Police Units Join Anti-Government Protests In Bolivia

Multiple police units have joined the anti-government demonstrations in Bolivia, which began after allegations that President Evo Morales’ re-election on October 20th was under fraudulent pretences. Tens of thousands of Bolivians have participated in protests demanding that Morales resigns. Three people have died, and at least three hundred people have been injured in the clashes between protestors and police.

Morales wrote on Twitter that the police’s involvement in the demonstrations suggests that the opposition and the police are organising a coup d’état to “undermine the constitutional order.” The High Command of Armed forces released a statement which says that the military will remain neutral: “we ratify that we will never put ourselves in confrontation with the people, to whom we owe and for whom we will always ensure peace, coexistence among our brothers and sisters, and the development of our homeland.” A police officer participating in the demonstrations mirrored this idea, telling an Observer reporter that “We (the police) are with the people. The government can’t use us to repress the people.” Therefore, Morales’ allegations would appear to be false. Luis Fernando Camacho, a key leader in the demonstrations, confirms this, replying to Morales tweet with “We have not come to overthrow a president, we have come to free Bolivia from its dictatorship.” The protestors want a democratic election to take place.

Vanderbilt University Professor, Dr Carwil Bajork-James explains the two possible outcomes of the police’s involvement in the demonstrations. The police’s participation in the protests could force the government to negotiate with opposition forces or trigger conflict within the police force and with the military. Morales has attempted to negotiate with the opposition since the police joined the protests, proposing that the leaders of four prominent political parties meet to discuss the events. Although, the opposition rejected the proposal as it excluded multiple leaders of the demonstrations. This attempt by Morales suggests that the neutral stance of the military and the participation of some police units in the protests have pushed Morales to negotiate, albeit superficially. The involvement of police could lead to the resolution of the conflict.

President Morales’ re-election in October marked the beginning of his fourth term as president. Morales’ re-election compromises both Bolivia’s constitution, which only allows presidents to serve a maximum of two five-year terms, and the 2016 referendum where citizens rejected to change the constitutional term limits. This lack of support for Morales’ re-election meant that citizens grew suspicious when reports of the vote-counting process stopped for almost a day and then returned with Morales suddenly in the lead. The head of the vote auditing company working with the Bolivian government refused to certify Morales’ re-election, leading citizens to protest the legitimacy of the vote-counting process. An international audit of the election by the Organization of American States (OAS) will be released early next week. Morales has said that the OAS audit is binding and hence will solidify or terminate his presidency.

The police’s support of protesters in Bolivia pertains to the ultimate role of police in a state, that is, to protect and support the public. This lesson could not be more essential to the international community, especially considering the continued use of police brutality against protestors around the world this year.