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In Bolivia, A Power Vacuum And Chaos After Morales Resigns As President And Departs

By Barbara Campbell NPR

Updated at 8:46 p.m. ET

Evo Morales has announced that he is leaving for Mexico, which offered him asylum after he resigned as president of Bolivia.

A number of urgent questions face the nation and its neighbors: Who’s in charge? How would a successor be chosen? And should the sudden upheaval be regarded as a military coup or a democratic uprising?

Morales resigned on Sunday in a televised address in which he said it was his obligation “to look for peace” as protests alleging fraud in last month’s presidential election shook the country.

Protesters had filled the streets on Sunday after the Organization of American States released an audit report that found clear manipulation of a computer system used to tally votes in the election in which Morales was reelected to a fourth term in office. Police began to abandon their posts, and the military announced that it would not stop the protests.

But his resignation has not settled the nation. Supporters of Morales have set barricades on fire to block the roads to the airport, The Associated Press reports. The Bolivian military said Monday it will “protect essential public services” amid the violence, according to Reuters.

Morales tweeted on Sunday and Monday, labeling the event a “civic-political-police coup” and saying that violent groups had assaulted his home.

A slew of other top officials have also resigned, including the vice president, the heads of both legislative chambers, the head of the electoral tribunal, and Bolivia’s police commander.

The result is a power vacuum: it’s not clear who is in charge of Bolivia, and how a successor to Morales will be chosen.

One possibility is opposition lawmaker Jeanine Añez, who has been the Senate’s second vice president, said Monday that she plans to head the Senate. That could put her next in line for the presidency.

The White House applauded Morales’ stepping aside.

“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” President Trump said in a statement Monday. “The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.”

Morales was Bolivia’s first indigenous president, and since taking office in 2006 has overseen an era of rising equality in the landlocked nation spanning a high plateau to the Amazon basin lowlands. A Socialist, Morales ushered in social improvements, nationalized the country’s largest communications company, and an economy that grew steadily until 2014. He grew up in a peasant family, herding llamas and farming crops including coca leaves.

But his legacy has been tarnished by the measures he has taken to hold on to the power. He put forth a referendum in 2016 that would allow him to seek a fourth term as president; when that failed, a supreme court packed with his loyalists cleared his path.

And while the result in last month’s election showed Morales winning by just over 10 percentage points, allowing him to avoid a runoff he was poised to lose, Bolivians and election monitors had suspicions. Among other irregularities, there was a gap in reporting followed by a sharp uptick in votes for Morales.

Leftist leaders of other Latin American countries have lined up behind Morales, offering him their support and calling it a coup. Ebrard, the Mexican foreign minister, said the call for resignation was a violation of Bolivia’s “constitutional order.”

“What happened yesterday is a step back for the whole continent,” he told reporters, according to the AP. “We’re very worried.”

Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez called it a “blow to the heart of democracy.”

“How and who articulated themselves vs. the only Bolivian government that did work for the humble? Legality was broken and the physical integrity of Evo, other leaders and the Bolivian people must be ensured,” Díaz-Canel tweeted.

Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said the union was prepared to send a monitoring team for any new elections.

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, told reporters that his country is “worried because we don’t know who is going to take on this process and because it was the intervention of the army calling on the president to step down that has created this power vacuum.”

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