This article was published by Bolivia Information Forum as BIF Bulletin No.48, 7 March 2020
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Main image: The Salar de Ayuni. Image: Pixgood.com
As time moves on, some of the more obscure moments of recent months are beginning to become a little clearer: why Evo Morales resigned, how the decision was made to form the government led by Jeanine Añez, the role played by the army, the fact that little hard evidence has been presented regarding the supposedly fraudulent elections, etc.
The interim government, charged with bringing about a new round of elections and ‘pacifying’ the country has given clear signs of seeking to reverse and discredit much done by the MAS government: in foreign relations hurriedly rebuilding relations with the United States and wiping out some previous alliances, particularly those with Venezuela and Cuba, and crossing swords with Spain and Mexico (in whose residence several former ministers are still being held). In its economic policy, the government has sought to liberalise trade, reducing export restrictions on some 50 products.
Meanwhile several serious cases of corruption and extortion have arisen involving those currently in government and there has been a serious breach in confidentiality regarding the case of the Silala waters brought by Chile against Bolivia in the International Court of Justice, currently sub judice. Several ex-authorities have been jailed under ‘preventive detention’ orders including former Interior Minister Carlos Romero and former Rural Development Minister César Cocarico, to name but two. There have been no advances regarding investigations into the killings that took place in Sacaba and Senkata at the hands of the police and army after the new government took office last November.
The ‘interim’ government has made it clear that it wants to stay in power with Añez now standing as presidential candidate in the coming elections. The far right appears determined to win these elections, even though opinion polls (see below) suggest this may prove difficult. One may well ask how far they are prepared to go to achieve this end.
1. May 3 elections, the first opinion polls
One of the main objectives of the Añez government was to arrange for a new round of elections. This not only implied the setting up a new Electoral Tribunal to put the process into action but also extending the terms of office of the interim president herself, the Legislative Assembly and decentralised authorities such as departmental governors and assemblies, mayors, local councils, since elections to these have also been delayed.
Añez named Salvador Romero as her representative to the Electoral Tribunal towards the end of November. There followed a tight schedule in the Legislative Assembly to choose the other six members of the Tribunal. Selection was based principally on merit, though the requirement of knowledge of an indigenous language was suspended. Members were elected by the two chambers of the Assembly and took up their posts before Christmas.
At the beginning of January, the Tribunal brought out the timetable that would run up to national elections (for president and vice-president, senators and deputies) on 3 May, with a possible second run-off election on 14 June if the leading candidate fails to get either an absolute majority (50%+) of votes, or 40% with a 10% lead over the second-placed candidate.
Alliances had to be presented towards the end of January and lists of candidates by the beginning of February. Eight groups presented their electoral slates, of which one — the Acción Democrática Nacionalista (the party set up by General Hugo Banzer in the late 1970s) — failed to present the necessary paperwork.
Though some candidates have been excluded from standing, amongst them Evo Morales as senator for Cochabamba and Diego Pary (the former foreign minister) as senator for Potosí, the electoral race is now formally under way.
Two opinion polls have been published since then, as shown below. In order to show comparative results, the figures given here refer to valid votes (i.e. they do not include the undecided, null or void votes).
16 Feb per cent
|Mercados y Muestras |
23 Feb per cent
|Chi Hyun Chung||FPV||6.7||6|
|Jorge ‘Tuto’ Quiroga||Libre 21||2.7||2|
Though direct comparisons are difficult given the different methods and scope of the two polls, they do provide an idea of voting intentions.
The CiesMori poll was contracted by three television channels (UNITEL, Red Uno and Bolivisión), and Mercados y Muestras by the newspaper Página Siete. (Shortly before going to press, a further poll, carried out by Misk’y Utaha’a for the TV channel ATB, gave similar results at a national level. Taking valid votes only, those intending to vote for the MAS accounted for 32.6%, 19.2% for Mesa, 18.2% for Añez, 12.5% for Camacho, 9.2% for Chi Hyun Chung, 7.6% for Jorge Quiroga, and 0.5% for Pan Bol).
Before providing some detail about the candidates, a further break-down of figures by department (provided only by CiesMori) is interesting. Here the figures do include the undecided, null and void votes.
|La Paz||1||Luis Arce||MAS||49.7|
|4||Chi Hyun Chung||FPV||6.2|
|Santa Cruz||1||Fernando Camacho||Creemos||28.0|
|4||Chi Hyun Chung||FPV||3.3|
|4||Chi Hyun Chung||FPV||7.8|
|4||Chi Hyun Chung||FPV||4.9|
|4||Chi Hyun Chung||FPV||7.5|
A word on the candidates:
- The candidates for the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party are Luis Arce (previously minister of the economy and the man behind the successful economic model of the MAS government) and David Choquehuanca (former foreign minister).
- Carlos Mesa stands again as candidate for Comunidad Ciudadana, with his vice-presidential candidate from Santa Cruz, Gustavo Pedraza. This grouping, based largely on citizens’ groups, took root in the wake of the 21 February 2016 referendum. Mesa came second in the October elections.
- From the Beni department, Jeanine Añez, the current interim president, was a senator for the Santa Cruz-based Demócratas party; she is running with Samuel Doria Medina, himself many times a presidential candidate. She also has support from the La Paz Sol.bo party, whose leader, Luis Revilla, is mayor of La Paz and who previously backed Mesa. This alliance is called Juntos and advocates a return to neoliberalism.
- Fernando Camacho, formerly president of the Comité Pro Santa Cruz, played an important role both before and after the October elections, calling for the Santa Cruz electorate to use their vote “usefully” in support of the candidate most likely to beat the MAS. This helped Mesa to win first place in Santa Cruz. After the elections, together with Marco Pumari, the then president of the Potosí civic committee (COMCIPO), Camacho ‘pushed’ Mesa to adopt a more radical stance during the coup. The position of this group, Creemos, is strongly religious, ultra-conservative and racist.
- Chi Hyun Chung, this time representing the Frente para la Victoria (FPV), has still to overcome differences with the Frente regarding his vice-presidential candidate. In October, this extremely conservative pastor of Korean origin, surprised many by his relatively strong showing based, at least in part, on the support of evangelical churches.
And a word on the departmental polls:
- In spite of the important changes within the MAS, with Evo Morales in exile in Argentina, the party still leads in people’s voting intentions. However, the figures are substantially lower than the 47% believed to have been won in October. The MAS maintains a lead in the five western departments of La Paz, Oruro, Potosí, Cochabamba and Pando. Arce and Choquehuanca are well known nationally, and Choquehuanca, an Aymara, is well respected and accepted amongst people with an indigenous background.
- In comparison with October, Carlos Mesa has lost some allies, and this would seem to show up in the fact that he no longer leads the polls in Tarija and Santa Cruz. Añez’s standing as candidate has probably affected the Comunidad Ciudadana alliance more than any other grouping. CC maintains its lead, however, in Chuquisaca, and is in second place nationally.
- The line-up in Santa Cruz has changed radically, with Camacho now leading, Añez in second place, the MAS in third, and Mesa fourth. In October, Mesa was in first place, and the MAS second. It will be important to keep an eye on developments there.
- Though apparently the fourth party nationally, Fernando Camacho and Marco Pumari have fared poorly in many departments. Though clear winners in Santa Cruz, Creemos only achieved 4% in Pumari’s home department of Potosí. Whilst a large rural vote can account in part for this discrepancy, it would also seem to suggest that the MAS would command a greater percent of the vote than Pumari in the city of Potosí itself.
Currently the MAS leads in terms of people’s voting intentions, standing against very divided opponents. This could mean the MAS winning in the first round. As yet, there are no indications of those in opposition to the MAS coming together under one candidate, partly because no party wants to lose representation in the Legislative Assembly. They are due to meet again in April for further discussions on coordination.
2. Tentative answers to some controversial questions
Amongst some of the unanswered questions to arise following last year’s aborted elections and the putsch that removed Evo Morales from office are (i) the reasons for Morales’ hasty resignation; (ii) how the decision was made to form the interim government and who took it; (iii) the role played by the army; and (iv) were the elections fraudulent or not? Though by no means exhaustive, what follows attempts to address some of these points.
Why Evo Morales resigned from the presidency
One of the issues that raised many questions was why Morales resigned on 10 November and why he did so with such speed.A brief look at some events the day before and on 10 November itself may help to explain this.
On 9 November, Morales had proposed a dialogue with those parties with a probable presence in the new Legislative Assembly on the basis of the results from the 20 October elections.With the exception of Chi Hyun Chung, who came third, neither Carlos Mesa nor Oscar Ortiz of the Demócratas, who came second and fourth respectively, took up the proposal.On the same day, the armed forces made a public statement saying they would not enter into confrontation with the people.Morales brought together the majority of his cabinet that evening in the El Alto military airport, and there they received the news of the OAS report regarding supposed irregularities in the elections.Those present were divided between those wanting to confront what seemed to be an unfolding coup and those wanting to call for new elections.Morales was affected by the violence suffered by government authorities in Potosí, Chuquisaca and Oruro, some of whose homes had been burnt and/or family members taken hostage.
The OAS report was made public early on 10 November.Morales met with members of social movements (CONALCAM) and by 9 a.m. held a second meeting with his cabinet.There several of the leading figures from Potosí, including Víctor Borda (president of the Chamber of Deputies) and César Navarro (minister of mines) presented their resignations.Their families had come under threat and their homes in Potosí had been torched.At 10.00 a.m. Morales held a press conference to announce new elections, together with the forming of a new electoral tribunal, precisely what Mesa and others had been demanding.
During the morning, Juan Carlos Huarachi, executive secretary of the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB) called on Morales to resign to avoid further bloodshed.In Playa Verde, near Challapata, and Vila Vila, near Caracollo, both on the road between Potosí and La Paz, campesinos blocking the road forcibly stopped cooperative miners and university students on their way to La Paz to join others determined to bring down the government.Apparently, the military were about to use force to open up the road that had been blocked in innumerable places by campesinos backing Morales.
Morales was interviewed at midday on 10 November by Telesur and spoke of the police who had mutinied some days before and his refusal to involve the military in repression of ordinary people.He again spoke of his determination to call for new elections.
At about 5 p.m., the leaders of the armed forces came out and ‘suggested’ that Morales should resign.At this stage, it seemed difficult that any ‘normal’ succession would be possible, with the police and army openly against the government.This led to the announcement of several resignations, including Adriana Salvatierra, president of the Senate, and the constitutional successor to Morales and Vice-President Alvaro García Linera.Their main concern was to ensure that Morales should leave the country safely.He travelled on the presidential plane to the Chapare, where he was taken to a military installation rather than the civilian airport building; his supporters, in the airport to meet him, moved quickly and managed to get his release, after which he made his resignation speech.Leaving the country was a problem, given that the air force had taken control of Bolivia’s airspace from early on 10 November, before Morales had actually resigned.
It seems that the pressures on individuals and their families played a part in Morales’ decision to resign.The fact that the COB had asked Morales to stand down was a major blow, though many other social movements remained loyal.Faced with the police mutinying and unable to count on the loyalty of the armed forces, Morales took the decision to resign to avoid further confrontation.
How the decision was taken regarding the ‘succession’
During the conflict, various attempts had apparently been made to build bridges that might lead to peaceful solutions, including at least one meeting between Morales and the Catholic Church.On the evening of 10 November, a meeting had been planned beforehand in the Catholic University between representatives of the church (the archbishop of El Alto) representatives of Carlos Mesa and Fernando Camacho, and Waldo Albarracín (for the Comité Nacional de Defensa de la Democracia -CONADE- which had been active in the protests against Morales). The meeting took place, facilitated by representatives of the European Union, Spain and the Brazilian ambassador.The following day the group met again, also including opposition leaders Jorge Quiroga and Samuel Doria Medina.
The Constitution requires that succession following the resignation of the president and vice president should pass first to the president of the Senate (Adriana Salvatierra) and then to the president of the Chamber of Deputies (Víctor Borda).But both had resigned.Thereafter there are no clear rules.The first vice-president of the Senate (from the MAS) had also resigned, but the first vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies had not (Susana Rivero, also from the MAS).The group meeting in the Catholic University decided that instead of taking that route, they would press for the second vice-president in the Senate (Jeanine Añez from the Demócratas) to take on the presidency.In the meeting on 11 November, Ricardo Paz, Mesa’s spokesperson, called Añez on her mobile phone to ask whether she would accept the presidency.
The decision regarding Añez’s becoming president was taken by a small group involving the church and opposition political leaders.The constitutionally correct path would have been to let the Legislative Assembly reorganise its leadership (rather than a small group taking a decision of this importance).Añez then named herself president of the Senate in a meeting that lacked the necessary quorum in the absence of the (majority) MAS members.A joint session of the Legislative Assembly, at which the MAS members were also absent, then declared her president.This was basically the consolidation of a coup, and certainly unconstitutional.
The role played by the Army
Despite the statement by the military on 9 November and its ‘suggestion’ the following day that Morales stand down, there is reason to believe that their involvement in the coup had been planned for some time.
At the end of December, Fernando Camacho, the former leader of the Santa Cruz civic committee and now candidate for the presidency was caught boasting on video that his father, a private businessman, had played an important role, together with the current minister of defence, Fernando López, in liaising with the police and the armed forces to ensure that there would be no repression of the anti-government demonstrations that took place in the wake of the 20 October elections. Reports from members of teaching staff show how more than 1,000 people (initially from Santa Cruz and Cochabamba in the main) were being put up in the La Paz University of San Andrés (UMSA), fully equipped to take part as shock troops in the street demonstrations that were taking place. Waldo Albarracín of CONADE was then rector of the UMSA.
The army and police have been involved in repressive actions reminiscent of earlier years of dictatorship. The massacres in Sacaba and Senkata (see more below) suggest that neither have learnt much from attempts to convert them into institutions more respectful of democratic norms. Both institutions have met with criticism over their role since the October elections. At football matches and again at carnival in Oruro, crowds chanted choruses against the police, with the cry ringing out ‘motines’ (mutineers).
MIT study throws OAS fraud claims into doubt
A study conducted by two researchers from MIT in Boston raises new doubts as to the claims made by the Organization of American States, and by opponents of Evo Morales in the October 2019 elections, that these were subject to massive fraud.Their report was given major coverage this month in the pages of the Washington Post.
The two academics, John Curiel and Jack Williams, conclude that, following exhaustive analysis they could find no evidence of fraud and that the OAS report was based on “problematic” statistical claims. Curiel is a research scientist at the MIT Elections Data and Science Lab. His work focuses on fair administration of elections and open data. Williams is a senior associate in the political science department at MIT.
Curiel and Williams say that “Our results were straightforward. There does not seem to be a statistically significant difference in the margin before and after the halt of the preliminary vote. Instead, it is highly likely that Morales surpassed the 10-percentage-point margin in the first round”.
These latest claims cast further doubt on the circumstances surrounding Morales’ resignation last November and the claims made by the OAS to be acting as an impartial observer.
The aggressive role played by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro in relation to attempt to destabilise a number of leftist governments in recent years, notably Venezuela and Nicaragua, has parted company from the traditional role of the OAS in seeking to build consensus among Latin American countries.In the recent elections in the Dominican Republic the systems put into place by the OAS have once again been brought into question.
Carlos Mesa has recently brought a civil suit against Evo Morales and members of his government for “fraudulent” elections. Ever since the October elections he has claimed that the Morales government had carried out a “gigantic” fraud. The MIT report would seem to contradict this assertion. What vested interest (or inside information) does Mesa have for him to insist on the question of fraud?
The interim government shows its colours
Two columnists on the La Razón newspaper have recently referred to Bolivia as a “broken” country (Jorge Richter) and its democracy as being “maimed” (Yuri Torrez). Faced with a break-down in the country’s institutional framework, the response of the interim government has been such as to violate human rights, to use the judiciary to take vengeance against the MAS and what it has stood for, and to return to exclusionary policies that favour the few. Instead of attempting to heal the wounds, the government appears to be making them worse.
Violations of human rights
Shortly after taking over the presidency, the Añez government carried out the sort of repressive actions that Morales had refused to contemplate in facing down weeks of protest.The army and the police were used to suppress opposition on the streets.The result was many killed and wounded.In Sacaba (Cochabamba) and Senkata (El Alto) some 20 people were killed, only part of those who have died since November.There has been no investigation into who was responsible, nor attempts to bring them to justice.
Several former ministers, such as Carlos Romero and César Cocarico, have been placed in ‘preventive detention’, jailed for six months (on suspicion).The Ministry of the Presidency has been active in pushing other ministries to come up with cases that might stand up in court. The government has a list of 592 officials from the MAS government who it has in its sights.
Faced with such human rights violations, the MAS majority in the Legislative Assembly passed a law to guarantee respect for human rights.Attempting to delay signing the law, Añez has asked the Constitutional Tribunal to check that the legislation is valid/necessary in view of the guarantees and protections enshrined in the constitution.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has questioned the killings in Senkata and Sacaba, calling them massacres.High ranking officials within the United Nations, such Jean Arnault (the personal envoy of the secretary general), Diego García Sayán (the special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers), and Michelle Bachelet (the high commissioner for human rights) have all expressed concern about the human rights situation in Bolivia.
- Arnault called on the government to avoid acts of political persecution and abuse of judicial procedures.
- García Sayán denounced violations of human rights and politically oriented persecution, as well as questioning the lack of neutrality in the coming elections since Añez’s decision to participate as a candidate.
- Michelle Bachelet reported on what she sees as persecution of scores of former office holders and others with close ties to Morales. Añez’s government has criticised Bachelet for the “lack of objectivity” in her report.
- Fraud and corruption. Along with the narrative of electoral fraud, a second line of attack on the former MAS government has been its supposed involvement in massive corruption. Given that the interim government is trying hard to bring cases of corruption to court, detaining former ministers on seemingly spurious charges, it might be expected to be squeaky clean itself.
However, several cases of misuse of public funds and extortion have been uncovered. In ENTEL, the state communications company, the person appointed by Añez’s first minister of the presidency, Jerjes Justiniano (himself an appointee of Camacho) and the president herself, Elio Montes was found to be spending large sums on the accommodation for himself and his colleagues and huge redundancy payments, in spite of having been in the job only a few months. There have been several cases of people being asked to pay for government jobs, notably in the ministries of communications, cultures, mining, and education, though these are not alone.
- Future of the payment of allowances. There have been worrying claims of delays in the payment of the Juana Azurduy allowance for pregnant and nursing mothers. The monthly food subsidy is apparently being reorganised.
- Faux pas in international relations: the Silala case.
Apart from the rebuilding of relations with the United States (after three visits from high-ranking US officials to Bolivia) and the upset in relations with Spain and Mexico, mentioned above, relations with Chile have proved controversial. This concerns a possible breach of confidentiality regarding the case that Bolivia is facing in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the Silala waters, a longstanding bilateral dispute concerning the flow of water into Chile.Foreign Minister Karen Longaric appears to have made public comments that could affect this case, currently sub judice.