La Paz, Bolivia – In a period marked by political instability in Latin America, Bolivia is experiencing a moment of institutional vacuum and tension in the streets of its major cities. Evo Morales, who headed the country for 13 years, resigned on Sunday (10 November) after widespread criticism of his pursuit of a fourth term in office. The Bolivian armed forces and police asked him to step down as a way to restore peace.
According to the Bolivian Constitution, the presidential line of succession is, in order, the vice president, the president of the Senate, and then the president of the Chamber of Deputies. All have resigned, leaving the country in a situation of uncertainty about who governs it. The second vice president of the Senate, Jeanine Añez, declared herself head of the executive, but her claim has not yet been approved by her peers, which means that the institutional uncertainty continues.
As Congress attempts to resolve the succession crisis, protesters have been taking to the streets since Sunday to celebrate the end of the “Morales era,” while other groups are leaving their homes to protest what they see as a coup d’état. The former president himself said he was the victim of a forced departure and will continue to defend his legacy.
Most demonstrators on both sides have peacefully exercised their right to expression, but unfortunately, some have resorted to violence. The local press, which is also under threat, has recorded unacceptable scenes of persecution of civilians, home fires, and public humiliation.
Those in favour of Morales’ departure point out that the ex-president should have not been a candidate in the first place. A referendum held in 2016 — called for by Morales himself — voted down a proposal to allow the president and vice president to run for more than two consecutive terms. Morales presented his candidacy even after that defeat.
In addition, they argue that Morales rigged the October 2019 elections. The Organization of American States, called upon to verify the electoral process in Bolivia, has found at least 250 inconsistencies in the process.
On the other hand, protesters against the ex-president’s departure claim that the suggestion by the armed forces that Morales should resign and the violence some groups used against members of the government before Morales’ resignation characterize a coup d’état.
At a time when the country is discussing its immediate future, part of the opposition has used racist language to refer to the former president. Some more conservative sectors have also advocated the elimination of official indigenous symbols adopted by the 2009 Constitution, which were added in recognition of the ethnic diversity of Bolivia’s population.
In the last few years, at least seven organizations or government agencies held polls to identify the ethnical composition of the Bolivian population. Depending on the methodology, the percentage of individuals who identify themselves as part of an Indigenous group varies from 40% to 62%, and most polls estimate around 55%. Using racist language is, therefore, a direct assault to more than half of the nation’s citizens.
At 350.org we are concerned about the current situation in Bolivia and ask the country’s leaders and society to reinforce their commitment to the fundamental values of respect for democracy, human rights and Indigenous peoples as essential pillars of this transition period.
In practice, this means that:
- Demonstrators in the streets, of any political orientation, the police and the armed forces act in such a way as to ensure that no one is assaulted, arrested, tortured, or threatened by the positions they defend.
- The police and the armed forces proceed in accordance with the law to ensure that the human rights of all persons are respected.
- Demonstrators and political leaders avoid racist expressions in referring to Indigenous peoples and respect Bolivia’s ethnic and cultural diversity — one of its greatest riches.
- The police, armed forces and demonstrators respect the symbols of the country’s ethnic diversity, such as the Whipala flag.
- Indigenous people, through their organizations and individuals, have the effective freedom to actively participate in discussions about the future of the country, in its political, economic, social, cultural, and environmental aspects. We invite Bolivians of all ethnic backgrounds to recognize that traditional knowledge and indigenous communities can contribute positively to solutions to complex problems.
- The country’s political representatives seriously discuss the next steps, in particular, the holding of new elections, within democratic precepts and valuing a plurality of opinions, without revanchism or authoritarian arrogance.
In the mountains of the altiplano in Bolivia, in the warm landscapes of the country’s lowland regions, and in the diverse beauty of its valleys, the free expression of the people to achieve autonomous solutions will always be the best path to follow.