The Current State of Bolivia


Olivia Smathers '21, Staff Writer

          Recent election results and rising political tensions culminated in a military and civil coup removing former Bolivian president Evo Morales, the country’s leader of 14 years. After a controversial decision to run for a fourth term, contrary to term limits Morales himself had approved, he managed to pull through with a victory of the popular vote on October 20th. Unfortunately for Morales and for Bolivia, results of the election were heavily contested, most prominently by the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS published formal rumors of Morales’ alleged voting interference and by November 8th, widespread protests escalated and started to include the police and the military. Two days later, Morales formally recognized a coup against him, fleeing La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, for a farming region in Central Bolivia. On that fateful date, the former leader officially resigned, leaving his supporters devastated and adversaries directionless. Violence and lootings on the streets rose to critical levels following the coup; civil actors had to move quickly to fill the power vacuum. An urgent meeting called by Roman Catholic Church and European Union officials on the 11th discovered that now, suddenly, Jeanine Añez, near retiree and second vice president in the Bolivian Senate’s opposition party to Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS), had a clear constitutional path to interim presidency. Senior lawmaker in MAS, Adriana Salvatierra, demanded that the new transitional government grant Morales the ability to safely leave Bolivia for asylum in Mexico before MAS would accept the new leader. Even after Añez agreed to their terms, the two parties both still were searching for other potential senators to take up the torch rather than Añez. Everyone unanimously agreed she was too inexperienced and too close to the political leaders in the majority party (MAS)’s rival Santa Cruz region. Nevertheless, on November 12th, Añez declared herself Bolivia’s president. MAS lawmakers did not show up to her swearing in, making her rule without congressional support from the very beginning. Even the opposition party that fought so hard for Morales’ removal only tolerates Añez’s rule based purely on technicalities.

         The role of other international actors in the Bolivian crisis must be addressed before all else. Bolivia, unfortunately, does not exist free from the corruption and influence of powerful nations. Suspicions have arisen that the United States directly or indirectly is supporting the coup against Morales and the violent protests happening everywhere in Bolivia right now. US interests, though highly political, undoubtedly have basis in economics as well: Lithium, a mineral the US finds very desirable, is highly concentrated on Bolivian territory. The credibility of OAS, the organization that originally filed the criminalization of Morales, remains largely disputed; in various situations—like Venezuela earlier this year—the OAS has followed strictly by US guidelines, especially under US president Donald Trump. Every day, citizens of Bolivia and of the world’s trust in the OAS depletes more and more. Issues regarding the election should never have been directed to the OAS. The United States has no place in Bolivian politics. Organizations more localized and less malleable by foreign forces like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) are more suited to deal with political unrest in Bolivia. It is unprecedented for local issues in Latin America to go to the OAS before any other institution: in the Colombia-Ecuador crisis, the first line of defense was the “Rio Group” and then the OAS to avoid these complications. Morales has tried to recruit some forms of foreign assistance from the United Nations, but the UN Security Council cannot even make moves to check the human rights violations because they fear a veto from the United States.

         With all the controversy, the media seems to have forgotten all that Morales actually accomplished for Bolivia. In 2006, Morales rose to power as Bolivia’s very first indigenous president, bringing the marginalized voices of indigenous communities to the forefront. Morales fought for improved quality of life for poor Bolivians and more than halved the percentage of the population in extreme poverty. He nationalized the profits from the oil and gas industries and was able to raise the country’s GDP by 4.8% every year until 2017. Three cash bonus programs—a pension program called Renta Dignidad, a program for pregnant women’s healthcare called Bono Juana Azurduy, and a cash transfer program for young children to enroll in schools—were established under Morales, immensely serving the most vulnerable populations in his nation. Ruling with a strong emphasis on infrastructure, Morales directed funds into hospitals, schools, and public work projects, building at least 4,500 educational facilities throughout his time in office. He redistributed around 134 million acres of land from private ownership and the state to indigenous families, further cementing the support from frequently ignored minorities. However, Morales was not immune to the appeal of potentially damaging sources of government revenue. He approved highway construction through indigenous territory and encouraged burning techniques for clearing their lands for cattle and other food sources in 2017, weighing infrastructure over indigenous livelihood. His fourth term of presidency clearly became quickly controversial, and thus, Morales might now be remembered more for the pain his mistakes induced than for the rewards his hard work yielded for Bolivia.

         The rise of Añez has become a disturbing contrast to the majority of Morales’ presidency. As a conservative Roman Catholic widely believed to hold racist views, the previously empowered indigenous populations have begun to fear once again. One of Añez’s first executive orders allowed military forces to use force against protesters and face no repercussions. She has advocated for Morales to be arrested upon his return to Bolivia and for MAS to be banned from participating in the next election. Indigenous fears have manifested in the burning of the Wiphala flag—a symbol of indigenous identity and community. Since the coup, rising violence has killed 30 Bolivians. The people are banding together. Petitions have been created. The calls for the US and other actors to formally cease to recognize and support Añez’s regime are growing. There is no justification for a supposed democracy that allows citizens to face death and lose their families, friends, and homes without governmental remorse.