Despatch from La Paz | International

Fight for the future of Bolivia

A supporter of former Bolivian President Evo Morales holding a Wiphala flag during a protest, in La Paz, earlier this month.   | Photo Credit: DAVID MERCADO

On November 10, the day Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned amid pressure from the armed forces and street violence, Luis Fernando Camacho, leader of the civic group Comité Pro-Santa Cruz, entered Palacio Quemado in La Paz, the official residence of the President. Flanked by armed forces and with an evangelical ally clutching a Bible, Mr. Camacho, a staunch critic of the former President, said: “Pachamama will never return to the palace,” referring to the Andean Mother Earth. “Bolivia belongs to Christ.”

Mr. Camacho, along with other anti-Morales leaders, played a key role in the ouster of the President. The immediate cause of the current turmoil was the elections on October 20, in which Mr. Morales appeared to secure victory in the first round but the Opposition accused him of fraud. This led to mass protests and counter-protests on the streets of cities across Bolivia.

To quell the unrest, Mr. Morales invited the Organization of American States (OAS) to audit the election. On November 10, the OAS released its report which found that there had been ‘manipulation’ in some of the electoral data. Mr. Morales immediately pledged to hold fresh elections, but the head of the Bolivian armed forces suggested that he resign, following a mutiny of police personnel across the country. After his resignation, Mr. Morales’s house was ransacked, the ex-president of the electoral authority arrested, and groups of anti-government protesters took to the streets to burn the wiphala, the flag representing indigenous peoples in the Andes.

Mr. Morales denounced the new government as “illegal and unconstitutional” and on Wednesday called for international bodies, including the Catholic Church, to facilitate a dialogue to restore peace in Bolivia. He left for Mexico after the Mexican government offered him political asylum. Opposition candidate Carlos Mesa from the Comunidad Ciudadana party described the developments as a “legitimate and massive citizen mobilisation, a genuine Bolivian democratic spring”.

Watch | All about the Bolivian crisis
 

Future uncertain

Much of the popular opposition towards Mr. Morales stems from his decision to defy a 2016 referendum in which the people voted against him running for a fourth term. In addition, this summer, he faced criticism for his handling of the catastrophic fires which swept the dry forests of Chiquitania.

Mr. Morales, the first indigenous President of Bolivia, was elected in 2005 with his social movement backed party, the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). Under his tenure, Bolivia slashed poverty rates, reduced inequality, nationalised key industries and saw economic growth while rejecting IMF debt bondage. Yet, the immediate political future of the country is now uncertain. The interim President, Jeanine Anez, unilaterally assumed power on Tuesday at odds with Bolivian constitutional process.

Lawmakers lacked the quorum to formally approve Mr. Morales’s resignation because too few MAS representatives were present. Numerous MAS officials resigned or were forced out of office, including the heads of both chambers of Congress. Many are currently in the Mexican Embassy in La Paz.

“God bless you and allow us to be free and to hold transparent elections soon,” Ms. Anez said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, pro-Morales forces promised not to end their protests. Marches by residents from El Alto, a satellite city next to La Paz, took place. The main peasants union, the CSUTCB, declared that it does not accept Mr. Morales’s resignation and that it “reserve[d] the right to use all democratic means of resistance”. The largest trade union, the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), also declared a state of emergency. Juan Carlos Huarachi, executive secretary of the COB, said, “The COB calls for an expanded emergency nationwide... to discuss and take action in defence of democracy,” he said. “It was hard for us to recover democracy and we are going to defend it.”

Fears of violence by MAS supporters were encouraged by Opposition leaders, with Mr. Camacho on Twitter calling on the armed forces to “save the people...”

Schools in La Paz and El Alto were shut in the interests of security and the teleférico, (cable cars) were suspended. “The Opposition has consistently avoided dialogue, avoided engagement, rejected the voice of international organisations...,” Kathryn Ledebur, director of the Andean Information Network, told The Real News Network. “[They] have rejected and violated Bolivia’s Constitution and laws.”

(Olivia Arigho Stiles is a researcher & a contributing editor at Alborada magazine)

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 9:42:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/fight-for-the-future-of-bolivia/article29993464.ece

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