Álvaro Vargas Llosa is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute. His latest book is “Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization and America.”
Morales’s claim stands truth on its head. In fact, it was Morales who tried to engineer a coup — and not for the first time — by rigging the Oct. 20 presidential election.
Morales came to power at the beginning of 2006 after two previously elected presidents were toppled by Morales-led mobs. As is customary among those embracing “21st century socialism,” Morales then convened a constitutional assembly, the main purpose of which was to rubber-stamp his proposal to amend the constitution to allow the president to seek a second term, something the previous constitution expressly banned. Not surprisingly, the constitution was rewritten and Morales was reelected in 2009.
That, too, wasn’t enough for Morales. So he turned to Bolivia’s constitutional tribunal — the court in charge of protecting the constitution — to extend his rule even further. And to no one’s surprise, the court decreed in 2013 that he could stand for a third term, ruling that his first term didn’t really count since the country had been “refounded” in 2009 when the new constitution was adopted.
Morales then began to plot against the constitution’s two-term limit, with his cronies in the legislature approving a referendum that would put the two-term limit to a vote. When the vote was held in 2016, to Morales’s shock, the people rejected the proposal.
But Morales couldn’t take no for an answer. His constitutional tribunal decided he had a “human right” to be reelected. In perfect theater-of-the-absurd style, Morales and his stooges invoked Article 23 of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, which states that citizens have a right “to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections.” So, once again, Morales stood for reelection.
Only this time things didn’t go so well. When it became clear that Morales wouldn’t win the needed majority and instead would have to face off against former president Carlos Mesa in a “mano a mano” contest Morales was likely to lose, the vote counting system mysteriously crashed. Twenty-four hours later, it miraculously recovered — and lo and behold Morales all of a sudden had a better-than-10-point lead, enough to avoid a runoff.
The electoral fraud triggered massive protests that eventually forced the government to accept an international audit by monitors from the Organization of American States. The monitors concluded that widespread irregularities had taken place and that it was “statistically unlikely” that Morales won the election.
Which brings us to the present mess. After the massive protests turned violent, with several police garrisons stepping in to protect the public from paramilitary thugs loyal to Morales, the head of the military, a longtime ally of the president, “suggested” that Morales stand down.
The general’s stance might have been imprudent, but it had nothing to do with a classic military takeover — so common in Latin America. Instead, it was a decision by the military leadership to steer Bolivia away from a bloodbath, which likely would have occurred if they had rejected the will of the people in support of Morales’s attempt to extend his tenure through a rigged election.
This is what led Morales to claim he was the victim of a coup. Since Morales’s vice president, a close ally, also resigned, as did the head of the senate, who was next in line to take over, this puts the new president of the legislative assembly in charge until new elections are held and the reins of power are handed over to Morales’s duly elected successor.
As I write, the chaos continues, as one might expect given the harm Morales has done to his country’s constitution and institutions, the violence his thugs have instigated and the fury his critics feel after he attempted to steal the presidential election.
But let us be clear: There has been no coup in Bolivia except the one Morales tried to engineer.