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Protests strike Bolivia as President, Evo Morales, forced to step down

By Frances Howe – Law LLB

Waves of protests in La Paz, Bolivia have turned violent this month following the resignation of Evo Morales on 10 November. Evo Morales is Bolivia’s longest-serving and first Indigenous President. Morales resigned after accusations of tampering in the 2019 Bolivian General Election, where his majority win saw the start of his fourth term in the seat. The Organisation of American States (OAS) reported findings of ‘clear manipulation’ of physical records, signatures, and data related to the election. After the OAS published their primary report, Morales announced a second election but stepped down on the same day after losing favour with the nation’s military. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has reported 23 civilian deaths since the election in October. The majority of protests have taken place in the city of Cochabamba, where many cocaleros (coca leaf growers) continue to support Morales. This has caused international condemnation from political leaders, who are arguing that Morales stepping down was the result of an internal military coup. Bernie Sanders took to Twitter to say, ‘I oppose the intervention of Bolivia’s security forces in the democratic process and their representation of Indigenous protests.’ 

Morales’ political career has seen the implementation of policies to improve literacy, reduce poverty, and eradicate racism towards Bolivia’s 36 recognised indigenous groups. Morales also introduced the requirement that all civil servants must learn Aymara or Quechua, two indigenous languages. Morales also declared the flag of the Aymara people, the Wiphala, as the co-flag of Bolivia. Prior to his presidency, Morales was active in protests by cocaleros, who were strongly opposed to the United States attempt to eradicate all of Bolivia’s production of coca. Coca is sacred to Indigenous communities across South America and the key ingredient in cocaine. 

‘Without Morales, the doors to the exploitation of natural resources may be pushed wide open.’

Beginning his Presidency in 2006, Morales pledged to nationalise Bolivia’s natural resource industries. The same year, Bolivia’s hydrocarbon industry generated US$1.3 billion, compared to just US$173 million in 2002. Morales’ resignation comes just a week after he cancelled a multinational Lithium deal, following unrest from the residents of Potosí. The nearby Uyuni Salt Flat is believed to potentially house one of the world’s largest reserves of lithium. Morales’ resignation could overturn this decision to cancel the Lithium deal, marking a significant change for Bolivia. Without Morales, the doors to the exploitation of natural resources may be pushed wide open. 

The right-wing senator, Jean Áñez, has declared herself interim ruler whilst Evo Morales has been given asylum in Mexico by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In media appearances from Mexico, Morales has said: ‘I am not afraid. I have the right to return to Bolivia and defend myself and the people of Bolivia… We will be back and join the fight to strengthen our social forces.’

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