2019 Bolivian political crisis

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2019 Bolivian political crisis
Part of 2019 Bolivian protests
Jeanine Áñez assuming presidency.jpg
Conferencia de Prensa de Evo Morales en el Museo de la Ciudad de México 3.jpg
Jeanine Áñez assuming the presidency (left), Evo Morales speaking in Mexico, where he received political asylum after his resignation (right)
Date10 November 2019
Location
La Paz, Bolivia
MethodsBarricades, demonstrations, hunger strike
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict

Bolivian government

Lead figures
Casualties and losses
Death: 33 (26 November 2019)[2]
Injured: 715 (17 November 2019)

On 10 November 2019, after 19 days of civil protests following the disputed election results of October 2019, trade unions, the military and the police of Bolivia suggested that president Evo Morales resign. Morales resigned the same day, accompanied by other resignations by high-level politicians throughout the day, some citing fears for the safety of their families. Foreign Minister of Mexico Marcelo Ebrard offered political asylum to Morales the following day; which Morales accepted.[3]

The second vice president of the Senate, opposition senator Jeanine Áñez, assumed the role of president on 12 November, being the next in line for the presidency after a vacuum had been left following a string of resignations. This was not without controversy as her initial appointment was made during a brief legislative session that lacked quorum, due to the Movement for Socialism's boycott.[4] Áñez obtained the favourable vote of the opposition parties, a third part of the parliament, while the Movement for Socialism ruling party did not participate in the voting, rejecting the succession.[4] Bolivia's Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal then confirmed Áñez's assumption of the presidency as legitimate and the ruling party returned most members to both chambers, with several assuming key positions such as Leader of the Senate.[5][6][7] They have also committed to working with the interim government towards new elections.[8]

Despite the return of his party to the role of government, Morales has called for the Bolivian people to reject the leadership of Áñez. He and his supporters argue that the event was a coup d'état. International politicians, scholars and journalists are divided between describing the event as a right-wing coup or a democratic uprising.[1][9][10][11][12][13][14][15]

Background[edit]

2019 Bolivian general election[edit]

On 20 October 2019, the first round of voting for all government positions was held. After the polls closed, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal began to release the preliminary results of the presidential election; at 7:40 pm, when 83.8% of the votes had been counted, the preliminary count stopped. The Tribunal's president, María Eugenia Choque, said that the preliminary count had stopped because the official results had begun to be released. At the time that the preliminary count was stopped, Morales led with 45.3%, and his primary opponent, Carlos Mesa, had 38.2%. Less than a 10-point lead would have resulted in another round of runoff voting.[16] At 9:25 pm, President Morales declared himself the winner, stating that rural areas would guarantee his victory.[17][18]

A man holds up what he describes as a fresh ballot sheet found in the streets of La Paz.[19]

Although uncounted votes in rural areas were expected to go his way, one body observing the election—the Organization of American States (OAS)—stated that even if Morales did win outright, his lead beyond the 10-point threshold would be so negligible as to warrant a runoff anyway. The OAS expressed concern about the day-long gap in results reporting: after 24 hours, the updates resumed, but with a surge for Morales at the first update.[20] An analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) disputed the OAS's findings and criticized what it called a "politicization of the electoral observation process."[21] The co-director of the think-tank, Mark Weisbrot, stated the OAS showed "no evidence – no statistics, numbers, or facts of any kind" to support its claim of electoral manipulation.[22] Before the OAS released their final audit detailing their findings, CEPR concluded that due to Morales' voter base being in more rural regions, the results from peripheral areas received towards the end of the count were more likely to be in his favour.[23]

On 21 October, the Plurinational Electoral Organ reported a still-incomplete count,[24] suggesting that with only 95.3% of verified votes, Morales had too large of a margin above 10 points to overcome, avoiding a second run-off round, and so Morales would remain in power for a fourth term.[25][26] Based on this result, along with reported irregularities and the two-term presidential limit that the Bolivian Supreme Tribunal had nullified, the Bolivian opposition and protestors as well as some foreign governments and international observers called for an audit of the process and results.[27]

Protests[edit]

Anti-Morales protests in La Paz on 23 October 2019

Protests intensified following the electoral councils decision, with electoral offices being burned in multiple regions across Bolivia.[28][29][30] By 24 October, Morales began describing the actions taken against him as a coup.[31] On 25 October, when the results were officially announced with Morales as the winner, several countries in Latin America, as well as the United States and European Union, had called for the second round to go ahead regardless.[32]

The OAS audit of the election began on 31 October and was observed by Spain, Mexico, and Paraguay.[33] The same day, two deaths were announced by the government.[34]

On 6 November, the Bolivian opposition published a 190-page long report containing fraud accusations, including irregularities such as mistaken electoral acts additions, data swiping and electoral acts where the ruling party obtained more votes than registered voters, expecting to send it to international organizations such as the OAS and the United Nations.[35] The third death during the protests occurred on 7 November when a 20-year-old student called Limbert Guzman was killed during clashes.[36]

Events[edit]

Authorities abandon Morales[edit]

After weeks of repelling protesters at the Casa Grande del Pueblo presidential palace, units of the Police Operations Tactical Unit (UTOP) tasked with defending Morales assembled a meeting on 8 November.[37] UTOP officers ultimately decided at the gathering to abandon their posts and to call for the resignation of Morales.[37] According to Reuters, UTOP turned away from Morales for multiple reasons: complaints of alleged orders to suppress opposition protestors while avoiding Morales loyalists; resentments over perceived preferential treatment given to the military; and the exhaustion of combating protestors.[37]

All UTOP officers had left their positions by 9 November, leaving Morales vulnerable to protesters.[37] At a police station near the presidential palace, officers climbed onto the roofs and chanted "The Police with the People".[38] Police nationwide began to retreat from protesters, returning to their stations, while other departments began to mutiny against the Morales government, arguing that they did not want to be an "instrument of any government".[38] Minister of Defense Javier Zabaleta denied that a police mutiny was occurring while head of the Bolivian Armed Forces, General Williams Kaliman, said that the military would "never confront the people among whom we live" and that the events unfolding were "a political problem and it should be resolved within that realm".[38] Franklin Pareja, a professor of the Higher University of San Andrés, said that because of the abandonment officers, the Morales government "lost its shield" and that "it was totally vulnerable and couldn’t go on".[37]

Protesters overrun La Paz[edit]

By late 9 November, violence escalated throughout Bolivia.[39] The Morales government called on supporters to gather in the capital city of La Paz "defend" him, with reports of pro-Morales groups attacking buses of opposition protesters.[39] However, anti-Morales protesters had already overrun the streets of La Paz, with some groups of police joining in protests against Morales.[39] Demonstrators began to overrun government offices, with protesters flooding the stations of Bolivia TV and Radio Patria Nueva, accusing them of serving Morales.[39] Relatives of Morales had their homes attacked by protesters, with his older sister's home in Oruro being burned while other regional governors had their homes torched as well.[39]

OAS audit released[edit]

On 10 November, the OAS published the report of the audit conducted during the elections. The OAS report included allegations of irregularities, including failures in the chain of custody for ballots, alteration and forgery of electoral material, redirection of data to unauthorized servers and data manipulation.[40] The OAS added that it was statistically unlikely that Morales had secured the 10-percentage-point margin of victory needed to win outright, saying that election should be annulled after it had found "clear manipulations" of the voting system, and that "The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case."[41][1]

Calls for Morales to resign[edit]

After the release of the 10 November OAS audit, multiple Bolivian entities called on Morales to resign. The two main civil groups of Bolivia had begun aligning themselves with the opposition to Morales, the Bolivian Workers' Center (COB), Bolivia's largest trade union and a traditionally pro-Morales entity, and the Single Trade Union Confederation of Workers (CSUTCB), an indigenous workers union.[42][43][44] CSUTCB had already met with opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho, announcing an alliance[43] and in the morning of 10 November, the leader of COB suggested Morales resign if it would help solve the violence, and called for new elections.[43] Indigenous and Aymara leader Nelson Condori, the director of CSUTCB, intensified his condemnation of Morales later in the day while at an event beside Camacho, stating, "Evo, we have cried, you have made our lives bitter, you have lied to us. ... When have you forgotten the slogan of our ancestors, ama sua, ama quella, ama llulla?"[45] Condori also called for a "purge" of the Bolivian government, demanding that Morales and his governmental allies be jailed for electoral fraud.[45]

After the COB and other civil groups formerly supportive of Morales called on him to resign, Morales held a press conference at the Bolivian Air Force's presidential hangar in El Alto International Airport, changing his position on the October election results and announced that new elections would be held.[46][47] Morales released a statement, saying "As President, my main mission is to preserve peace, social justice and economic stability. Listening to the Bolivian Workers' Center (COB), the Pact of Unity and other social sectors, I have decided first to renew all the members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal". [47]

However by 11:30 am, General Williams Kaliman, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of Bolivia, announced that the military had suggested[48] Morales to resign to "help restore peace and stability" after weeks of protests over the vote, adding that the military was calling on the Bolivian people to refrain from violence and disorder.[41] The military also said it would conduct operations to "neutralise" any armed groups that attacked the protesters.[1][49] The military press release invoked[50] Article 20, paragraph b, of Law No. 1405[51] which states:

Article 20. The attribution and responsibilities of the military high command are: [...] b. To analyze inner and foreign troubled situations to suggest to whom it may concern the appropriate solutions.

Morales resigns[edit]

After Kaliman's statement, Morales took the presidential plane from El Alto International Airport to an undisclosed location, announcing his immediate resignation on television, stating that he was resigning to "protect the families" of Movement for Socialism members.[52] He concluded by stating that he believed Carlos Mesa had "achieved his objective", and asked protesters to "stop burning down the houses of [his] brothers and sisters".[53][54][55] Vice President Álvaro García Linera also resigned after consulting with Morales.[1]

Shortly thereafter, it was reported that Morales was on a plane to Argentina;[56] however, the Argentine foreign minister, Jorge Faurie, said that Argentina would not grant him asylum.[57] Commander Yuri Calderón assured that there was no warrant for Morales' arrest, though armed individuals had entered his home.[58]

Later in the day, Adriana Salvatierra, the President of the Senate, Victor Borda, the leader of the Chamber, and Rubén Medinaceli, First Vice President of the Senate, also all resigned.[59] Mexico's foreign minister declared that twenty members of Bolivia's executive and legislative branches were at the official Mexican residence in the capital seeking asylum following the resignation.[60] Following the resignation of Morales and his allied successors, protesters called for a board to be convened to oversee the government and new elections, though Mesa disagreed with the proposal, stating protesters should not "violate the Constitution so as not to give Evo Morales an excuse that he was the victim of a coup d'etat" and that the Legislative Assembly should determine the constitutional successor.[61]

Later on 10 November, BBC Mundo published an article suggesting that five main reasons combined to force Morales to resign: the audit results, the opposition from the military and police, the ongoing protests, the growing radicalization of the political opposition, and the public distaste towards his continued re-elections.[62]

Arrests of electoral commission[edit]

At 8:20 pm, the Associated Press reported that Bolivian police had arrested 38 members of the Plurinational Electoral Organ, including the former president, Maria Eugenia Choque, and vice president. According to a police commander, Choque was apprehended whilst disguised as a man.[58] More members were arrested on Monday, with arrest warrants for all electoral officials.[63]

Succession of presidency[edit]

Assumption of presidency by Jeanine Áñez[edit]

Jeanine Áñez, pictured here in 2016, was the next in the line of succession and became interim president

On the evening of 10 November, Jeanine Áñez, the second vice president of the Senate and the highest-ranking official remaining in the line of succession after the resignations, announced she would be assuming the presidency on a temporary basis from 11 November onward, with the responsibility of calling new elections. She stated that she would assume the office once the Senate had formally recognized the previous day's resignations. Upon inauguration, Áñez would officially become the President of Bolivia.[64][65]

The Bolivian Constitution does not make specific provisions for the process of a Senator assuming the presidency; article 169 says that "In case of impediment or definitive absence of the president of the State, he will be replaced in office by the Vice President and, in his absence, by the President of the Senate, and in the absence of this by the President of the Chamber of Deputies. In the latter case, new elections will be called within a maximum period of ninety days." It also establishes the line of succession.[66]

The following day, Áñez arrived at La Paz-El Alto airport and was taken in a military helicopter to a nearby Air Force base; from here she traveled in convoy to the Senate.[67]

On 12 November 2019, in a brief legislative session without quorum, due to the ruling party's boycott,[4] Áñez declared herself as acting president of Bolivia while holding a large bible, stating that "the bible has returned to the government palace".[68] Her assumption of the presidency was based on a ruling by the country's constitutional court, as she was the highest-ranking politician in the line of succession after the resignations.[69][70][71][72][73] Áñez obtained the favourable vote of the opposition parties, a third part of the parliament, while the Movement for Socialism ruling party did not participate in the voting, rejecting the succession.[4]

Añez's assumption of the presidential office was supported by Bolivia's Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal, which interpreted citing articles referring to the presidential succession of the 2001 Constitutional Declaration, that the next person in the succession line assumes the presidency ipso facto despite not having the required quorum, stating that "the functioning of the executive should not be suspended".[74][5][6][75] Other legal experts argued that at least some of the steps for Áñez to take office required congressional approval.[75]

Anti-Áñez protests[edit]

A demonstration in support of Morales in El Alto on 11 November 2019

Reactions to the transfer of power and to Ms Áñez's assumption of the presidency have been mixed, being met with both celebrations and protests.[76] Demonstrators celebrating the removal of the government chanted "yes we can" and set off fireworks.[77] Hundreds of supporters of Morales made their way toward the center of La Paz from the mountains surrounding the city, some of them armed with sticks, chanting "here we go, civil war". The police said the armed group had vandalized police offices, causing panic in some neighborhoods where people blocked their doors with furniture to protect stores and houses. After receiving requests for help from the national police and politicians, the armed forces announced that night they would mobilize to defend gas, water and electricity services around the capital. According to the national police, army and police units would also begin joint patrols around the city.[78]

On November 13, a dozen MAS senators were blocked by police from entering the National Assembly building during the session.[79][80][81]

Capital shut down[edit]

For unknown reasons, the drinking water supplies to parts of both La Paz and El Alto, the two largest cities in Bolivia, were cut off.[82] La Paz's legislature also closed down the capital's infrastructure, schools, and workplaces, for public safety.[63] Supporters of Morales also built barricades on roads that lead to the airport.[63]

Morales supporters also built barricades around an oil plant in El Alto, which fed the capital district, cutting power and fuel to these cities. The Bolivian military re-took the site on 19 November using armored vehicles and helicopters,[83] killing three protesters and injuring 22 in the process.[84] However, with blockades from various protests surrounding the city, goods were not able to enter, creating shortages.[83]

Government response to protests[edit]

In the face of protests against the interim government, Áñez called for police to restore order and, on 14 November, issued a decree that would exempt the military from any type of criminal responsibility when maintaining order, when acting in a "legitimate defense or state of necessity."[85][86][87][88] On 15 November, security forces fired upon coca farmers protesting against the government in Cochabamba. The clash left nine dead and dozens injured.[87]

Human rights concerns[edit]

José Miguel Vivanco, head of Human Rights Watch in the Americas, said that the decree "sends a very dangerous message to the military that they have carte blanche to commit abuses".[89] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned Añez's government for issuing the decree.[90]

UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet issued a statement, saying that "while earlier deaths mostly resulted from clashes between rival protestors", the latest incidents appear to be due to the "disproportionate use of force by the army and police", stating that "in a situation like this, repressive actions by the authorities will simply stoke that anger even further and are likely to jeopardise any possible avenue for dialogue." Bachelet also expressed concern that "widespread arrests and detentions" are adding to the tensions; according to her office, more than 600 people had been detained since 21 October, many in the past few days. Furthermore, Bachelet also declared being concerned that the situation could "spin out of control if the authorities do not handle it sensitively and in accordance with international norms and standards governing the use of force, and with full respect for human rights", stating that it couldn't be solved through "force and repression".[91] The decree was subsequently repealed by Áñez.[92]

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has expressed concerns over human rights violations that occurred after the 2019 Bolivian general election.[91][93][89][2] Paulo Abrão, who heads the IACHR, declared that due to the "massive" number of human rights violations amid post-election violence, the country may need outside help to investigate the situation and recommended Bolivia coordinate with an international panel of experts to ensure findings are seen as credible.[2]

Aftermath[edit]

Interim government activities[edit]

The Áñez administration appointed a new cabinet on 13 November 2019, none of whose members were indigenous.[94][95] After an outcry, she appointed one indigenous person as minister of culture.[95] Among the senior ministers were prominent Bolivian businesspeople.[94] The Guardian described the cabinet as showing "no signs that [Áñez] intended to reach across the country's deep political and ethnic divide".[94] Shortly after taking power, Áñez appointed a new military high command.[79] The new commander of the armed forces, General Carlos Orellana Centellas, pledged to take orders from Áñez, saying, "we will guarantee the security of the constitutional government".[79]

New elections[edit]

Áñez stated on 15 November that in order to restore faith in the electoral process, a vote would first be held to elect a new Electoral Commission, before having a new vote for president.[96]

On 20 November the interim government presented a bill that aimed to forge a path to new elections. The two chambers congress were expected to debate the bill which would annul the October 20 election and appoint a new electoral board within 15 days of its passage, paving the way for a new vote.[97] The bill, drafted jointly by MAS and anti-Morales legislators, was approved on November 23; it also prohibited Morales from participating in the fresh election.[98] In exchange, Áñez's government agreed to withdraw the armed forces from all protest areas (although some servicemen were still permitted to stay at some state companies to "prevent vandalism), revoke her decree which granted the army immunity from criminal prosecution, release arrested protesters, protect lawmakers and social leaders from attacks and provide compensation for the families of those killed during the crisis. She approved the bill shortly thereafter.[99]

Domestic policy[edit]

The government renamed the state newspaper, known as Cambio under president Morales, as Bolivia on 17 November.[100] On 25 November, the Áñez met with civil groups Bolivian Workers' Center, the country's largest union, and the Pact of Unity, a prominent indigenous grassroots group, to sign agreements on how to pacify Bolivia following previous violent events.[101]

The New York Times described Áñez as "reaching beyond her caretaker mandate of organizing national elections by January".[87] Javier Corrales, a Latin American politics professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts, said "without a popular mandate, [the government] are pushing forward some of the most objectionable aspects of their agenda". Oliver Stuenkel, associate professor of international relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, said that "the only thing this government was supposed to do was calm things down and call elections, and that’s just about the only thing it has not done".[89]

Foreign policy[edit]

Karen Longaric, appointed as foreign minister by Jeanine Áñez, announced the formal departure from the country of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and breaking all diplomatic relations with Venezuela's Maduro government,[102][103] recognizing Juan Guaidó as acting president of Venezuela in the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis.[104] Longaric also announced that the interim government was considering leaving the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).[102]

Counteractions[edit]

On 15 November, Longaric expelled 725 Cuban citizens, mostly medical doctors, after she raised concerns about their alleged involvement in protests.[102][105] The government announced it arrested nine Venezuelans in the border city of Guayaramerín (near Brazil) with boots and insignias of the Bolivarian National Police (PNB), identification cards of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and microchips containing photos of themselves with other people armed with guns. After the arrest and the discovery of the microchips, the interim government suspected the men had participated "violent acts" in the country, who transferred to the Bolivian Special Crime Fighting Forces to conduct a preliminary investigation.[106]

Arturo Murillo, Áñez's new interior minister, vowed to "hunt down" his predecessor Juan Ramón Quintana, a prominent Morales ally, stoking fears of a vendetta against members of the previous administration.[94] He later announced he would start arresting certain members of the previous government who he accused of "subversion".[107] Roxana Lizárraga, Áñez's communication minister, stated that she had a list of journalists who were "involved in sedition" and threatened them with prosecution.[87]

On 22 November, after an audio recording, allegedly of Morales, leaked in which Morales supporters were directed to block main roads to La Paz in order to starve out the city, the interim government opened an investigation into Morales for "terrorism and sedition".[108] Hours later, the vice-president of MAS-IPSP was arrested for allegedly using a car of the ministry of the President, in the car, according to Telam, police discovered computers and biometric devices that belonged to the electoral commission.[109][110][111]

Reactions[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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