The spiral of political instability in Bolivia is deepening down at a rapid rate. On 20 October, incumbent Evo Morales won 47.07% of the vote, securing himself another term as the President of Bolivia. However, doubts cast from the audit by the Organisation of American States mission of Electoral Observers saw Mr. Morales seeking asylum in the Mexican embassy, resigning from office on 10 November and then leaving the country for Mexico. The former President left the country of Bolivia in a fragile political state. Protests from both sides of the political spectrum erupted.
In particular, pro-Morales protesters were suppressed by the military under the orders of the self-proclaimed interim president, Jeanine Áñez, leading to the deaths of 23 people and hundreds injured. Coca farmers, strong supporters of Mr. Morales, have maintained their roadblocks on a strategic river bridge and the main highway, resulting in food and fuel shortages in the capital of La Paz. Needless to say, the country has been plunged into turbulent times. Bolivia has become another case study for political scientists studying democracy building and its subsequent deterioration. While history is still recording Bolivia at its current vulnerable state, it is prudent to analyse how we have arrived at this particular juncture. Specifically, there are two lessons to be learned.
Evo Morales’ rise to politics has been a fairy tale. It is a story of a coca farmer who rose to become the first Indigenous President of Bolivia after his party, the Movement for Socialism, won the 2005 election. A fellow coca farmer, Gregorio Choque, remarked to New York Times reporter Anatoly Kurmanaev, “He was the only President we have ever seen. He was in the fields with us.” During his fourteen-year reign, Mr. Morales transformed one of the poorest countries in Latin America into a thriving success. Strong economic and social improvements saw extreme poverty reduced by 60% and per capita GDP growth double the average rate of the rest of Latin America. Moreover, coca production is now regulated to protect prices, allowing farmers the option of crop diversification. Sadly, the lasting legacy of Mr. Morales is not the triumph of a former cocalero turned politician, but rather a man who was brought down by one of the oldest political pitfalls: his own hubris.
Like King Creon in Sophocles’ Antigone and Xerxes in Aeschylus’ Persae, Mr. Morales is guilty of excessive pride and forgetting his limitations to seek the status of a god. Despite championing two-term limits for Presidents back in 2009, once Mr. Morales found himself nearing the end of his reign, he was unable to abide by the rule of law and relinquish power. In 2016, he held a referendum to extend his presidential hold indefinitely. When it was voted down by the public, it came to a surprise to many in 2017 when the Supreme Court ruled it would be against Mr. Morales’ human rights to deny him a chance to run. It was further alarming when reading Mr. Morales’ parting words on Twitter as he left Bolivia for Mexico. “It hurts to leave the country for political reasons, but I will stay in touch… Soon I will return with more strength and energy”. The desire to continue to rule after personally leaving a major upheaval to your country’s political state is the incessant failure to heed the lesson of hubris. The story of Bolivia and of Mr. Morales himself has become a Greek tragedy of epic proportions.
Another lesson learned from the political situation unfolding in Bolivia is the need to remind citizens to place their faith in democratic institutions and not individuals. Bolivia is a country with a long history of dictatorships. Naturally, citizens are undoubtedly wary of charismatic leaders gradually seeking excessive power. While the pro-Morales supporters and coca farmers’ resolve to “evo de nuevo” (“Bring Evo back”) is strong, it is vital at this present moment for the Movement for Socialism party to take charge. The party is at a unique moment to place checks and balances to interim President Áñez on her repetitive racist remarks against the Indigenous population and the use of the armed forces as civilian control. It is also the party’s responsibility to name a new candidate and to ensure elections are held. It is dependent on the Movement for Socialism to remind their constituents the values espoused and enacted by Mr. Morales does not lie with him, but the democratic party itself. As Mónica Eva Copa, party leader and now the new Senate president noted, “We have to be revamped for the elections… it’s up to us to renovate politics”.
The current state of Bolivia is of civilian unrest and political instability. Nonetheless, it is important to remember the future of Bolivia does not, and quite frankly under constitutional law should not, pertain to Mr. Morales. The fate of Mr. Morales was sealed the moment he chose to run for a third term. It is now up to the Movement for Socialism to address the political limbo and name a new candidate. The future of Bolivia is once again placed in the hands of the Bolivian people. Fair and democratic elections take two.