1978 was the year I was born in Bolivia, it was also the year of another coup d’é·tat in Bolivia. For the next four years there would be 10 different governments running the country. As a young boy growing up in Bolivia I sensed that political instability was the norm not the exception.
On November 10, 2019, Bolivia’s president Evo Morales was ousted by a combination of both the political opposition leading national protests calling for his resignation, and the capitulation of police and military forces to the unfolding social unrest. Morales and his supporters claim it was a coup but the opposition claim it was a popular uprising against a dictator.
Whatever you call it and however you look at it, the attacks on the institutions of democracy are crystal clear: Election fraud, manipulation of the courts, military and police intervention in political affairs, corruption in government, political persecution, and disregard for the rule of law.
For the people of Bolivia the ongoing situation is extremely dangerous, not to mention that it could lead to instability in the region.
The country of Bolivia was named in honor of Simon Bolivar who liberated Latin America from the Spanish empire. Interestingly, Bolivia was the last region to be liberated even though it was the first to rebel against colonial rule. Unfortunately, for Bolivia before and after its 1825 founding political instability was the norm, in fact its had many military coups throughout its history.
I know first hand what it means to experience the chaos of a military coup. In 2009 I ran for Delegate to the Virginia General Assembly for district 52. My campaign for Delegate took off after securing the Republican nomination, so things were going well until news broke that a military coup seized power in Honduras on June 28, 2009.
The problem was that a few days earlier my wife and young children had traveled to Honduras and were caught in the political and social chaos that ensued. I feared for their life and felt so helpless because there was nothing I could do for them.
When I managed to get in touch with my wife, I told her to keep our family safe and return to the US as soon as it was possible. I also asked her to avoid discussing my political activities with anyone because it could put them in danger. My prayers were answered days later when they safely returned to the US.
Honduras has continued to have even more political instability over the last 10 years and this is what I fear could happen for the people of Bolivia.
Bolivia has enjoyed 14 years of political stability under Morales who won the presidency in 2005, and was re-elected both in 2009 and 2014 by an overwhelming majority. Under his leadership the MAS party secured majorities in the Bolivian legislature. On several fronts Morales deserves credit. Bolivia’s economy has improved steadily, extreme poverty has decreased, racism and discrimination have decreased, and infrastructure and welfare/social programs were popular, especially with the poor.
Not every reform by Morales and his party was good for Bolivia however. The constitutional reform of 2007 included an amendment that allowed the president of Bolivia to run for reelection once, so Morales got re-elected to a second term in 2009. He ran and won a third term in 2014 after getting the constitutional court (TCP) to determine that the 2009 election was technically his first term under Bolivia’s new 2007 constitution. Then in 2017 Morales got the same court (TCP) to eliminate term limits despite losing a 2017 national referendum on whether he could run for reelection (2019).
Were the courts and judicial system manipulated by Morales so he could keep staying in power?
Morales’ ouster was probably a long time in the making and the OEA preliminary report on November 10, 2019 alluding to electoral fraud was the final straw for the opposition who continued their protests even after Morales called for new elections. A political compromise and resolution was off the table.
As the protests grew, some police officers started to defect and join the protesters. The police turned to the Bolivian military (FFAA) for help because they were getting overwhelmed. Bolivian General Kalisman then asked Morales to resign to maintain peace and stability, a key moment in the unfolding chaos.
Later in the day president Morales and his vice-president Alvaro Linares (MAS) publicly resigned their respective offices. The third in line to assume the presidency, Senate President Adriana Salvatierra (MAS), also publicly resigned. The fourth in line, Congress President Victor Borda (MAS) publicly resigned under unusual circumstances: his house was burned and brother was kidnapped.
The Bolivian constitution (CPE) does not make explicit who is next in line, so a power vacuum was created.
Bolivian Senator Jeanine Anez, an ally of the opposition, declared herself to be Bolivia’s interim president. Interestingly, Anez and her allies relied on the same court (TCP) to validate her interim presidency. By the way this is the same court that they claimed was Morales’ puppet. Morales is currently exiled in Mexico.
The MAS party, currently the majority, does not support the interim government. They claim they have not considered Morales’ resignation letter legislatively. It is not clear whether they boycotted or if they were prevented from returning to Congress on the days leading to Anez’s self declaration.
So it begs a question whether the interim Bolivian government is even legitimate. It seems to me the only way for the people of Bolivia to restore faith in their government and protect its democracy is to have transparent elections within 90 days per the Bolivian constitution.
Bolivians need new leadership that can rise to the occasion. They need to work together, engage in dialogue, and find common ground. They need make sure that the future elections are transparent, just and fair, set up a commission to investigate if there was election fraud, and set up a commission to investigate if there was coup.
The international community should be a witness to what happened in Bolivia and to what is about to happen there because democracy is under siege. The news media, especially international media, should continue to report the facts from all perspectives.
Remember that an attack on the on institution of democracy is an attack to government for and by the people, to their liberties and freedoms, no matter where it happens.