Bolivia’s never-ending coup

. Jul 22, 2020
Demonstration against the 2019 coup d'état in Bolivia. Photo: Tony Monti/Shutterstock Demonstration against the 2019 coup d'état in Bolivia. Photo: Tony Monti/Shutterstock

Since the turbulent 2019 general elections in Bolivia — which culminated in an old-fashioned military coup to oust President Evo Morales — the country has remained under a black cloud. Self-declared President Jeanine Áñez went back on her own promise and decided to run for election this year, in a vote that is likely to be postponed, as the country attempts to juggle its own institutional nightmare during a deadly pandemic. 

With 50,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,900 deaths, Bolivia can take some solace in the fact that its health situation has not been the unprecedented disaster seen in neighboring Brazil. However, the coronavirus outbreak has become a part of Bolivia’s existing political crisis, with Ms. Áñez’s interim government using the quarantine to launch its own electoral campaign.

</p> <p>This week, Bolivia’s ‘never ending coup’ opened another chapter as Luis Fernando Camacho, a far-right Catholic activist who backed the coup and has been called the &#8220;Bolivian Bolsonaro,&#8221; wrote to the Organization of American States (OAS) <a href=";">denouncing alleged fraud</a> from Evo Morales&#8217; Movement for Socialism (MAS) party in the upcoming elections, which Mr. Camacho is keen on postponing.&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, electoral courts will hear a case in which Mr. Morales&#8217; opposition asks for the MAS to be completely barred from the upcoming election, quoting the &#8220;unlawful publication of electoral poll numbers&#8221; as its justification. The party was given a mere 48 hours to respond to the accusations and present its defense.</p> <p>While 2020 has been a harrowing year for many nations around the world, Bolivia appears to be stuck in 2019. On Twitter, Evo Morales criticized OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, decrying the organization’s “complicit silence” toward the interim government’s recent unconstitutional maneuvers — such as promoting army officers without Senate approval — saying this is “further proof of [the OAS&#8217;] participation in the coup.”&nbsp;</p> <p>The former president is currently in Argentina, where the left-wing Alberto Fernández government has granted him refugee status.</p> <iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>An electoral mess in Bolivia</h2> <p>Mr. Morales’s opponents argue that he was only able to win re-election for a fourth term in 2019 due to electoral fraud. During most of the real-time counting of printed votes, Evo Morales didn’t have an advantage large enough to secure a first-round victory over his opponent Carlos Mesa. The count was interrupted on Sunday night with 83 percent of ballots added up, and when it reopened, 95 percent of votes had been compiled and Mr. Morales had the lead he required for re-election.</p> <p>Suspicion ran rampant and the opposition contested the election results, leading the <a href="">high command of the Bolivian Armed Forces</a> to forcibly &#8220;suggest&#8221; Mr. Morales&#8217; immediate resignation.</p> <p>The OAS played a crucial role in this process, endorsing suspicions of fraud and recommending new elections. Mr. Morales accepted their request, but the military moved first. With the president, his vice and almost the entire Congress ousted, Jeanine Áñez stepped in as self-declared head of state.</p> <iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Scandal and prejudice</h2> <p>The ouster of Evo Morales sparked a wave of resentment toward any symbols linked to the left-wing and the country&#8217;s indigenous heritage — seen as being a part of Mr. Morales&#8217; identity. Police officers across the country defaced their own uniforms, removing the wiphala flag — which represents the native Andean peoples of the region and serves as Bolivia&#8217;s dual flag.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, almost a year on, Bolivia is still waiting for elections. With Ms. Áñez as the conservative candidate, the OAS is once again under criticism. Despite suspicions of inconsistency in the 2019 elections, a new study by independent researchers with data obtained by the <a href="">New York Times</a> revealed that the OAS&#8217;s accusations of voter fraud were inaccurate.</p> <p>According to Marília Closs, a doctoral student and researcher at the Nucleus for Studies in Social Theory and Latin America and the South American Political Observatory (OPSA), the democratic situation in Bolivia is experiencing one of its most critical moments. Considering the country endured at least 193 failed and successful coups between independence in 1825 and the last dictatorship in 1982, that is quite the statement.</p> <p>“Since the coup in 2019, the interim government has built a constitutional apparatus for the coup itself to continue. This goes beyond the hesitation to schedule the long-expected new elections in 2020, but also the persecution of members of the opposition and the use of health crisis measures to create a police state,” the expert told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>Even after being ousted and exiled in Argentina, Evo Morales is still a target. In July, the Bolivian Prosecution Office issued a formal accusation for alleged crimes of terrorism against the former president. The prosecutors&#8217; decision happened months after the high electoral court — appointed by Ms. Áñez — moved to disqualify Evo Morales from running for a Senate position. And, still, the OAS remains quiet.</p> <p>As the scenario of institutional insecurity was built in Bolivia, with the lack of recognition among the parties, the role of the OAS is once again questioned. Instead of acting to mediate the intrigue and present viable democratic solutions, explains Ms. Closs, the entity under Luis Almagro “doesn’t play the role that the organization should.”

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Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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