Evo Morales, the popular president of Bolivia, was forced to leave power through a combination of protests and pressure from the military after being accused of election irregularities.
One of Latin America’s poorest countries has sunk into a political chaos as anti-government protesters triggered by an alleged election fraud attacked the houses of top government officials including the socialist President Evo Morales, who was forced to resign on Sunday.
A sizeable part of the police force joined the protesters as the country’s army chief Williams Kaliman called on Morales to step down to ensure “peace and stability and for the good of our Bolivia”.
The same day Kaliman demanded Morales to resign, the Organisation of American States (OAS), a US-based election monitoring group, also accused Morales and his allies of election fraud in the first run-off of the presidential elections on October 20.
Morales denied any wrongdoing in elections, but still offered to rerun elections and to remove himself from the ballot.
Despite his resignation, Morales, who has the longest streak of winning elections in South America, elected back-to-back since 2006, views the army’s move along with police forces and protesters as a coup.
“I’m resigning so that our brothers don’t continue to be persecuted. I really lament this civilian coup,” said Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader, who began his career as a simple coca grower.
Alongside him, his Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera, Senate President Adriana Salvatierra and the leader of the Chamber of Deputies Victor Borda from the Congress, which has been dominated by his party, Movement Towards Socialism, have also offered their resignations, leaving the country effectively and officially leaderless.
“We resign because I don’t want to see any more families attacked by instruction of [former president Carlos] Mesa and [opposition leader Luis Fernando] Camacho,” Morales said, accusing the country’s right-wing opposition party leaders of the street violence and political chaos.
Right-wing opposition forces have reportedly torched several houses of lawmakers and ministers from Morales’s party, even kidnapping the relatives of some deputies.
“This is not a betrayal to social movements. The fight continues. We are the people, and thanks to this political union, we have freed Bolivia. We leave this homeland freed,” he assured his mostly poor constituents, millions of whom have been raised out of poverty thanks to Morales’s economic policies, which prioritised the poor and indigenous against the country’s small elite of European descent.
“Bolivians and the entire world should know how the oligarchy conspired against democracy,” Morales added.
Despite Morales’s successful poor-friendly policies and decreasing social and financial inequalities making him the champion of ordinary Bolivians, he has also been accused of consolidating power in the judiciary and other parts of the government and alienating a large part of society, many of whom live in urban areas.
Left versus right
Bolivia’s current deadlock is partly a product of deepening left-right divisions across the continent, where populist right-wing leaders are trying to challenge left-wing leaders.
Recently, popular protests have broken out across Latin America from Ecuador, where demonstrators hit the streets against a socialist leader for his IMF-friendly policies, to Chile, where left-wing aligned protesters have held weeks of rallies against the country’s pro-globalisation President Sebastian Pinera.
The reactions to Morales’s resignation have echoed how frenzied the political atmosphere in South America is at the moment, where US-backed coups have historically forced leftists governments out of power.
The US role in the pressure was obvious before Morales’s resignation as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that he should not run for office, backing the findings of the OAS, an American monitoring group.
“In order to restore credibility to the electoral process, all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process,” Pompeo said.
Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right president of Brazil, who is a strong ally of US President Donald Trump, was happy to see Morales gone saying: “The word coup is used a lot when the left loses.”
Bolsonaro added: “When they win, it’s legitimate. When they lose it’s a coup.”
But his popular leftist opponent, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has recently been released from prison on charges of corruption, disagrees with Bolsonaro, seeing the Morales resignation as a result of the coup.
“It’s unfortunate that Latin America has a financial elite that does not know how to abide by democracy and the social inclusion of the poorest people,” Silva said.
Other leftist presidents from Venezuela, where Washington has recently worked hard to oust President Nicolas Maduro, to Argentina, also backed Silva’s position, condemning the manner in which Morales had to leave.
Mexico, which has had a long history of victimisation by the US, has also backed Morales, offering asylum if needed. Some Bolivian top officials have reportedly been sought asylum in the embassy of Mexico.
“In Bolivia there is an ongoing military operation, we reject it, it is similar to those tragic events that [bloodied] Latin America in the last century,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard wrote on Twitter.
“Mexico will maintain its position of respect for democracy and institutions. Coups, no.”