Bolivia: An Electoral Crisis

I cannot sit back and ignore what is happening in Bolivia, and neither should you. U.S. media continues its refusal to cover important South American news like what has been going on in Bolivia since the country’s election on October 20th.

 

Evo Morales has been the president of Bolivia since winning the election in 2005. He was lauded as a proponent of Bolivian indigenous rights (he is the first indigenous leader of the country), Bolivian independence from U.S. influence, and economic progression. Bolivia seemed to be looking towards a bright future with their new president.

 

During his first term, Morales’s government drafted a new constitution which was approved by the Constitutional Assembly. Among other things, one of the key articles of the new constitution was the implementation of a consecutive two-term presidential limit. Morales was then re-elected in the next election year. Things got a little murky when Morales announced his bid for another re-election, putting him over the term limit that he endorsed. He explained that this would only be his second election under the new constitution, his first election was technically under the old constitution and the old government. His re-election campaign for 2014 was approved and he won by a landslide.

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In 2016, Morales already had his eyes set on the 2019 election (the presidential term in Bolivia is five years). He called for a referendum to allow for a second consecutive re-election of president and vice-president but it was defeated, seemingly ending his plans for 2019. However, Morales convinced the constitutional court that his human right to run for office was being violated by term limits and it legitimized his presidency. This hypocrisy from Morales caused a lot of political unrest in Bolivia and weakened his support going into the election.

 

After Morales suspiciously claimed his victory in the October 20th election this year, the opposition called for a recount. Early projections had shown Morales with less than the required 50% of the vote and less than 40% of the vote with at least a 10% advantage over the closest opponent; Morales’ party has been accused of election fraud. The Organization of American States, with the United States as a [relatively silent] supporter, has also critiqued the results of the election and claims that it will cause people to lose faith in the electoral process.

 

Ever since the results were announced, protests and violence has spread throughout the country. Protesters have burned the offices of local electoral tribunes and have barricaded major roadways in Bolivia. In these violent conflicts, over 100 people have been injured and three have been killed. The most recent death was a 20 year old college student in Cochabamba, a city that is all too familiar with violent protests following the Water War in the early 2000s.

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20 years old. A college student. Dead. Democracy is being threatened in Bolivia and Limbert Guzmán was doing his part to fight for it when he was killed by government supporters. Bolvians are killing Bolivians. The UN has condemned these violent uprisings and has called for the government and opposition to reach peace agreements among these unfathomable deaths. Members of the military have also refused orders from the executive, believing it to be morally incorrect to use the power of the military to combat the citizens that it has vowed to protect. The New York Times reports: 

 

“The armed forces of the state will never take up arms against the people,” the officers said in the letter, which was addressed to Mr. Morales and the top leaders of the military. “Our weapons will only be raised to defend our people, our Constitution and our laws.”

 

The anarchy in Bolivia is reaching a fever pitch. Just yesterday (November 7th), a group of government oppositionists dragged Vinto Mayor Patricia Arce Guzmán (a member of Morales’ political party) out of the city’s town hall, cut her hair, drenched her in red paint, and forced her to walk through the streets barefoot until police were able to rescue her. While canting “murderess, murderess” around her, protestors made sure to have the mayor sign a letter of resignation before the police saved her.

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This violence is inconceivable. The United States might’ve been upset over the election of Donald Trump, but it did not see a reaction at all comparable to the horrendousness of this Bolivian crisis. For a country that has been the biggest proponent of democracy, our own government has been embarrassingly quiet about the whole crisis.

 

Evo Morales must resign if there is to be any chance of democracy persisting in the poor South American country. Bolivians are witnessing the beginnings of another dictatorship, made even more heartbreaking by the fact that Morales was supposed to be the poster boy for equality of indigenous peoples and Bolivian pride. That narrative has been radically altered with his blatant refusal to step down from office. 

 

You are advocating for anarchy and murder among your own people, Mr. Morales! The time for resignation has arrived.