Bolivia: A State in Crisis6 min read

The Presidency of Evo Morales

When Evo Morales was sworn in as president in 2006, it marked the first time in Bolivia’s history that there would be an indigenous president in office. Before then, the country had had only elite presidents of European descent who many people felt were out of touch with the population. Using these frustrations, Morales ran as a man of the people, using his background as a coca farmer and a trade unionist. He became the head of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party and campaigned with leftist ideas that would close the wealth gap, reduce poverty, and limit US interference in Bolivian politics. After elected, for the next fourteen years he managed to do exactly as promised. With the economy revitalized from a natural resources boom, the Morales Administration managed to lift many indigenous people out of poverty and lessen Bolivian dependence on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The Beginnings of Controversy

Morales was widely popular, especially with his indigenous base. However, like all presidents, his term was nearing its end. Each presidential term lasts for three years, and Bolivia’s constitution had the term limit set in 2009 so that a president could only run for re-election once. However, since Morales’ first term of presidency happened before the 2009 amendment, it didn’t count and he was allowed to run for a third term. Again, he was re-elected by a wide margin. In 2015, Morales again tried to extend the term limit so he could this time serve for a fourth term, and the administration put forth a referendum so the public could vote. However, many felt that Morales had overstepped his time in the presidency and feared the authoritarian nature of his actions, so the referendum did not pass with a slim vote of 51% against. Morales would not be so easily dissuaded, and went to the courts to appeal his case. He argued that term limits infringed on his human right to run for president. Since the courts were packed in favor of Morales, term limits were completely abolished much to the outrage of the country.

The 2019 Elections

Amongst protests from Bolivian citizens, the elections continued on. Morales campaigned again, now uninhibited by term limits, against Carlos Mesa, whom opposition to Morales had gathered around. On October 20th, the vote counting began. Under the new constitution, if no candidate wins the majority vote, and the leader has a vote margin under 10%, the two highest candidates head to a run off election. Morales was leading with just under 10% when suddenly the votes stopped being counted. For nearly 24 hours, there were no incoming reports on the vote counts. When the reporting resumed, Morales had won, with a margin above the ten percent needed to avoid a run off. The MAS celebrated while international election monitors sounded the alarm. Protests erupted all over the country, forcing businesses and schools to close while chaos spread.

For the Good of Bolivia

The Organization of American States confirmed fraud had taken place and called for another election to which Morales agreed. However, the military, stepped in and asked that Morales step down from power. This public request for his resignation held implications that Morales could not ignore. The military had turned against him after his administration had asked that they violently repress the protests. Many police officers refused to harm the protesters (who were often family and friends of the officers) and declared themselves in “open mutiny” against the government. It accumulated to the point where the Bolivian army’s commander went on television to ask for Morales resignation “for the good of Bolivia” hoping peace would return once he was ousted. Morales subsequently resigned and fled to Mexico for asylum.

Filling the Power Vacuum

After Morales fled the country, Jeanine Áñez quickly filled the empty position. She was the Vice President of the Senate and fifth in line for the presidency, but since many of Morales’ cabinet and officials resigned along with him, she declared herself president. Áñez is a deeply conservative opponent to Morales. During her swearing in ceremony, she brought out a large Bible and declared, “the Bible has returned to the palace!” Over the next few days she appointed replacements for Morales’ advisers, none of whom where indigenous. This seems to be representative of how she intends to run the government in her interim 90 days. When she first came into power she was not known as a harsh critic of Morales, however after a few days, her critics began to unearth some of her since deleted anti-indigenous tweets. So far, she has the backing of the military, police, and multiple countries such as the US, Brazil, Colombia, and other conservative countries in Latin America. Yet, Morales supporters remain unmoved as he calls for their continued support from Mexico.

The Future of Bolivia

Many people are split on how to interpret the events depending on their political leanings. The supporters of Morales are holding out hope for what they see as his rightful return to power. They are calling into question the legitimacy of Áñez’s ascend to the presidency via a coup. Others view the military’s intervention as the removal of an authoritarian who would have done anything to cling to power, including rejecting democratic institutions. These conflicting views have left a great divide in Bolivia which has manifested in violent protests. Since the police and military are backing Áñez, they are clashing with anti-government protesters, leaving 30 dead in the past five weeks. Shortages and road blockades are making food and electricity scarce. These conditions are only adding fuel to the protesters fire as they demand Áñez step down. The violence is showing no signs of slowing and people are beginning to worry about the future of Bolivia. Coups break down democratic norms, as history has shown over and over. Even though the military asked Morales to step down to preserve peace, it was still a forced transfer of power with no democratic validity. Even Áñez’s presidency violates democratic norms because she failed to win the necessary minimum votes from her fellow legislators. As the protests only increase in violence and anger, many are asking: is this the beginning of Bolivia’s shift towards authoritarian rule? Or will democratic norms be restored in 90 days when the government calls for new elections? Neither Morales or Áñez seem intent on releasing power easily so only time will tell.

Citations

Anderson, Jon Lee. “Bolivia’s Evo Morales Wants to Stay in the Game.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 20 Nov. 2019, https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/bolivias-evo-morales-wants-to-stay-in-the-game.

Bremmer, Ian. “What the End of Bolivia’s President Means for the Country.” Time, Time, 14 Nov. 2019, https://time.com/5728117/bolivia-presidency-evo-morales-repurcussions/.

Pozzebon, Stefano. “Protesters Cut off Bolivia’s Capital with Renewed Fury over Deaths.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Nov. 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/22/americas/bolivia-protests-el-alto-intl/index.html.

Sesin, Carmen. “Bolivia’s New Leader, Religious Conservative Jeanine Añez Chavez, Faces Daunting Challenges.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 15 Nov. 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/bolivia-s-new-leader-religious-conservative-jeanine-ez-chavez-faces-n1082426.

Shultz, Jim. “The Rise and Fall of Evo Morales.” The New York Review of Books, https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2019/11/21/the-rise-and-fall-of-evo-morales/.

Slattery, Gram. “How Evo Morales Lost Control of Bolivia.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 14 Nov. 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-bolivia-election-ticktock-insight/how-evo-morales-lost-control-of-bolivia-idUSKBN1XO2PQ.

1 thought on “Bolivia: A State in Crisis<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">6</span> min read</span>”

  1. Very interesting piece. It’s shocking that it took Bolivia until 2006 to have a President of the nation’s own descent. It’s also fascinating to see how under Morales, someone who was extremely popular during his campaign, the country has been in a dire state. For starters, his dismantling of term limits in his country only makes him more of a controversial figure. You did a very good job at structuring this piece as well; the headlines are a great touch. It’s very interesting to take a look into a country that nearly had a coup. It will be interesting to see how the country continues on with Morales out of the picture. I also really like the questions you asked at the end. I personally believe that considering the strength of the military and their support of Anez as the new President, there’s a chance that an authoritarian overhaul could take place soon in Bolivia.

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