Jim Shultz is the founder and executive director of The Democracy Center, a nonprofit that tackles issues of social, economic, and environmental justice, with a focus on Latin America. Working for the organization, he lived from 1998 to 2017 in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where he also served as president of an orphanage. He is a co-author and co-editor of Dignity and Defiance: Stories from Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization (2008) and the author of the forthcoming memoir My Other Country: Nineteen Years in Bolivia. (November 2019)
On the day that our granddaughter was born, I decided it would be nice to buy and save a copy of the day’s local paper, Lockport’s venerable Union-Sun & Journal, so I stopped in at Walgreens and picked up a copy. Its editorial page contained a ridiculous column by a local professor calling on Congress to hold up the national budget until funding was secured for President Trump’s Mexican border wall. Niagara County, for which Lockport is the county seat, voted for Trump over Clinton in 2016 by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent. So I spent my first evening as a grandfather angrily typing out a response column, and sent it to the paper. Shortly after my article was published, I sat down for a coffee with the editor, Joyce Miles, and that was how I stumbled into becoming a left-leaning opinion columnist in Trump Land.
The end of Morales’s historic presidency has the quality of one of those inkblot tests in which everyone sees what they want to see. The global left, from British Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn to an assortment of foreign intellectuals, immediately denounced what had happened as a military coup, linking it in the public mind to the old, familiar scenes of tanks rolling into South American capitals. Those who have long hated Evo declared it a blow against the evils of socialist dictatorship. But if I learned anything in my time in the country, it is this: nothing is simple in Bolivia, and such was the case with the turbulent political career of Evo Morales.