Bolivia: A nation left leaderless as president flees
Our nation is finally free of Evo Morales, said El Deber (Bolivia) in an editorial, but not before he unleashed an “abominable final act” that pitted Bolivian against Bolivian. The leftist leader was forced to resign as president this week after the Organization of American States reported that it had found “clear manipulations” that called into question Morales’ win in last month’s presidential election. Morales initially promised to hold a new vote, but the head of Bolivia’s armed forces instead asked him to step down so the nation could find peace after weeks of protests that had left at least three people dead. He didn’t go quietly. Morales declared that his chief electoral rival, former President Carlos Mesa, had mounted a coup against him, and that suggestion spurred his supporters to violence. As Morales fled to Mexico, which had offered him asylum, militants from his Movement for Socialism (MAS) attacked police stations and journalists’ homes, and looted stores and set fire to buses. Bolivians barricaded themselves in their homes, “fearing for their safety, for their lives, for their property.” Mesa supporters had earlier ransacked and burned the homes of senior MAS leaders.
Morales no longer believes in democracy, said Página Siete (Bolivia). During his first three terms, Bolivia’s first indigenous president was hugely popular, thanks to social spending programs that lifted many out of poverty. But he became power mad. After losing a 2016 referendum that would have let him defy constitutional term limits, Morales ignored the will of the people and got a compliant judge to rule that he could run in the next election. When that vote was held last month, early results showed that Morales had a clear lead—but not by the 10 percentage points needed to avoid a runoff. Then the election board mysteriously stopped announcing the vote tally, and 24 hours later “incomprehensibly” declared Morales the outright winner. That “detonated the country’s outrage.” Ever since, Bolivia has been “a cauldron of protests.”
That’s no excuse for what “looks like a coup,” said La Razón (Bolivia). And now police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, “showing a speed and levels of coordination that have always been lacking between the two institutions,” are holding dozens of MAS functionaries “as if they were common criminals.” Worse, after Morales resigned, his vice president and the heads of both legislative chambers also quit, leaving the country without a leader in this crisis.
The key now is to keep the army out of government, said El País (Spain). Opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho has proposed the formation of an interim governing board that would include the military and police high command—a disastrous idea that could spell “the end of democracy.” Instead, Deputy Senate Leader Jeanine Áñez, next in line for the presidency, must be allowed to lead a caretaker government to organize new elections. Bolivia is in a precarious state, and only the “utmost respect for constitutional legality” can save it. ■