BOLIVIA: COUNTRY IN CHAOS


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Following weeks of mass protest and political tensions due to a controversial election, which we covered in detail in last week’s Trends Journal, Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, resigned Sunday and fled to Mexico.

Morales’ exit leaves Bolivia in a political vacuum. The next two officials in line of succession, the Vice President and President of the Senate, both of whom were closely aligned with Morales, also resigned.

The presidential role will be temporarily filled by the second vice president of the Bolivian senate, Jeanine Anez, who agreed to call for new elections, but no date has been set.

There is no clear picture of how the succession of power will take place. 

There is also speculation that the military, who urged Morales to resign, will play a role in who becomes the next president.
 
Luis Fernando Camacho, the leader of an organization backed by businesses with interests that run counter to Morale’s policies, i.e., nationalization of natural resources, support of indigenous people, and workers’ rights… and the de facto leader of the demonstrations, called for a military and police “junta.”

It should be noted that Mr. Camacho, who is also now considered a leading candidate for President, comes from a family who had long profited from Bolivia’s plentiful natural gas reserves and lost a large part its wealth when Morales nationalized them.

One investigative journalist, Benjamin Norton, has accused Camacho of being tied to U.S. corporate interests looking to exploit Central and South American resources.

What Was, What Is

This past Sunday, before Morales was pressured to resign, he agreed to hold new elections without indicating if he would participate. However, unfolding events severely weakened his position.

Police forces sent out to control the street protests chose instead to join the demonstrators and back their demands.

The Organization of American States (OAS) – backed by Washington, who said Morales had “stolen” the elections – were called in to audit the election results.

OAS’s preliminary report said the election “showed irregularities” and “the manipulations of the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian state.”

While recommending the election be annulled, however, they provided no evidence to support their conclusion.

Further weakening Morales’ positions, gangs started physically attacking his supporters, including burning down government ministers’ houses and taking their relatives hostage.  In a small town they attacked and humiliated the (female) mayor, cutting off most of her hair, covering her in red paint, and forcing her to walk barefoot through town.

While questioning the OAS report, which he claimed was based on political pressure and not technical facts, Morales said he was resigning to avoid further violence and persecutions against his supporters and himself.

“I resign from my position as president so that [Carlos] Mesa and [Luis Fernando] Camacho do not continue to persecute socialist leaders.”

As we had previously noted, Carlos Mesa, Morales’ opponent in the recent election, had been president from 2003 to 2005, when he was forced to resign under allegations of collaborating with U.S. corporate interests over revenues from the country’s huge reserves of natural gas.

Evo Morales came to power in 2006 as a former union leader, progressive reformer, and the country’s first indigenous native leader.  He put in place a number of policies popular with a majority of Bolivian citizens.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), “Strong economic growth has allowed Bolivia to reduce poverty by 42 percent and extreme poverty by 60 percent since President Evo Morales took office in 2006.”

Over a million Bolivians rose up to middle class levels during Morales’ first two terms in office, due largely to redistributive policies from the country’s rich reserves of natural gas and other resources that had been monopolized by U.S. corporate interests.

But recent years saw economic clouds due to falling commodity prices so important to Bolivia’s economy along with other pressures from the global slowdown reported extensively in the Trends Journal.

The tide also started turning against Morales in 2017, when a slate of judges running for election were pre-picked by Morales, and citizens showed their anger by casting blank ballots.

The following year, Morales backed a restrictive penal code that generated an angry protest, including a 47-day strike, which pressured Morales to revoke the penalties.

Morales’ popularity was further weakened when he flaunted the constitutional term limits. After losing a referendum to extend term limits, Morales brought the issue to the Bolivian Supreme Court, who rescinded legal limits, thus allowing him to seek re-election.

In the eyes of many Bolivians, Morales was considered a power-hungry autocrat.

Now, Bolivia, in a political vacuum and with intensifying pressures from outside forces, such as the U.S. and other western corporate interests to gain access to vast supply of natural gas and other resources, faces an unknown future.

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