As a result of widespread rioting and international accusations of election fraud, Bolivian President Evo Morales has stepped down from assuming a fourth term at the head of his country “to keep the peace” in favour of his opponent, former president Carlos Mesa. Mesa himself had resigned in favour of Morales in 2005 though he continued to represent Bolivia at the International Court during the Morales presidency.
While assuring the Bolivian people that he would not give up the fight on their behalf, Morales accused the opposition and international agencies of orchestrating a coup d’état in a televised resignation address to the nation on Sunday, November 11, 2019. Hours later, opposition leader Luís Fernando Camacho announced on Twitter that the police and military were hunting the former president down and that the government had ordered a national lockdown. Mexico has offered Morales and his cabinet asylum, saying that twenty of them are already within their custody.
Morales was the first and only indigenous leader of Bolivia since the advent of European colonialism. At the forefront of a wave of socialist presidents throughout Latin America when he was elected in 2005, his resignation comes at a time of flux in the region, with neoliberal, business-friendly leaders both leaving and retaking office.
Elections were recently held in Bolivia on October 20, resulting in a 10 point victory for Morales, narrower than in the previous elections in which he ran. But demonstrations broke out after an hour long delay in the voting process, and the riots became persistent and bloody. Eventually, the military sided with the demonstrators and against the incumbent. At the same time, the Organization of American States (OAS) released its report that it had found inconsistencies and called for the election to be nullified.
During his mandate, Morales successfully nationalized Bolivia’s massive natural gas reserves, inverting the previous 80%/20% split so that 80% of profits now goes to Bolivia instead of multinational gas corporations. He confronted international pressure against coca growing, insisting on a distinction between coca and cocaine that would preserve the dignity of a national and historical agricultural industry. He instituted national payments to mothers and the elderly, and price controls on fuel and food that opponents called catering to the poor in exchange for support and votes.
In 2009, the Morales government wrote a new constitution and renamed the country to reflect its change from a republic to the “Plurinational State of Bolivia”. Article 3 states: “The Bolivian nation is composed of the totality of Bolivians, indigenous, original and campesino nations and peoples, and the intercultural communities and Afro-Brazilians who together constitute the Bolivian people.”
Article 5 explicitly protects against discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation in areas such as housing, employment and military service.
In his televised speech announcing his resignation, Morales referred to the present situation as a coup d’état, calling the OAS’s findings “political”. He said he was stepping down in the interest of restoring peace to the country. He warned Mesa and the new government that he would continue to fight for the rights of poor and indigenous Bolivians.
“I hope that Mesa and Comacho and other civic entities hear this message I am uttering peacefully. Do not mistreat our brothers and sisters. Do not harm poor and humble people. Do not deceive them with lies. Do not trick the people with treats to harm the Bolivian people. Our great desire is to bring about a return of social peace and tranquillity.”
Turning his attention back to the public, Morales continued, “I have been asked, with great respect for the Bolivian people and for the whole world as well, to let you know that oligarchic groups have conspired against democracy. It’s historic, it’s unprecedented, it’s a story we well know….
“I am resigning so that my sister and brother leaders and MAS [Movement to Socialism, his party] officials are not harassed, persecuted or threatened…. I regret this coup very much. But I want to tell them that the fight does not end here. We shall continue to fight for equality and peace.”