “violently interrupted” and “aggressively interrupted” the event, although video evidence shows they never once engaged in violence. In fact the footage shows the opposite: it was Camacho’s supporters who were violent against the protesters, as the CIDH factually reported in its report appendix.

According to The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal, who was present at the Camacho event in Washington, MacLean personally accosted several protesters and violently grabbed a cellphone from the hands of one anti-coup activists before throwing it across the room. Blumenthal said a female companion with MacLean attempted to snatch his own cellphone from his hands as he documented the violence by the Bolivian rightists.

Using aggressive neoconservative rhetoric in his letter to the CIDH president, MacLean described the US-backed military coup in Bolivia as a democratic “revolution,” and he scolded the commission, writing that “it was a historic fact that the CIDH should recognize and signal as an example for retaking human rights, freedom, and democracy, for a region that still must free itself from dictators like those of Castro, Maduro, and Ortega.”

The defamatory letter exhibits MacLean’s tendency to make outrageous, hyperbolic accusations without a scintilla evidence against journalists and activists critical of his client Camacho.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights shows blatant double standards, targeting ‘Troika of Tyranny’ with cartoonish disproportionality

While far-right Bolivian coup figures are demonizing the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for its tepid criticism of their military junta’s abuses, the commission has in fact shown itself to be blatantly biased in the interest of right-wing, US-backed forces in the region.

This may not come as a surprise, considering the US government provides the majority of the funding for the CIDH’s parent organization the OAS.

Like the OAS, and other so-called human rights organizations, CIDH has consistently displayed double standards on the right-wing, US-backed governments in Latin America, remaining relatively muted in its criticism of their massive rights abuses while cartoonishly demonizing the few remaining leftist governments in the region.

The CIDH does have to at least feign impartiality to maintain a shred of international legitimacy. But it made its double standards totally clear by applying extra harsh scrutiny to the countries dubbed by the Trump administration as the “Troika of Tyranny.”

In its 2019 annual report, the CIDH dedicated three “special reports” specifically to attacking the socialist governments in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

No other countries in the Americas had “special reports” published in their human rights abuses in 2019, only these three nations.

CIDH Cuba Nicaragua Venezuela human rights special report

The meat of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ annual report is chapter four, titled “Development of Human Rights in the Region.”

This 131-page chapter summarizes the human rights situation with several pages devoted to every single country in the Western hemisphere — excluding Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, which have their own, much larger “special reports.”

Brazil, the largest nation in South America, has suffered over a decade with the highest murder rate in its record history, breaking records with notoriously widespread police brutality, extreme prison violence, and nearly 66,000 homicides in 2017 alone.

But the CIDH devoted fewer than 10 pages to documenting Brazil’s human rights abuses in 2019. At the same time, it dedicated vast resources into procuring a whopping 56-page report on Venezuela, along with its massive 69-page report on the small country of Nicaragua.

Brazil’s population is more than 32 times larger than that of Nicaragua. Weighted by the size of the population, that means the CIDH put 2,208 times more emphasis on alleged human rights abuses in Nicaragua than it did in Brazil. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Similarly, Nicaragua’s neighbor El Salvador has consistently boasted one of the highest murder rates on Earth. But the CIDH only devoted seven pages to documenting the human rights abuses in the country in 2019.

Ironically, Cuba’s report is just five pages long, raising the question why it needed its own “special report.” It appears that the CIDH decided to single out the “Troika of Tyranny,” to demonstrate to the Trump administration — which provides the OAS with the majority of its funding — that it is especially committed to targeting socialists in Latin America.

Naturally, the CIDH devoted fewer than 12 pages to documenting the human rights abuses committed in 2019 in the USA, an enormous country of 330 million people which is a consistent theater for sundry atrocities against the poor by its police and security services.

Not one of these countries has a “special report” devoted to the gargantuan human rights violations committed in their borders. Instead the CIDH chose to single out the three socialist governments that comprise John Bolton’s “Troika of Tyranny.”

Yet revealingly, for Washington-backed Bolivian coup leaders like Ronald MacLean, the CIDH’s genuflections before the altar of the US empire were not enough to stave off a slander-filled temper tantrum.