Wealthy coca farmer turned leftest politician Evo Morales had been the face of Bolivia’s government for the past 14 years. During his first pair of stints as president of this poor mountainous republic, the charismatic Morales was considered somewhat of a folk hero, much like the status enjoyed by his late friend Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Indeed, Chavez helped prop up Morales with oil money until Hugo mismanaged funds and the price of crude dropped drastically. By the time Chavez died and the government reigns were handed to Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela was in horrible financial shape and the dominoes began to fall throughout South America.
The trickle down effect hurt Bolivia the most, especially since Morales was already skimming off the top from Hugo’s generous cash gifts. He also took a familiar page out of the Chavez playbook, amending Bolivia’s constitution with the help of his government cronies to abolish term limits. But with the economy in a tailspin, Evo’s third go around was met with distrust. The fiesta was starting to fizzle with the once beloved presidente. That brings us to the recent developments in which Morales sought re-election last month for a fourth consecutive time. The “official” results showed that he edged out his conservative opponent Carlos Mesa by a whisker. Observers, however, reported mass irregularities and wide spread fraud. The Morales camp got careless and sloppy, causing the Organization of American States (OAS) to convene in a special session to discuss the issue. The group found “clear manipulation” of the votes and that the election was rigged.
Meanwhile, rioting in the capital of La Paz became violent. Morales promised to call for a new election, but he became increasingly isolated when the military and national police turned on him. When rumors surfaced that he might be detained, the 60 year old Socialist leader fled the country, accepting an invitation from Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to live there in exile. Aware that he still had a loyal throng of supporters in Bolivia, albeit in the minority, Morales tried to orchestrate a counter uprising of his own by proxy from Mexico City. Eight people were killed and dozens injured in the city of Sacaba, a Morales stronghold populated mostly by indigenous people who work the rural fields. Evo years ago made sure the farmers were well armed to protect the coca crops, and the protesters have tried to create havoc in clashes with personnel at army checkpoints.
What is certain to take place now in La Paz is a power vacuum. When Morales resigned, vice president Alvaro Garcia Linares was next in line to pick up the pieces. But he left with Evo on the same Mexico bound plane. So did the remainder of top officials in Evo’s MAS Party. That left Jeanine Añez, 52, the minority leader in the Bolivian Senate, as the heir apparent to assume the presidency. According to the constitution, which Morales doctored to his liking, Bolivia must hold new elections within 90 days after Añez took control as interim president. Many South American women have served as heads of state in recent history, and Añaz is likely to throw her hat into the ring. That would be refreshing in a relatively isolated republic like Bolivia, but she is not popular with indigenous people due to her European roots. Opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho would seem to have the inside track. But Mesa, a former president, will likely be on the ballot. And leftest leader Franklin Flores, who has ties to Morales, will be part of the mix.
Next to Paraguay, it is no secret that Bolivia is the poorest republic on the continent. There is a deep divide between urban life compared to folks who live in the countryside. And it’s certainly possible that Evo Morales and his closest associates could operate a government in exile from Mexico City, hell bent to cripple people who prefer democracy over a shady Socialist dictatorship. We will be watching this fluid crisis as it plays out in the coming weeks.