Bolivia in chaos after Evo Morales quits – THERE WAS NO COUP D’ETAT!

The Economist reports:

Gone, but not quietly

Bolivia in chaos after Evo Morales quits

Violence worsens after he claims to be the victim of a coup

EVO MORALES built his political career in the Chapare, a rural coca-growing region in central Bolivia. He became Bolivia’s first president of indigenous origin in 2006 and won re-election three times, thanks largely to his efforts to reduce poverty. But on the afternoon of November 10th, he returned to the Chapare to announce his resignation. Mr Morales made clear that he did not do so willingly. He hinted at dark forces seeking to destroy Bolivian democracy, and claimed that he was the victim of a coup.

His resignation creates a chaotic political situation with no obvious way forward. It follows three weeks of increasingly violent protests brought about by a disputed election on October 20th and mounting evidence of vote-rigging. In that vote Mr Morales avoided a run-off vote against Carlos Mesa, his closest rival, by just 35,000 of the 5.9m valid votes cast. Rather than put an end to the protests, the inflammatory rhetoric that Mr Morales used when he resigned has led to further violence.

His decision to quit followed the release of a report by the Organisation of American States (OAS), which had sent a team to audit the election. The OAS experts said that they found widespread evidence of falsified tally sheets, which list total votes for each precinct, and breaches in the software used to transmit the results. “The manipulations of the computer system are of such magnitude that they should be thoroughly investigated by the Bolivian state to get to the bottom of, and assign responsibility in, this serious case,” the report said. After it was released, police arrested members of the electoral tribunal.

Mr Morales apparently realised that he was fast losing support. Over the past week the “civil strike” against the election result, which brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, intensified. Luis Fernando Camacho, the strike leader in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s biggest city, called on Mr Morales to resign, and then urged protesters to shut down government buildings. On November 8th police in several regions joined the protesters and announced that they would no longer obey their commanders’ orders. On November 9th, after government supporters shot at buses carrying opposition backers from Potosí to La Paz, the administrative capital, protesters set fire to the houses of several politicians from the governing party. The governor and several mayors resigned, saying they feared for their safety. Three people have died in clashes between protesters and supporters of Mr Morales, who called upon them to defend his “victory”.

On the morning of November 10th, in response to the release of the OAS’s findings, Mr Morales announced a fresh election. But that was not enough to shore up support. Cabinet ministers and legislators from his party kept resigning. Williams Kaliman, the commander of Bolivia’s armed forces, gave a televised interview in which he urged Mr Morales to step down so that “peace can be restored and stability maintained, for the good of Bolivia”. Realising that he had run out of road, Mr Morales resigned in the late afternoon.

But, in his speech, Mr Morales rejected the results of the OAS audit and claimed that he was the victim of a “civic, political and police coup. My sin is being indigenous, a union leader and a coca farmer,” he said. He insisted that he had resigned only in order to prevent further bloodshed. Instead, his talk of a coup has further inflamed the violence. Mr Morales’s supporters burnt houses, businesses and buses in the streets of La Paz, and in the neighbouring city of El Alto. Several television stations and newspapers closed down to protect their employees. There are also reports that pro-opposition rioters ransacked Mr Morales’s house.

It is unclear what will happen next. In the uncertainty, conspiracy theories abound. Despite General Kaliman’s public intervention, some accused the police and armed forces of doing little to quell the unrest. On Twitter, Mr Mesa urged them to “guarantee and preserve order.” Police denied claims that they were seeking to arrest Mr Morales. Those in line to take over the presidency under the constitution—the vice-president, the president of the senate, and the president of the lower house—have resigned. Nearly two dozen leaders of Mr Morales’s party spent the night in the Mexican embassy. The Mexican foreign minister said he offered asylum to them and to Mr Morales. For the moment, Bolivia is leaderless.

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

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