Bolivia’s former President Evo Morales has fled his country on a Mexican air force plane after requesting asylum from his socialist ally, leaving a power vacuum in Bolivia as it descends further into chaos from election fraud protests.
Mexico’s Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard granted Morales’ asylum request at a press conference on Nov. 11.
Ebrard told reporters: “Several minutes ago, I received a phone call from [former] President Evo Morales to verbally and formally request political asylum in our country. The Mexican Foreign Ministry, after consulting Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero, made the decision to grant him asylum … for humanitarian reasons.”
The foreign secretary added that Morales’s “life and physical integrity are at risk in Bolivia,” and said he had requested cooperation from the Bolivian Foreign Ministry for Morales’ clear passage to the Central American country.
“We will immediately proceed to inform Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry that under international law, it should offer safe conduct,” he said.
Ya despegó el avión de la Fuerza Aérea Mexicana con Evo Morales a bordo. De acuerdo a las convenciones internacionales vigentes está bajo la protección del de México. Su vida e integridad están a salvo. pic.twitter.com/qLUEfvciux
— Marcelo Ebrard C. (@m_ebrard) November 12, 2019
Veteran socialist Morales, 60, was a former llama herder and coca leaf farmer, and had previously been championed by some leftists for nearly halving the poverty rate and bringing steady economic growth to Bolivia during his early years in office. He did so by nationalizing Bolivia’s abundant natural gas reserves in 2006.
However, he stepped down from his post on Nov. 10 in an undisclosed location amid mass protests and his losing the support of the police and military.
He was being criticized for manipulating Bolivia’s laws and its 2009 Constitution so that he could run for president a fourth time.
His party had tried to overturn the ban, but failed in a 2016 referendum. However, he still ran by having the country’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice declare term limits invalid under a 1969 international treaty.
Amid the ongoing violent protests, a report was released by the Organization of American States (OAS) on Nov. 10 that said it had found serious irregularities during an audit of the presidential election vote.
The audit found “clear manipulation” of the count and “serious security flaws,” which the OAS said meant the result should not stand and that new elections should be held.
The report called for the election to be annulled after it had found “clear manipulations” of the voting system which raised questions over Morales’ win over his main rival, Carlos Mesa.
After it was published, Bolivia’s army chief, Gen. Williams Kaliman, also publicly called for Morales to leave his post.
Following his resignation, Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, took to Twitter where he accused opposition leaders Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho of instigating a “coup” against him.
“[They] lie and try to blame us for the chaos and violence they have caused,” he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump branded Morales’ resignation as a “significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere.”
In a statement, he said: “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.
“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.”
Trump noted, “We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”
But Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised Morales, saying he chose to resign rather than put the lives of Bolivia’s citizens at risk.
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, Argentina’s President-elect Alberto Fernández, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel, and Uruguay’s President Tabaré Vázquez joined Obrador in describing Morales’s resignation as a “coup.” Nicaragua’s government, ruled by far-left leader Daniel Ortega, claimed “fascist practices” were at play.
Brazilian conservative President Jair Bolsonaro wrote “A great day” on Twitter, in an apparent reference to events in Bolivia.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have previously denounced Morales’s human rights record.
“Morales has created a hostile environment for human rights defenders that undermines their ability to work independently,” said HRW in a 2019 annual update.
According to Amnesty International, “Morales and his government minister, Carlos Romero, have publicly accused and threatened human rights defenders and organizations critical of their policies, demonizing them and hampering their important work.”
Epoch Times reporters Petr Svab and Jack Phillips, and Reuters contributed to this report.