Morales and morals: Bolivia's Democratic confusion
Claims of fraud, foul-play and international intervention have plagued Bolivia’s political landscape for the last year following a controversial Presidential election in 2019. The situation has not only led to questions about Bolivia's future, but the role of the US in international democracy.
Following the resignation of Bolivia’s ex-President Evo Morales (In Profile here) last year, questions surrounding the events that led up to his departure and the international, mostly US led, reaction to the situation have come to dominate the conversation. Morales claims it was an undemocratic coup that forced him to resign and flee to Mexico, but those in anti-Morales camps praise this as the removal of a budding Dictator.
Today, much of the commentariat are intrigued by the US’ role in disseminating the anti-Morales campaign. The two nations have a mixed past and the current US regime has made some contentious political moves, such as reinstating once expelled US Ambassador Philip Goldberg to his old position.
Morales was the President of the country for 14 years until his public resignation on the 10th of November 2019. Whilst also being one of Latin Americas longest standing leaders, he was the first indigenous Bolivian President and received high praise from his supporters as a Socialist figure head.
After his victory in a fourth Presidential election was announced, his main opponent, Carlos Mesa, called foul and pushed for an investigation into election meddling. This investigation was carried out by the Organisation of American States whose preliminary report concluded that "it is impossible to guarantee the integrity of the data and certify the accuracy of the results", following an unexplained switch off of the main vote monitoring computer system. This led to outrage on both sides of the argument and after losing the support of much of the nation's police and military, Morales resigned.
Following Morales’ departure, the natural heirs to his Presidency: Vice President Álvaro García Linera, leader of the senate Adriana Salvatierra and leader of the Chamber of Deputies Víctor Borda also handed in their notice. This left Deputy leader of the Senate Jeanine Áñez, who represents another party, as interim President and she held the post until this latest election. This dramatic change to the leadership led to civil unrest and sent shockwaves through the Bolivian political system.
In September 2020, an independent report analysed the fraud claims, which were dominantly surrounding a late influx of supportive votes for Morales. They concluded that this in of itself was not a fair claim to fraudulent behaviour. The researchers found "rurality and region" accounts for much of this delay in the election, leaving most onlookers thinking the original outbreak of celebration was misdirected.
The international Dimension
The issue dominating much of the conversation today is the role the US played in outwardly supporting the removal of Morales. Following the release of the election fraud report that got the President ousted, US media, spectators and ‘experts’ all praised the elected leader’s removal as a victory for Democracy. Later, the independent review of the information demonstrated that it was this report, rather than the election, that was ripe with misconduct.
Although many of the outlets responsible for the political witch hunt have now reported on this change in events, they have failed to address their own mistakes. The overarching question is not that of reporting, since this independent report was not available for another year, but the dominant role these media sources play in creating the discourse around a story. The political implication surrounds the fact that much of the US media support US agendas, leaving American foreign policy and international opinion intrinsically linked.
To add insult to injury for the anti-Morales parties, a quick count of the re-organised election shows that Luis Arce, the leader of Morales' party, is set to win the first round of the vote. This demonstrates a clear support for the party and means Morales’ victory was most likely not fraudulent in any way. The result has created fear in the opposition, with Jeanine Áñez pulling out of the leadership race in an effort to avoid splitting the opposition vote and stop the victory of the Mas party. Arce's success would mean the return of Morales to the country with the consent of a new, allied, President.