Don’t shed a tear for the ex-populist leaders of Ecuador and Bolivia

Andres Oppenheimer, Miami Herald (español):

Don’t shed any tears for the former leftist populist leaders Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, both of whom were recently prohibited from running for office in their respective countries; they are getting a taste of their own medicine.

During their terms in office, the two former presidents persecuted political opponents, silenced independent media, and illegally tried to extend their terms way beyond what was allowed by their respective countries’ constitutions.

Now, they are claiming to be victims of political persecution by their successors. But the funny thing is that they are being banned from participating in upcoming elections by the very same laws they created to prevent their political opponents from running for office.

And yet, incredibly, they are getting political support from not only from predictable allies such as the dictatorships of Venezuela and Cuba, but also by officials from Argentina and Mexico’s leftist populist ruling parties.

“Yesterday was a dark day for democracy in Latin America,” said Argentina’s ruling party senator and former foreign minister Jorge Taiana in a Sept. 8 interview with CNN en Español.

He was referring to the Sept. 7 judicial rulings that banned Morales from running for a Senate seat in Bolivia, and to Ecuador’s justice system’s ban on Correa from running for vice-president in Ecuador’s upcoming elections.

Granted, past wrongdoings by Morales and Correa don’t justify new ones by their successors. But both former presidents should be held accountable for their past abuses of power.

A Bolivian tribunal ruled Sept. 7 that Bolivia’s Morales can’t run for a Senate seat for the central region of Cochabamba in the Oct. 18 elections because he has not been living in that province for the past two years. Morales is exiled in Argentina.

Simultaneously , the Bolivian government of interim President Jeanine Añez has accused Morales of “terrorism and genocide” for reportedly asking his supporters to block roads that were needed to supply hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the Bolivian government has charged Morales with abusing under-aged girls. Morales says such charges are part of a “dirty war” against him.

Bolivia’s argument that Morales can’t run for office because he hasn’t been living in Bolivia may be a technicality. But it comes from Art. 149 of Morales’ own 2009 Constitutional reform, which he himself passed in part to keep one of his top political rivals from running for office.

A new Human Rights Watch advocacy group report says that the charges of terrorism against Morales are “disproportionate.” But the HRW report acknowledged at the same time that Morales “repeatedly” used sympathetic judges to file charges against political rivals during his almost 14 years in power, ending in 2019.

Morales is a close ally of Venezuela’s dictator Nicolas Maduro. Following Venezuela’s steps, Morales changed the constitution several times to eliminate its prohibition of more than two consecutive presidential terms. Morales first changed it to allow a third term, then tried to change it again to permit a fourth term.

What’s more, during his bid for a fourth term in office, Morales convened a national referendum to back his constitutional reform. He lost it, but ran for a fourth term anyway.

In his unconstitutional October 2019 election for a fourth-term, Morales proclaimed himself the winner after the vote counting was inexplicably stopped for nearly 24 hours. The election turned out to be a sham, as concluded by the 34-country Organization of American States.

Studies criticizing the OAS report only addressed a small fraction of the OAS’ observation mission’s conclusions. Morales resigned under pressure and fled to Mexico, and then to Argentina.

Correa’s case in Ecuador is similar. Correa, who lives in Belgium, has been convicted in Ecuador to eight years in prison for massive corruption during his ten years in power. He is another populist who changed the constitution to try to stay in power indefinitely.

Human rights groups have singled out Correa as one of Latin America’s worst repressors of freedom of the press. Ironically, he is now giving interviews right and left to media that he used to try to silence. Like Morales, Correa created the electoral rules that are now being used against him.

So, while past wrongdoings don’t justify new ones, don’t cry for Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. Nobody should feel sorry for these president-for-life wannabes.

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

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