Protest in Bolivia

Joshua Montano, Editor-in-Chief

In Bolivia, the widely unpopular privatization of natural gas in the early 2000s sparked protests from its people, resulting in populist candidate Evo Morales winning by a 20% margin in the elections. Harnessing the fervor of public fury, Morales used public opinion as a tool to gain political power and introduce sweeping legislation that nationalized the gas industry.


Through this political power, Morales catered to Bolivia’s indigenous populations, his main base of support and half of the country’s population. He made indigenous languages the official language of Bolivia, mandated indigenous languages to be taught in public schools, and launching rural projects that helped coca farmers.


Morales, who is part of the left-wing Movement Towards Socialism party (MAS), has sought to serve the impoverished, closing the inequality gap between rich and poor by raising the minimum wage and guaranteeing monthly pensions (called the “Renta Dignidad”). The World Bank commended Morales for decreasing poverty rates and fostering economic growth through “prudent economic policy”.


However, the tool of public opinion is a double-edged sword, and it turned on Morales after he sought to be elected for a fourth term (which was denied by the Constitution of Bolivia). After ignoring a referendum held on Feb. 21, 2016 to stop Morales from running again, Morales headed to the courts which decreed term limits violated his “human rights.”


As a result, that same fervor of public opinion which boosted his political career also destroyed it: protests around La Paz, Santa Cruz, and even Washington D.C. urged Morales to relinquish the presidency after claims from the Organization of American States (OAS) declared the 2019 presidential election results had irregularities. Morales subsequently offered fresh elections that would follow the suggestions of election auditors, but opponent candidate Carlos Mesa declared that he should not stand in any vote.


After protests resulting in Bolivian deaths and a MAS mayor being dragged through the streets of Bolivia with red paint and cut hair, Morales made the decision to resign the presidency and flee to Mexico for asylum.


“The experience overall was unforgettable, because the many protests that took place led to him resigning a few days later.” senior Karina Vasquez, who attended the protests in D.C., said. “It showed me the impact that people coming together can make on global issues.”


While MAS members of the Bolivian Congress boycotted the legislative body, the interim president of the opposition party, Jeanine Anez, is being more than provisional while the government changes hands from left to right.


With a Catholic Bible in hand, Anez sworn into office, vowing to fulfill her constitutional duty to set a new election date and “[participate] in operations to reestablish internal order.”


However, the disputed election of her interim presidency has caused protests by the indigenous populations who supported Morales. In past deleted tweets, which she claims she never sent but are accessible via archives, Anez has claimed that Morales is a “poor indian” and stated indigenous peoples’ new year celebrations as “satanic”. These tweets have stoked even more outrage in a polarized political climate.


In response to violent protests, Anez has used police forces to quell opposition, leading to 21 deaths. In response, the office of national ombudsman has urged Anez to “stop using armed security police and military forces.” Anez, however, has blamed Morales and his allies for plaguing the nation with violence, with the Anez’s interior minister, Arturo Murillo, claiming that they have found an assassination plot against her.