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Wednesday July 17, 2024

Superficial calm

By Olivia Arigho-stiles
January 08, 2020

After the coup in November in which ex-president Evo Morales was forcibly removed from power, the political situation in Bolivia has now settled into what appears to be, a period of calm.

Mass protests in the street have ceased, and so have the state killings. But this superficial tranquility belies developments which point to a deepening erosion of democracy in Bolivia.

At least 30 people were killed, mostly by state forces, in the disturbances which followed the disputed elections of October 20. Indeed, the Bolivian military and police killed more protestors in November 2019 than in the entire previous ten years of government under Morales, according to research by anthropologist Carwill Bjork-James. With Morales a political refugee in Argentina, the de facto government is led by President Jeanine Áñez, a far-right Christian politician with a history of tweeting racist comments.

Despite being a transitional regime, it has already announced sweeping changes including the privatization of the economy and the re-establishing of diplomatic ties with the USA and Israel. Hundreds of foreign citizens have been expelled from the country, including over 700 Cuban doctors and Venezuelan diplomats.

Dozens of Bolivians have been arrested on spurious charges; in a fresh crackdown on free speech, on New Year’s Eve journalists Alejandra Salinas (who is also a student at UMSA university), Orestes Sotomayor and Yesmy Marquez were detained and accused of ‘inciting terrorism’ and “sedition” for criticizing the government on blogs and social media.

Last week also saw a drastic deterioration in diplomatic relations between Bolivia, Mexico and more unexpectedly, Spain. It began on Saturday 21 December when two Spanish diplomats who were paying a courtesy call to the Mexican embassy had their cars blocked by Bolivian police and civilians who suspected these might be used to smuggle ‘fugitives’ out of the embassy.

The Mexican government under left-wing President AMLO is providing asylum in the embassy to several ex-Ministers and officials who are subject to arrest warrants by the interim government, most notably Juan Ramon Quintana, the ex-Defense minister. Ex-president and current representative of the interim government, Jorge “Tuto” Quiroga went so far as to accuse Spain of launching a military ‘extraction mission’.

On Monday 23 December, in an escalation of tensions, Bolivia expelled the Mexican Ambassador Maria Teresa Mercado and two senior Spanish diplomats. Invoking the strident rhetoric of right-wing nationalism, in a press conference on the same day, Áñez declared that Bolivia would not be ‘a colony’ and would protect its democracy after ‘14 years of dictatorship’ under Evo Morales and the MAS.

It should be noted that Morales, the first indigenous president in Bolivia, was elected with decisive majorities in all elections since 2005, making him perhaps the most popular leader to rule in twentieth-century Bolivia.

Excerpted from: ‘Period of Calm Obscures Deepening Crisis of Democracy in Bolivia’.

Counterpunch.org