Bolivian President Evo Morales Agrees Fresh Elections

After over three weeks of violent street protests, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales bowed to pressure and agreed to hold new presidential elections. Claiming to Fear for his life, however, he has now fled into exile.

A damning report by the Organisation of American States (OAS) in which they claimed to have found “serious irregularities” in the October 20 election, made the president’s position untenable. Morales had called for fresh presidential elections but amid a clamour for him to step down he finally resigned and fled the country.

The October 20 election included the 130 seat Chamber of Deputies, the 36 seat Senate, the presidency and vice presidency. Bizarrely, however, the count was halted at 7:40 on October 20 and did not resume until the next day leaving many Bolivians bewildered and suspicious.

International observers were openly concerned by the disruption and voiced their disquiet. The election count was eventually restarted and incumbent president, leftist Evo Morales, the nation’s first indigenous president, was eventually declared to have won the contest by a margin over 10 per cent which was needed to avoid a second round of voting. Many, however, suspected election fraud and Carlos Mesa, leader of Civic Community, a centrist coalition, and the opposition candidate, called for protests. Bolivians across the country took to the streets.

Violence flared when anti-government protestors faced off against pro-Morales supporters. Three people lost their lives in the clashes, including 20-year-old student Limbert Guzman who died in a clinic in Cochabamba on Wednesday, November 6.

Speaking from the Cochabamba, a city of around 632,000, situated about 238 miles southeast of La Paz, one of the anti-government protestors Alvaro (who didn’t want to give his full name) told InsideOver: “He (Limbert Guzman) is from a very humble family. People, in general, have reacted with indignation and he is seen now as a martyr of Bolivian democracy. All-day long we have had fights on the streets, between Morales supporters, who came from the countryside and people from the city.”

In the wake of the deaths furious demonstrators in the small town of Vinto, with a population of around 52,000, doused the local Mayor Patricia Arce, a member of the ruling Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) party, in red paint, cut her hair and marched her barefoot through the town.

The incident reflected the chaos and divisions that have been tearing the South American nation apart since the October elections.

“Luis Fernando Camacho…is trying to see Morales in order to give him a petition of resignation” Alavaro stated on Friday November 8. “Kind of a crazy move but the entire country is crazy.”

Camacho, a local civic leader, had stood at the feet of Christ the Redeemer in Santa Cruz on the previous Saturday, November 2, and described President Morales as a ‘tyrant’. He also said that Morales had “48 hours to resign”.

He had then flown to La Paz to hand the president a letter of resignation to sign. But after arriving at El Alto airport eight miles from La Paz he was blocked from leaving the airport and returned to the eastern city of Santa Cruz. He later returned by plane and this time was able to reach La Paz.

The key turning point in this struggle for power, however, was the mutiny of police on November 8. The rebellion among police – more specifically the elite tactical operations unit (UTOP) – started in Cochabamba, and rapidly spread to Sucre and Santa Cruz. By November 9 it was being reported that many of the elite tactical operations unit had withdrawn from the Plaza Murillo leaving the presidential palace guarded by only a handful of officers.

Defence Minister Javier Zavaleta had said that the government had no intention of sending the army into action, though this decision may have been tempered by warnings from former president Jorge Quiroga.

Quiroga happily reminding the military that several former army chiefs are still being held in prison for their part in the deaths of protestors in 2003.

I could not contact Alvaro on Saturday evening, I tried his mobile phone and left a message and tried to reach him by email but all to no avail.

In the meantime Evo Morales had become increasingly isolated behind the walls of his presidential palace and with support from the police beginning to falter he, of all people, was starting to realise that he was approaching the endgame.

Just as I was about to give up on Alvaro I received an email early Sunday morning. He said: “The last resort of Morales is his own people. But I’m afraid that it won’t be enough. What is unclear now is the constitutional path to solve this crisis, if Morales resigns or simply goes out of the country. The next few hours are crucial.”

He was right. Within an hour of having received his email Morales was announcing his intention to hold fresh elections.

Carlos Mesa, Morales closest rival in the now void election, was not satisfied and almost immediately called for the president and vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera to resign.

Sentiments echoed by Luis Fernando Camacho who demanded Morales step down. He told a cheering crowd in La Paz that only when they were sure that Bolivian “democracy is solid” will they “go home.”

On Wednesday, November 13, Evo Morales finally resigned and fled into exile in Mexico claiming the army had told him of a $50,000 price on his head.

Meanwhile Bolivian senator Jeanine Anez has taken over as interim president, a move Morales’ party, MAS, has said it will not recognise. I fear Mr Camacho may be in La Paz for some time.

Picture by Raul Barrios