After accusations of fraud and mass street protests, which culminated in military involvement, Evo Morales, Bolivia’s leader since 2005, resigned and fled to Mexico. That was October 2019. A caretaker government took power, and on Sunday the long-delayed election was re-held. Results are still coming in but it looks as if Evo Morales’ chosen successor has won by a 20-point margin.
In a country where almost half the population is indigenous, Evo Morales was Bolivia’s first indigenous president. He nationalised the resource extraction industries, fought inequality, and spent big on social policies. It worked, in part thanks to a massive commodity boom. GDP tripled, the poverty rate fall from 60% to 35% over his term and a country long been dominated by a European descended elite gave the indigenous flag equal status in 2009.
He also introduced a referendum to eliminate Presidential term limits (it failed). He got them eliminated anyway thanks to a favorable decision from the highest court. In the 2019 election, it is alleged he tampered with the vote to push himself over the 20 point lead required to avoid a run-off (it is worth noting that no one denies he was double digits ahead of his opponent). His supporters counter that his removal by the military and reactionary opponents was a coup.
What is clear is that a majority of Bolivians want his project to continue, even if he will no longer be part of it.
The whole story is polarising and news coverage tends to reflect the ideology of the source. For a more critical take, which clearly hoped his successor would lose the election, check out this piece in the NYT. This piece by Jacobin: Evo Morales Was the Americas’ Greatest President speaks for itself.
6 thoughts on “An election in Bolivia”
I lived in Bolivia at various stages, most recently 2016-17. Even the person I lived with (left-leaning) has gone back and forth in the last year due to both sides’ evils. At first Jeanine Añez looked like she was doing a great job but eventually it became obvious she was backed by right-wing weirdos, so that side was no good. But Evo was so dictator-y at the same time that my friend really feared his return. You’re right it’s polarising, you have very clichéd Latin American lefties in pubs talking about coup d’états who really have no clue how it is on the ground.
As an unashamed progressive, I won’t deny the pang of satisfaction at MAS’ victory, but I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment in your last sentence – leftists do a disservice to their values when they whitewash the crimes or indiscretions of those they sympathize with.
What did you do in Bolivia by the way Marty?
Me in Bolivia wasn’t earth-shattering. I studied Spanish at uni, did a year practicing it/teaching English a bit in 2006 in the city of Cochabamba (funnily enough I was there for Evo’s first election win). Went back ten years later to live with my girlfriend, worked for a textbook company visiting schools.
I liked your post on Evo Morales, is very well structured and balanced. Whats next for Bolivia?, with the commodity boom over, social programs will be more difficult to support and part of the success of Evo was his handout of money when there was plenty.
I want to make you a suggestion, take a look at Mexico, we have a populist president now and things are moving very fast and very interesting, he is fighting neoliberalism but with out a clear idea of the system that will replace it. Mexico can be a good subject for a future essay.
Thanks Fernando. Mexico and AMLO has been on my mind for a while but I haven’t been sure how to approach it. Is there anything you’d recommend that you’ve read and enjoyed?