The once internationally recognized and popular president, Evo Morales, is out. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigineous president, was elected in 2006 at a time when Bolivia was considered the poorest country in South America. He quickly diversified the economy and lifted millions out of poverty. Unlike other leftist leaders in the region, Morales combined the concept of a balanced budget with wealth distribution all while increasing foreign investment in the country. Due to these advances, Morales became an extremely popular president who earned a well respected reputation both in Bolivia, as well as, among leftist leaders across the world (Kurmanaev).
However, after ten years in office, his government became increasingly authoritarian. This led to a referendum vote by the Bolivian people that banned Morales from being on the ballot in this past month’s election. Yet Morales was able to bypass this referendum by going through the courts. With his political pressure, the Supreme Court ruled that the referendum was a “violation of the president’s human rights.” This blatant abuse of power sparked distrust among people throughout the country about the Morales government, causing his approval rating to plummet heading into the October 20th election (Kurmanaev).
The corruption of the Morales government quickly became even more apparent in the October 20th election. Officials shut down the election results for 24 hours during the middle of the election after it became apparent that Morales would not win by the necessary 10% margin to avoid a runoff. After 24 hours of radio silence, Morales was declared the winner by barely surpassing the 10% threshold. The Organization of American States stepped in to investigate, and they found “widespread irregularities in the election” (Kurmanaev). Additionally, the Organization of American States called for Bolivia to annul the election and hold new elections. By this point, the Bolivian people were vehemently against Morales, and the thought of a new election with him on the ballot was simply not enough. After nearly three weeks of protest, President Morales resigned at the request of Military Commander Williams Kaliman. With no military authority to back him, Morales was left no other option but to resign on November 10th (Schifrin).
On an international stage, as well as within Bolivia, there is a debate as to whether this is a military coup or simply a restoration of democracy. In order to understand this, we must first understand the history of Bolivia and its relationship with military coups. Historically, Bolivia has experienced two coups. The original coup in 1964 and a secondary coup in 1971. In particular, the original coup of 1964 is eerily similar to the current situation in the country. In 1964, a popular, leftist president by the name of Víctor Paz Estenssoro was ousted shortly after his election due to civil protests. At the time, the military encouraged people to protest the election of an established, leftist president in order to create pressure on the president to resign. For Paz Estenssoro, once the civilian protests began he had no military support to suppress and control the people. This eventually led to his resignation on November 3rd and his departure to Peru shortly after announcing resignation. One of the only main differences between the coup of 1964 and the potential coup of 2019 is that the United States was strongly against the actions of the military in 1964, yet in 2019 the Trump government is in agreement with the actions of the military. This creates even more external support for a coup in Bolivia to occur. Additionally, all other ranking members of the Bolivian government who would have defaulted to the presidency have resigned (Field). This has created a vacuum of power that has left the presidency in shambles and up for anyone’s taking.
The trend of recurring coups is a common one that can be seen in many countries; one prime example is Nigeria. Nigeria experienced their first coup in 1966 which set the tone for twenty-six years of military coups within a thirty-three year period until the country finally established democracy in 1999. During that time period there was almost constant turnover of power between military leaders, some elected presidents, and military dictators who were “democratically” elected. Unfortunately, once military coups begin in a country it is very difficult for a country to break that cycle. Similarly to the coups of Bolivia, Nigerian coups have relied on the support of the people in the early development stages of the coup (Siollun).
By looking at the example of Nigeria and the history of Bolivia, it is likely that we are experiencing the early stages of a coup in Bolivia. The abrupt resignation of Morales at the request of the military is a major redflag. Additionally, the immediate resignation of all members of government who would have defaulted to presidency is alarming as well. With the vacuum of power in the executive and the entanglement the executive has with the military it is only a matter of time before Bolivia falls victim to its third coup. Given the civil unrest in numerous other countries in South America, will this apparent takeover by the military of Bolivia bolster the confidence of other military leaders in South American countries, particularly Venezuela, to conduct a military coup and eventually force their presidents to resign?
Field, Thomas. “A Coup in Bolivia, Yet Again.” Jacobin, 18 Nov. 2019, jacobinmag.com/2019 /11/coup-bolivia-history-evo-morales-jeanine-anez.
Kurmanaev, Anatoly. “Evo Morales and Bolivia: What We Know About the President’s Resignation.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Nov. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/11/12/world/americas/evo-morales-resignation-bolivia-facts.html.
Schifrin, Nick, director. What’s next for Bolivia, after President Morales Steps Down. YouTube, PBS NewsHour, 11 Nov. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFxppGcFnTA.
Siollun, Max. “How First Coup Still Haunts Nigeria 50 Years On.” BBC News, BBC, 15 Jan. 2016, www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35312370.