The South American nation remains deeply divided between those who see ousted President Evo Morales as a champion of the indigenous and downtrodden, and those who see him as an autocrat in the making.

Bolivia’s National Assembly approved a bill aimed at restoring stability, following weeks of social upheaval and over 30 deaths during the political crisis.

In the capital La Paz both Chambers of Congress approved a bill nullifying the presidential vote last month, paving the way for new elections to take place without former President Evo Morales.

The bill prevents the participation of candidates who formed part of the last two terms, as lawmakers agreed to select a new electoral board. 

The decision comes in the wake of the vote on October 20th, following allegations of voting irregularities and allegations of electoral fraud from the opposition.

Morales stepped down on November 10, as the military called on him to restore calm, following the Organisation of American States’ (OAS) review which said irregularities had taken place.

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president who had been in power over 13 years, claimed exile in Mexico, saying he was the victim of a coup.

According to Jorge Dulon a political scientist based in La Paz, the move towards new elections marks the start of dialogue.

Dulon says the Movement For Socialism (MAS), Morales’ party, had been looking for four safeguards; starting with safeguards for its activists. The second was not to lose their legal status to participate in elections. The third safeguard was to allow Morales to return to Bolivia. The last safeguard was to allow Morales to return and participate in elections.

Bolivia’s interim government accuses Morales of terrorism and sedition for allegedly creating social unrest. 

Former Bolivian President Evo Morales gestures during an interview with Reuters, in Mexico City, Mexico November 15, 2019.
Former Bolivian President Evo Morales gestures during an interview with Reuters, in Mexico City, Mexico November 15, 2019. (Reuters)

“They’ve had to take quick decisions and in some instances they haven’t been adequate decisions,” Dulon told TRT World regarding the interim government.

Arturo Murillo is Bolivia’s interior minister and Dulon describes his political discourse as “very complicated.” 

“He’s (Murillo) referring to an ex-minister to the president. He said we’re going to hunt him down because he’s like an animal,” he said.

“These signs are confrontational and they’re not appropriate. I believe they are a product of inexperience for those who overnight have become ministers,” said Dulon.

 The Minister of Communications, Roxana Lizarraga also made ill-advised remarks according to Dulon.

“Any trace of sedition from the international press is going be to be punished - is going to be investigated. It’s not a happy message either for the international community or for the international press and least of all it is a sign to promote dialogue,” he said.

An uncertain future

For many Bolivians it has been a time of much uncertainty, particularly online.

Juan Carlos Uribe, a coordinator at Chequea Bolivia, a fact checking initiative, said since the elections fake news stories have increased.

“The tipping point has really been since the elections,” he told TRT World.

He says they undertake verification on three to four stories per day, checking around 40 stories per month but the numbers increased to around 50.

Some of their debunked stories have reached up to 55,000 Bolivians.

On average their fact-checking feed on Facebook increased from 1300 views to around 8,000 per day, after the elections.

He says the fake news stories have changed from Facebook to Whatsapp.

“These fake news stories from the 21st October onwards have created a lot of uncertainty for people, many doubts. They have caused stress for the the majority of people, as to whether what they’ve been sent on their phones is true or not,” Uribe said.

According to Uribe one of the fake videos allegedly circulating was found to be recorded in Mexico and not in Bolivia.

Police dismantle barricades constructed by supporters of former President Evo Morales, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia, Saturday, November 16, 2019.
Police dismantle barricades constructed by supporters of former President Evo Morales, on the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia, Saturday, November 16, 2019. (AP)

He advocates checking content on Google and including details like the location of the recording and dates to help to verify stories.

“One of the videos Alvaro Garcia Linera, the vice president, showed, depicted people being mistreated and being hit which was here in Bolivia but was a fragment of a video from 2008,” he alleged.

As the situation has worsened, Bolivians appear polarised as to whether they witnessed a popular uprising or a coup.

 There appears to be varying perspectives on events, according to different sectors of Bolivian society, which has resulted in a complex picture on the ground.

Some Bolivians also appear to be discontent with the media coverage.

“We never mattered to the international press. But they come here now Evo has resigned, to discredit our president, to falsify images,” claimed Brendita Valdez who didn’t wish to provide any of her personal details.

She is angry after the interim government published an audio of Evo Morales allegedly saying not to allow food into the cities whilst in exile.

Morales has rejected the accusations, claiming they are a ploy to prevent his return to Bolivia.

“It’s a terrible situation. Young people are full of pain and wounds,” said Brendita.

She feels repressed, as the situation has worsened, resulting in dozens of deaths.

“After February 21, 2016 we are demanding democracy,” said Brendita.

“The main thing that the international audience has to know is that on February 21st, 2016 Bolivia had a referendum where we said no to the Evo government. That is the greatest proof that his governing was becoming a dictatorship,” said Brendita referring to what she sees as an undemocratic consolidation of power by Morales.

Referendum defeat

Morales had planned a fourth term in the presidency, but Bolivians voted against this in a 2016 referendum.  A court ruled against the referendum, saying his political rights were violated by the decision.

Across different sectors of Bolivian society, there appears to be a different perception of events.

Amongst his supporters, Morales remains popular after over 13 years in charge of the country.

Some credit him with changing the fortunes of marginalised sectors of society, maintaining a stable economy and offering better opportunities to citizens, which they say hadn’t happened before.

Despite being in exile, he is fondly remembered amongst his supporters.

“Brother Evo achieved many things here in my country. The poorest people got ahead. He gave houses to the most needy of people. Economically whilst Brother Evo was governing, the country was stable,” said Jhoselyn Laura.

She doesn’t agree with the installation of the interim government and sees it as a coup.

Police clash with supporters of former President Evo Morales on the south side of La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019.
Police clash with supporters of former President Evo Morales on the south side of La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (AP)

“In these 13 years of leftist government, Bolivia had a resounding change. Now the right-wing wants to take advantage.”

“This month since the presidential elections took place many people died in the city of Alto, La Paz,” said Jhoselyn.

The Associated Press reported “8 people died after security forces cleared a blockade of a fuel plant by anti-government protesters.” 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, condemned the interim govern for issuing a decree it says “exempts from criminal responsibility” for security forces.

Morales described the deaths on Twitter as “crimes against humanity” by security forces against his supporters.

Presidential minister Jerjes Justiniano said the decree is “not is not a license for the Armed Forces to kill.”

Whilst Communications Minister Lizarraga described Morales as “trying to set Bolivians against each other.”

“We are currently living in a dictatorship by this transitional government. It is unfortunate that local media do not inform the world what is really happening in our country,” claimed Jhoselyn.

According to Dulon, other events have not helped.

The Wiphala is a multicoloured flag representing the indigenous community. It is popular in Bolivia and other parts of the Andes, from Ecuador, Peru to some areas of Chile and Argentina.

“There has been a movement which has defended the respect of a national emblem, which is the Wiphala, an indigenous flag. It shows in Bolivia there is diversity. It’s a flag which has various multicoloured squares,” he said.

He says that other sectors of Bolivian society have mobilised in defence of the Wiphala, not only MAS supporters.

“They have started to march to the city of La Paz demanding that new president takes this symbol into account and not overlook it. This is because the national police, in one of their acts, in one of their grievances, had burnt this national symbol,” he said.

Indigenous symbols 

In 2009 the Bolivian constitution established the Wiphala as a dual flag of the country.

“Therefore, this provoked a grievance from these people who live in El Alto in La Paz,” said Dulon.

Interim president Jeanine Anez also said the “the Bible has returned to the government palace.”

“It is a discourse which only comes from one particular of the Bolivian society, from a conservative sector - from the right, which doesn’t take into account the diversity of the country and which also doesn’t take into account what the constitution says, which is a secular state,” he said.

“It is effectively a sign the president has given which may not bring dialogue or reunion to Bolivians, which is what’s missing now,” said Dulon.

In Cochabamba the fourth largest city, the situation has been difficult for locals.

“In my city there has been many conflicts, close to the area where I live. So, it’s been dangerous to go out. My parents don’t want me to go to the mobilisations which were against the reinstatement of Evo and the issue of fraud,” said Claudia Manzana, a 26 year old engineering student in Cochabamba.

"It won’t be the first time there would be problems at any stage in these kinds of protests. You could be attacked. This is one of the main problems,” she said.

Claudia said the police mutinied in her city, after the anti-MAS supporters asked them to “join the people.”

Police officers offer their support to an opposition leader, Luis Fernando Camacho, as he waves a national flag during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia on November 10, 2019.
Police officers offer their support to an opposition leader, Luis Fernando Camacho, as he waves a national flag during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia on November 10, 2019. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters)

She sees the situation as a popular uprising.

Claudia says there have been marches between different groups which have turned violent. 

“One day a boy died who was from a poor background. He was from the south, from a humble family. He was young, 20 years old, Limbert,” she said.

News agency EFE reported Limbert Guzman was rushed to hospital in Cochabamba, after suffering serious injuries during clashes between supporters and detractors of Morales.

Claudia is not happy with the international media either.

“They haven’t said anything about the looting, the burning which there has been on public and private property,” she said.

 A leading Bolivian social and environmental NGO, the Documentation and Information Centre (CEDIB) also criticised various violent acts, allegedly perpetrated by violent armed groups to “ensure its sectoral interests”.

According to the CEDIB these groups have carried out “the economic sabotage,” allegedly “aimed at shortening the population of food, water and energy amongst others and are not part of regular citizen protest”.

The situation has been difficult for Claudia, with concerns for her parents heading to work during the protests.

“I think that the misinformation complicated things in recent weeks. It seems the situation in the country calmed down a little more and I hope it continues like this. Nobody wants people dead or serious injuries,” she said. 

Dulon sees transparent elections as the next step forward for Bolivia, advocating greater dialogue between different sectors of society to avoid similar recent “outbursts” experienced across Latin America.

“What has happened has taught us is that it is important to always have the capacity for permanent dialogue between different sectors of society. In Bolivia over almost 14 years dialogue has been extinct,” he said.

“There was not an opportunity to talk between those in charge and the opposition because there was an evident hegemony of power. Even though it is a majority government, dialogue has to always be present so that these types of crises don’t explode like this.”

Source: TRT World