Indigenous Rights In Bolivia: The Aftermath Of Evo Morales’ Forced Resignation

On 10 November, Evo Morales stepped down as president of Bolivia amid overwhelming evidence of election tampering and subsequent protests across the nation. Morales was elected in 2005 as Bolivia’s first indigenous president, a significant fact considering more than 40 percent of the population is indigenous. According to The Guardian, under Evo Morales the poverty rate fell from almost 60% to 35%, the economy grew at just under 5% a year, the oil and gas industries were nationalised, and significant amounts were spent on health, education and infrastructure. However, all was not positive throughout his tenure, Morales decided to run for a fourth term, defying the result of a referendum on axing term limits, and began to consistently test his supporter’s patience. Regardless of Morales’ actions, the election of Bolivia’s first indigenous president after centuries of discrimination marked a significant shift in indigenous rights, culminating in a new constitution that guaranteed them comprehensive rights. After Morales’ resignation, Jeanine Áñez took over as interim president, her government’s initial actions have painted it as an enemy of indigenous rights.

Approximately five years ago, Jeanine Áñez, a conservative senator at the time, tweeted that she dreamt of a Bolivia “free of satanic rituals,” referring to the religious practices of indigenous people. Her attitude did not change greatly when she took power earlier this year, Áñez climbed the steps of Bolivia’s presidential palace and proclaimed that “God has allowed the Bible back into the palace.” This has the potential to be read as a direct response to Morales’ 2009 constitution change, Bolivia was described as a “plurinational country” further adding that “the State respects and guarantees the freedom of religion and spiritual beliefs, in accordance with every individual’s cosmovisions. The State is independent of religion.” Áñez has gone on to exempt the military from criminal prosecution when maintaining public order; at least 17 indigenous protesters died after security forces opened fire. Furthermore, Police have cut the indigenous Wiphala flag from their uniforms and anti-Morales demonstrators set fire to it.  Since the ousting of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, there have been at least two massacres of indigenous people protesting against the military coup.

The state has effectively sanctioned the killing of indigenous protestors. For 14 years under Morales, Bolivian indigenous movements broke the colonial oligarchy and the European-descended elite. However, this history is not dead, it has been revived under Jeanine Áñez and her government, whose aims seem to be to continue indigenous traditions and rights.

Zac Williams