World News

Turmoil, political upheaval rocks Bolivia

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Nov 20, 2019 - 10:40:47 AM

What's your opinion on this article?

Supporters of former President Evo Morales march in La Paz, Bolivia Nov. 14. Mr. Morales resigned and flew to Mexico under military pressure following massive nationwide protests over alleged fraud in an election last month in which he claimed to have won a fourth term in office.

Bolivia is in political turmoil and uncertainty as violence has engulfed the streets since the resignation of its long-time president Evo Morales, after nearly 14 years in office in what is widely seen as a coup d’état.

Bolivian security forces have violently clashed in several cities with Indigenous supporters of the former president in “anti-coup” revolts against the interim government. More than two dozen people have been killed in the conflict. In a Nov. 16 a statement, the United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called the deaths an extremely dangerous development.

“I am really concerned that the situation in Bolivia could spin out of control if the authorities do not handle it sensitively and in accordance with international norms,” she said.

In a recent interview with the TelSur Network from political exile in Mexico, Mr. Morales said the crisis in Bolivia is a political conspiracy. He has called for national dialogue, and for the police and army to not use bullets on the people protesting and for the people to take care of themselves and also call for dialogue.

“It’s a political conspiracy to take Bolivia’s natural resources,” said Mr. Morales in the Nov. 14 interview. “They want to sell off the resources to invite back the transnationals to take control of our natural resources,” he charged.

Before the coup, Mr. Morales was the longest serving president in the Americas and the first indigenous person to lead the country. He said because his government nationalized the resources, Bolivia’s elites wanted him out of power. “This conspiracy is part of a class struggle,” he told TelSur,

“They can’t accept that an Indian and his team can change the situation of the Bolivian people, that we implement social policies, economic policies with nationalizations to redistribute wealth,” he continued.

However, Mr. Morales added “our fundamental sin is to be anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist.”

Heightened tensions gripped the country after an opposition and deputy leader of the Senate, Jeanine Añez, declared herself interim president on Nov. 13. Ms. Añez formulated a transitional cabinet that indicated many of the policy objectives under Mr. Morales will be reversed. “We want to be a democratic tool of inclusion and unity,” said Ms. Añez, a religious conservative.

But in contrast to Mr. Morales, the transitional cabinet sworn into office did not include a single indigenous person. Her cabinet showed no signs she intended to reach across the country’s deep political and ethnic divide.

Bolivia President Evo Morales
The move intensified political backlash and escalated clashes in the streets between supporters of Mr. Morales and police in riot gear who responded with volleys of tear gas and low flying fighter jets in a show of force, reported Associated Press.

Demonstrators demanding the return of Mr. Morales filled the streets of Bolivia’s capital Le Paz and El Alto, a Morales stronghold, waving the multicolored indigenous flag and chanting, “Now, civil war!”

“We don’t want any dictators. This lady has stepped on us—that’s why we’re so mad,” Paulina Luchampe told AP. “We’re going to fight with our brothers and sisters until Evo Morales is back. We ask for his return. He needs to put the house in order.” The tumult was originally driven by politically instigated unrest over October 20 presidential election results that Mr. Morales won, but contested by opposition candidates.

But the problem is deeper than disputed election results say observers. It’s actually an active counter-revolution against a successful socialist government by foreign powers and a Bolivian right-wing hoping to return Bolivia back to oligarchs and non-indigenous control.

“The imperialists and Latin American elites felt that the pendulum was swinging back towards the left and away from the counterrevolutionary thrust of the last few years,” said Brian Becker, national director of the ANSWER Coalition.

“Bolivia was a country that proclaimed itself to have socialistic aspirations and was succeeding,” Mr. Becker said.

He pointed out the failure of United States efforts to overthrow other socialist leaders like Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and the election of Alberto Fernandez in Argentina as an example of the socialist tide winning in Latin America.

By overthrowing Evo Morales, they were hoping the ousting of a popular government that oversaw a thriving economy could stem the tide of “revived radicalism” and popular movements for social justice in Latin America. “This is a big setback for the indigenous majority population,” said Mr. Becker,

It’s a victory for “Yankee imperialism, the elites in Bolivia and White supremacy” overcoming the indigenous population. “White supremacy and racism were not secondary, but primary to this attack on Evo Morales,” said Mr. Becker.

Historically Bolivia was the poorest country in the Americas, greatly exploited by foreign interests for its silver, tin, natural gas and, petroleum. Under Mr. Morales leadership and his Movement Towards Socialism government, abject poverty dropped from 38 percent in 2006 to 17 percent by 2018; the literacy rate is 95.7 percent; the national minimum wage increased by roughly 104 percent; and over $1 billion was allocated to construct over 5,000 medical clinics, schools and gymnasiums in poor areas.

Some analysts question the narrative of the coup being about election irregularities. Mr. Morales was ahead of his opponent by 10 percentage points. Skeptics note one week before the coup Mr. Morales cancelled a lucrative deal with the German company Systems Alemania to extract lithium, a key component for batteries. Bolivia has the second largest reserve worldwide of the metal.

The opposition senator who has claimed Bolivia’s presidency Jeanine Anez smiles during the swearing-in ceremony of her new cabinet at the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Nov. 13. Anez faces the challenge of stabilizing the nation and organizing national elections within three months at a time of political disputes that pushed former President Evo Morales to fly off to self-exile in Mexico after 14 years in power.
The move may have angered Western powers and sealed Mr. Morales’s fate. In early 2019 Bolivia signed a $2.3 billion lithium agreement with China giving China a potential foothold in the country’s massive untapped lithium reserves. China will need 800,000 tons of the metal per year by 2025 to support its booming electric car industry.

Mr. Morales accomplished this in the face of enormous pressure from the International Monetary Fund, the global business community and the U.S. government. Bolivia is also the most indigenous country of Latin America, with 61 percent of the population identifying themselves as belonging to one of several original nations of the region.

Evo Morales upset Bolivian politics long ruled by light-skinned descendants of Europeans by reversing deep-rooted inequality. The economy benefited from a boom in prices of commodities and he ushered through a new constitution that created a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia’s indigenous groups while also allowing self-rule for all indigenous communities.

It’s of great significance being the first indigenous president of Bolivia, said Abel Muhammad, the Student National Latino Representative for the Nation of Islam. “In particular the fact that he was so bold in running on a pro-indigenous platform,” he added.

Mr. Morales prioritized the indigenous in a society where they were overlooked, marginalized and dismissed as “caricatures” or as a people who no longer existed.

“He brought it to the forefront that not only do these people still exist, but they are predominant in the society, but they’re being mistreated,” said Mr. Muhammad. “Not only is it his indigenous background, but also the fact that he has not just rolled over for Western and European interests as so many others do in Latin America,” he added.

Mr. Muhammad is of Mexican descent and pointed out that Mr. Morales is part of a group of leaders in Central and South America that is hated by Washington and wealthy elites.

Questions loom about the legitimacy of Ms. Añez taking power absent the quorums to appoint her and formally accept Mr. Morales’s resignation. In a recent interview Mr. Morales said legally he is still president.

The United States, Brazil, Colombia and the United Kingdom have recognized Ms. Añez as interim president. Latin America is divided along ideological lines and is split in reaction to the crisis in Bolivia. Peru, Ecuador and Argentina have refrained from accepting Ms. Añez. Mexico’s left-wing government is aligned with Mr. Morales and contend the change was a coup perpetrated by political rivals. In several tweets Cuba, a close ally of Mr. Morales, condemned the move and expressed solidarity. Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro rejected Ms. Añez’s claim because of no quorum.

Mr. Morales’s party has a two-third majority in Congress. No one swore Ms. Añez in and lawmakers from Morales’s Movement for Socialism boycotted the assembly session preventing a quorum.

Ms. Añez’s “self-proclamatio n” was an affront to constitutional government, argue critics. “Bolivia is suffering an assault on the power of the people,” said Mr. Morales.