On November 10, 2019, a jubilant Bolivian public welcomed the resignation of its president of 13 years—Socialist leader Evo Morales.
Morales’ resignation came just weeks after Bolivia’s fraud-ridden October general elections that, to great public outcry, awarded the Socialist leader with an unprecedented fourth term in office.
Framed by the Bolivian flag during his televised resignation address, a solemn Morales urged socialist leaders to “continue with this fight for equality and for peace.” Ironically, the last weeks of Morales’ time in office featured not peace or equality, but literal violence. For weeks following Morales’ re-election, opposition protesters clashed violently with Morales’ supporters, who were backed by the police and military. On November 7, protesters surged and burned the office of Patricia Arce, a Morales supporter and mayor of a town in central Bolivia — cutting off her hair, drenching her in red paint, and dragging her barefoot through the streets of her own town.
Many had hoped that the 19 days of brutal protest, dubbed by Wikipedia as the “2019 Bolivian Political Crisis”, would end with Morales’ resignation on November 10. What ended instead was any measure of Bolivia’s political stability. Morales’ departure touched off a series of resignations from Bolivia’s vice president and the heads of the Senate and lower chamber. Those resignations left Jeanene Añez, a little-known Senator and the second vice president of the senate, next in the line of succession. Many expected the interim administration to usher in a controlled transition to new elections — and hopefully, for tensions to subside.
Instead, Añez brought further political instability to Bolivia. An ardent political opponent of Morales, Añez championed numerous efforts to reform Bolivia’s domestic and international image upon her abrupt rise to power. On November 13, the Añez administration appointed an entirely new cabinet that included numerous businessmen and initially excluded all indigenous peoples, the latter of which account for an estimated 48% of the Bolivian population. Among those reappointed include the Top Commander of the Armed Forces, who pledged to “guarantee the security of the constitutional government”, effectively making the military a secret police of sorts for the new president. Añez also did not overlook Morales’ key international allies, Cuba and Venezuela. On November 15, newly-appointed Foreign Minister Karen Longaric deported 725 Cuban citizens, mostly medical doctors, over alleged involvement with ongoing protests. On the same day, Longaric asked all Venezuelan diplomats to leave the country and largely cut ties with the Venezuelan government. Añez also reinstated diplomatic relations with Israel, reversing Morales’ 2009 decision to sever relations with the nation following its 2009 attack on Gaza. This rapid-fire series of international reforms thrust Bolivia into dangerous diplomatic territory and further political turmoil at home.
But it is Morales’ supporters who are at the center of perhaps the most controversial development of all: Añez’s repression of the ongoing unrest since Morales’ resignation. Indeed, the chaos plaguing Bolivia is hardly just political; it has come with a death count of dozens since Morales’ resignation. Much of the violence stems from a November 14 decree that exempted the military from criminal responsibility when “maintaining order”. Since then, soldiers and police alike have not held back. A November 15 confrontation between indigenous Morales supporters and the military in Sacaba, a town in central Bolivia, killed nine and injured at least 120. In an attack on November 20 concerning access to a gas plant in El Alto, Bolivia’s second-largest city, police and military killed eight protestors and wounded over thirty. Añez’s sanctioning of the military’s brutal handling of the protests has raised many questions concerning human rights violations. Following the November 15 clash, UN Human Rights chief condemned Añez’s handling of the protests, urging her to comply with “international norms and standards governing the use of force, and with full respect for human rights”.
Morales himself has also been in the line of fire. After seeking asylum in Mexico immediately following his resignation, Morales maintained that he was ousted by a coup d’etat (military coup), a view wholeheartedly supported by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. On December 12, Morales was transferred to Argentina, where he currently resides. Less than a week following his transfer, Morales’s comments calling for “armed militias” in Bolivia to combat Añez’ interim government were met with great international controversy. As of January 16, Morales has retracted those comments, citing his “deepest conviction to the defense of life and peace.” Needless to say, that is a narrative that is now far from convincing.
Perhaps the only suggestion of order lies in the upcoming May elections that will be a “rerun” of the October 2019 elections that ousted Morales. Morales’ party, Movement to Socialism (MAS), has set forth former Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca and cocoa farmer Andronico Rodriguez as the presidential and vice-presidential tickets, respectively. Perhaps the elections will bring a measure of order to Bolivia — but in the meantime, the storm brews on.
The country has experienced unimaginable violence following the departure of its former president — a violence rooted in clashing political ideologies that has caused clashing gun barrels and the mass loss of human life. In Bolivia, the departure of the former president has left the nation, metaphorically and literally, in shambles.
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