Bolivia has now hopped into the bandwagon of other South-American nations. Once hailed as a champion of a socialist approach, the region has witnessed heavy violent protests over the past few days, compelling President Evo Morales to step down.
Morales, a former coca leaf farmer, and union leader enjoyed overwhelming popularity among Bolivians. He is was seen as a champion of the indigenous movement as he became the first indigenous president in a country which for a long time, was under the political control of ‘white-oligarchs’. After the death of Fidel Castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, he was seen as one of the rare leaders who did not bend down under the influence of the United States of America and other Multinational Corporations. But, what really lead to the fallout of Morales who received criticism from the people of far-right but some of his former supporters as well?
What has happened?
Evo Morales who became president in 2006, announced his resignation on November 10, after weeks of intense protests which was sparked by alleged discrepancies in the general election held on October 20. Many protestors accused him of undermining democracy to extend his rule. The Vice President, Alvaro Garcia Linera, also resigned along with Morales. Both the leaders in an address said that they were stepping down in an effort to stop the bloodshed that has spread across the country in recent weeks. The leaders said that they were victims of a coup conspired by his political opponents and military.
What actually initiated the protests?
Bolivia under Morales was one of the most stable economies in Latin-America. Morales lost significant popularity after defying the results of a referendum on presidential term limits. Morales insisted on running for the fourth term. He appealed against the verdict in Bolivia’s top court and the court allowed him to contest for the fourth term. After the move, even his political aides and supporters started criticizing him.
For the elections of October 20, initial results showed a tight contest between Morales and his opponent Carlos Mesa, who was a former President. The results showed Morales short of the 10 percentage points over his main opponent. In the Bolivian system, if the margin between the top two candidates is less than 10%, then the second round of election is held between them. The publication of results was then abruptly halted without explanation for 24 hours. When publication resumed, it showed Morales leading with more than 10% votes ( just enough votes to avoid a risky second round).
The results were largely viewed with suspicion. On October 22nd, a member of the Bolivian Election body resigned. On October 25, the election authorities confirmed the victory of Morales, giving him 47.1% of the total vote share, with a lead of more than 10% over Mesa. It sparked-off weeks of angry protests that shuttered schools and businesses across the country, with demonstrators accusing Morales of undermining the democratic values. The supporters of Morales also took to the streets all over Bolivia, in solidarity with their leader.
The Organisation of American States report
The OAS (Organization of American States) is a group of independent states of the Western Hemisphere. It was formed to maintain peace between the various states within the hemisphere. The OAS decided to conduct an audit of the October 20 elections. The audit report detailed some serious irregularities during the vote, and the armed forces announced that they sided with the protesters and demanded the President to quit.
The OAS also said that the data was directed from an unplanned external server, and observed irregularities in the counting of votes. Morales said that the report was more political than technical, but announced fresh elections on Sunday to allay public anger. This failed to de-escalate the situation, soon, the police also joined the demonstrations. Facing heavy criticism, Morales resigned and fled to Mexico, where he was given Political Assylum.
Morales after his resignation stated that “My sin was being indigenous, leftist, and anti-imperialist.”
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) November 11, 2019
Who is entitled to ‘President of Bolivia’?
Jeanine Anez, a right-wing opposition senator, proclaimed herself the country’s interim leader, a role to which she was constitutionally entitled after Morales and key allies resigned. It made her the deputy leader of the country’s Senate. She has promised to hold new elections soon, though it’s unclear to what extent.
The path to the president is not clear yet. Under the Bolivian constitution, Morales’ resignation needed to be approved by both houses of Congress, and lawmakers failed to get the quorum for an assembly session, which prompted Anez’s declaration. Morales’ Movement for Socialism party, which has called the assembly session in which Anez declared herself that the president is illegal, it is bound to push back on the opposition.
Clashes broke out on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, on Tuesday evening after Anez’s declaration. Morales supporters tried to reach the Congress building, shouting: “She must quit.” They were met by police, who fired tear gas to try to disperse the crowd.
A good sign for American Capitalism
American policies and capitalist approach were heavily criticized by the former President Morales. Bolivia is a nation full of natural resources. Lithium is expected to be one of the major causes of American interests in the region. Bolivia claims to have 70 percent of the world’s lithium reserves, mostly in the Salar de Uyuni salt flats. Lithium is a key reserve as it is essential for making electric cars. Most of the companies worldwide are focusing on renewable energy.
In a statement issued, regarding the resignation of Morales, Donal Trump called it, “a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere.” Warning other socialist nations in Latin America, he stated, “These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”
The Indian Connect
Jindal Steel, an Indian transnational corporation, had an old contract to mine iron ore from Bolivia’s El Mutún, a contract that was put on hold by the Morales government in 2007. In July 2012, Jindal Steel terminated the contract and sought international arbitration and compensation for its investment. In 2014, it won $22.5 million from Bolivia in a ruling from the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce. For another case against Bolivia, Jindal Steel demanded $100 million in compensation.
The legacy of Evo Morales
As Nick Easter describes in his piece for The Guardian, “The rise of a humble Aymara coca farmer to the nation’s highest office in 2006 marked the arrival of indigenous people as vanguards of history. Within the social movements that brought him to power emerged indigenous visions of socialism and the values of Pachamama (the Andean Earth Mother). Evo represents five centuries of indigenous deprivation and struggle in the hemisphere”.
Evo, a leftist, had served longer than any other current head of state in Latin America, a steward of the impoverished. Evo is credited with his pragmatic redistributive policies. Bolivia under him was one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Ironically the other Latin American governments that embraced market-oriented policies are facing economic chaos like Argentina and Ecuador.
Even the International Monetary Fund, that champion of the free market, concedes that Bolivia’s socialists have been more effective in combating extreme poverty than any other South American government, slashing it from 33 percent of the population in 2006 to 15 percent in 2018.”
The fall of ‘Indigenous’ leader
Celebrated as a champion of Latin-American spirit and a torch-bearer of indigenous struggles, the political insecurity of Morales made him unpopular as a ‘Dictator’. He betrayed his own policies and approaches that gained him the position of the first man of Bolivia. In the recent wildfires in Amazon, he faced a lot of criticism for not acting quickly to control fires that destroyed 1.2 million hectares of forest and grasslands, according to government data. Environmentalists, however, claimed that the damage was much higher.
Many compared him with the Unpopular Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. He has faced mounting fury both over his failure to act and over policies, that his critics say favor greater deforestation. Ecologists have attacked a law promoted by Morales that offers incentives to burn forest areas to transform them into pastureland. He even persecuted former allies who criticized and turned against him.
The recent incidents in Bolivia depict how even the most powerful and celebrated champions of Equality and social change could be dethroned when they become an authoritarian and suppress the voices of dissent.