My dear Bolivia: A country in political chaos

I was recently in Bolivia, traveling and working as a freelance journalist. I wanted to cover the elections on the 20th of October but was not prepared for how the elections were going to develop.

Police are very much present during the protests. Trying to keep order and using tear gas. Photo: Josefine Aude Raas.

After Sunday the 20th of October a lot of things changed in Bolivia. Or actually it all started on the evening of the 20th when the votes were being counted and it all of a sudden went black. The official electoral committee decided to hold back the final results. This was the beginning of what later has been called fraud and has sent thousands of Bolivians to the streets — both supporters and the opposition wanting their voices to be heard.

A lot of stuff has been going down since that Sunday on the 20th. I was staying in the middle of it close to the Plaza Avaroa in Sopocachi the week after the elections. And what I experienced was a people tired of corruption and tired of the government withholding information. Day after day people took to the streets saying the election was fraud, that Evo Morales was a dictator and that the country would turn into a new Venezuela.

It ended up with clashes upon clashes between protesters and government-enforced police. Protesters would start blocking streets and lighting fires, and police would start throwing tear gas. Now tear gas was a first for me and I would not mind never getting in contact with it again. I was trapped in a café for several hours filled up with tear gas — but it was worse on the street. One evening the police even threw tear gas into my hostel because demonstrators were trying to hide in there.

In a café with protesters and police clashing outside getting tear gas into the café. Photo: Josefine Aude Raas.

From my point of view, it did not seem like a fair fight but it looked like a frustrated government trying to get things under control.

The demonstrations continued with increasing force — from both sides. About a week after, the votes were finally counted, and it showed Evo Morales as the winner with just enough votes to avoid going to a second round against Carlos Mesa. Before the vote count had mysteriously stopped, the pre-election polls showed the race was close enough to require a runoff between the two opponents. But Morales claimed himself the winner, declared a state of emergency and later accused his opponents of mounting a coup. A lot of things have been going down and it is not easy to keep track anymore.

Furthermore, international media are all showing different sides of what is happening. Most are supporting Morales’ claim that a coup has taken place — a military takeover. But some of my local contacts, and if you check local media, are saying that no coup has taken place. The OEA (The Organization of American States) evaluated the election and agreed there had been “manipulation” and called for the results to be canceled. First Morales agreed with the OEA and wanted a new election, but then he lost the support of Bolivia’s armed force and decided to step back as president. Several of his government officials also decided to leave office.

People are angry and frustrated. They want their voices to be heard. Photo: Josefine Aude Raas.

So is it a coup or did Morales resign because of election fraud and the loss of his supporters? That is what is dividing the country and the international community. Many Latin American countries support Morales — including Mexico where he is currently staying because he was fearing for his life in Bolivia. Or at least that is what he says on his Twitter.

As of now, Morales is in Mexico under the protection of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the deputy head of Bolivia’s Senate, Jeanine Áñez, is acting president and promising new elections as soon as possible. All the while people in Bolivia are still taking to the streets and clashes are turning more and more violent with at least three killed and several injured.

Evo Morales: the first indigenous president

Evo Morales is a controversial man, as all the demonstrations suggest. He was the first elected indigenous leader in Bolivia back in 2006 and has been the president for almost 14 years. He was re-elected three times (which is actually also controversial, since a Bolivian president normally only is allowed to sit for two terms).

He is a man who brought change to Bolivia, especially for the indigenous people. He included several indigenous languages (36) in the constitution. He also raised the minimum wages for the average Bolivian. Before he was president the average salary was around 500 bolivianos and today it is around 2100 bolivianos. Furthermore, the poverty rate fell from 59 % in 2004 to 39 % in 2014, and some of the people I interviewed, thank him for creating a space for them — a middle class, whereas before there only existed a lower and an upper class.

Now, this seems like a tribute to Morales, but it is to give you a better picture and help understand why so many people still support him and why some of the demonstrators are advocating for his presidency.

But even though a lot of people still vote for him, Morales has become more and more unpopular and people in the streets, and the ones I have talked to, are calling him self-centered and consumed with power. This is best exemplified by the following: in 2017 Morales had built a huge museum in his hometown Orinoca. The prize was around $7m. He named it the Museum of the Democratic and Cultural Revolution, but people normally just call it the Evo-museum because it is mainly about him.

After almost 14 years in power, some argue that it is time for a change. A lot of people are hoping for new elections and democracy restored. Others believe Morales will return and run for president again with support from the international society.

I’m a journalist, Latin America addict, language nerd and tree hugger. Stories will follow in Danish and English