Meanwhile, observers and politicians further to the right hailed what is happening in Bolivia as a restoration of democracy and a victory against hegemonic socialism on the continent. Morales, in their view, was the next Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan demagogue bent on retaining power no matter the damage to his country and its fragile democracy. A popular Bolivian rebellion booted him out of office.
Neither version of events tells the whole story. For now, Bolivia is in a perilous state of political limbo, bitterly divided over the path forward with the all-too-real prospect of fresh clashes between backers and opponents of Morales. Jeanine Áñez, a right-wing opposition senator, proclaimed herself the country’s interim leader, a role to which she was constitutionally entitled after Morales and key allies resigned and left her — the deputy leader of the country’s Senate — next in line. Áñez has promised to hold new elections soon, though it’s unclear to what extent, if any, Morales and his party will participate. His Movement for Socialism party remains technically the largest faction in both chambers of Bolivia’s legislature. Footage on Wednesday appeared to show Adriana Salvatierra, the former president of the Bolivian Senate and a Morales ally, getting roughed up by security forces when she attempted to take her seat in the chamber after resigning over the weekend.
The crisis can still be justifiably laid at Morales’s feet. In power since 2006, he made the decision to ignore the outcome of a 2016 constitutional referendum that narrowly rejected his bid to abolish term limits. A ruling from a constitutional court packed with his loyalists allowed him to compete for a fourth term. But the first round of the presidential vote on Oct. 20 was so plagued by irregularities that a later audit by the Organization of American States — a continental bloc that is mistrusted by some on the left — concluded there were signs of “clear manipulation.” Weeks of mass protests against Morales culminated in the country’s police and army chiefs urging his resignation. Morales had little choice but to comply, but in comments made in Mexico on Wednesday, he said he was determined to return home and urged a national dialogue to resolve the dispute.
“If the military, which recommended Morales’ resignation to avoid further bloodshed, stays in power, it will be a coup,” noted Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald. “But if the constitution’s line of succession is respected and an interim president calls for a new election within 90 days, it will [be] a constitutional move to invalidate Morales’ illegal power grab.”
Morales’s supporters in Bolivia have refused to recognize the legitimacy of Áñez’s ascension, raising fears of further social unrest after a month of strikes and protests. Their critics argue this could have all been avoidable.
“Evo could have lifted up new leaders to take his place, but instead actively undermined any who might do so. He could have served out his third term, left office with a grand legacy, and even run again in five years if he wished (the term limits only apply to consecutive terms),” wrote Jim Shultz, an American expert on Bolivia who lived in the country for two decades and knew Morales even before he rose to power. “But instead he was willing to plow through the basic rules of democracy to hold onto power, and the people knew it and in the end they rebelled as Bolivians so often have.”
The Trump administration cheered the news and quickly recognized Áñez as the country’s interim president. In a statement issued Monday, President Trump celebrated the developments in Bolivia and placed Morales alongside his other Latin American boogeymen. “These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail,” Trump said. “We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”
But unlike Maduro, Morales had not presided over desolation. As my colleagues wrote just last month, his stewardship of the impoverished, yet resource-rich nation was largely a credit to redistributive policies. “Bolivia’s economy is closing the gap with the rest of the continent, growing faster than most neighbors over the past 13 years. Meanwhile, governments that have embraced market policies — notably, in Argentina and Ecuador — face economic and political chaos,” observed The Post’s Anthony Faiola. He added: “Even the International Monetary Fund, that champion of the free market, concedes that Bolivia’s socialists have been more effective in combating extreme poverty than any other South American government, slashing it from 33 percent of the population in 2006 to 15 percent in 2018.”
In recent years, though, Morales more closely followed an authoritarian playbook, undermining some of the social and indigenous movements that once buttressed his rule and prosecuting former allies who turned against him. Some pundits attempted to cast his defeat in sunny, global terms. “The inspiring victory of the Bolivian people has great meaning far beyond Latin America,” wrote liberal columnist Yascha Mounk in the Atlantic. “Morales’s sudden loss of support should not only scare embattled leftist dictators, such as Maduro in Venezuela; it should also terrify far-right populists, such as Hungary’s [Viktor] Orban or Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who still appear to have a firm hold on power.”
That last suggestion from Mounk makes sense in the abstract but becomes more curious when you actually think about the particulars. Both Orban and Erdogan are ultranationalists who would find a degree of ideological kinship not with Morales, but those at the forefront of Morales’s ouster.
Before assuming presidential powers, Áñez strode toward the parliament building, clutching a large copy of the Bible and proclaiming its return to the center of power in the country — a deliberate jab at the indigenous communities and traditions uplifted by Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader. A survey of her social media found older comments mocking indigenous practices. Viral videos showed Bolivian security forces removing the Wiphala, the square emblem representing the indigenous peoples of the Andes, that sat alongside the tricolor Bolivian flag in their uniforms. A pastor linked to a leading opposition figure reportedly declared the halls of power free of the spirit of Pachamama, an Andean mother goddess.
Taking it all in from Mexico, Morales claimed he was the victim of “a racist and fascist coup.” Now, his country holds its breath at what may come. “I’m worried that if the opposition fails to establish a dialogue with pro-Morales politicians, the uncertainty might be prolonged, and we won’t have elections in the stipulated timing,” Jorge Dulon, a political scientist in La Paz, told my colleagues. “I’m also worried that social movements could generate violence.”