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What’s the problem with Evo Morales?

Bolivia's President Evo Morales, pictured here in 2009, has been accused of fraud in his bid to win an unprecedented fourth term. He has accused his opponents of plotting a coup. (Photo credit: 
Sebastian Baryli/Flickr Creative Commons)
Bolivia's President Evo Morales, pictured here in 2009, has been accused of fraud in his bid to win an unprecedented fourth term. He has accused his opponents of plotting a coup. (Photo credit: Sebastian Baryli/Flickr Creative Commons)

By all accounts, modern Bolivia is an economic and cultural miracle — so what’s all this talk about coups and electoral fraud?

The problem is that Evo Morales — a former labor-union leader and Latin America’s first contemporary indigenous president — appears to be behaving like a dictator.

Extension denied — and appealed

Morales is ostensibly a popular president, whose policies have spurred Bolivia’s current prosperity.

That sentiment began to shift back in 2016, when Morales launched a national referendum, to change the law and allow him to run for fourth five-year term as president.

A slight majority of voters — 51 percent — voted against the extension, but Morales appealed in court and won a ruling that enabled him to run again.

Things got more complicated last month, when Bolivia’s 2019 presidential election appeared to be heading for a runoff between Morales and the opposition, with 83 percent of the ballots counted.

Electoral irregularities

The publication of official tallies was suspended for 24 hours; when the count resumed, 95 percent of the vote had been counted and Morales appeared to have captured just enough votes to avoid a runoff election with his primary opposition.

The opposition has cried foul, and protests in which two people were killed have erupted across the country.

The Organization of American States is preparing to conduct an audit of the vote, but the opposition says it has not been included in the process and that it will not accept the results.

Protests, threats and violence

Protests have been widespread, and on November 5, the opposition leader, Luis Fernando Camacho, was forced by supporters of Morales to turn back at the airport in his attempt to march in protest in the Bolivian capital city of La Paz.

Camacho promised to rally his own supporters and return to La Paz on Wednesday, November 6.

He has alternately called for the Bolivian military to back him, for Morales to resign, and for a new election.

Morales, meanwhile, says that the opposition is attempting to stage a violent coup.

Fears of a coup — in a country were deepened on Monday, November 4, when a helicopter carrying Morales spun out of control and was forced to make an emergency landing.

No one was hurt in the incident.

Bolivia has seen a number of military takeovers prior to the establishment of civilian-led government in 1982.

Changes under Morales

Bolivia, a landlocked nation in Andes Mountains, was long synonymous with intractable poverty.

It now has the highest economic growth in the region, and has seen living standards improve for the majority at a rapid pace over Morales’ three terms.

All of the nation’s numerous indigenous languages are now official — not just Spanish.

Yet efforts to gain Morales a fourth term have the flavor of dictatorship.

Morales claims that this will allow him to achieve everything he set out to achieve.

Yet skeptics say that Morale is subverting democratic processes, and is already showing signs of distancing himself from common people, as he settles into the new luxury “presidential skyscraper.”

And then there was the recent crisis of the Amazonian fires in Bolivia’s lowlands, which appeared to catch the executive unprepared.

Sources: The Guardian, Al Jazeera, Reuters

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Mark A. Bonta

Cultural geographer and educator Mark A. Bonta covers ecology, democracy, local self-reliance and community-based solutions to global problems.
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