Trump Lauds Bolivians for Ousting Socialist President

November 11, 2019 Updated: November 11, 2019

President Donald Trump praised the Bolivian people for forcing the resignation of socialist President Evo Morales, ending his 14-year rule after three weeks of intense protests.

Trump called the resignation “a significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere” and criticized Morales for an “attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people.”

Morales was barred from seeking a fourth term under Bolivia’s 2009 Constitution. His party tried to change the rule, but failed in a 2016 referendum. However, he still ran, after having the country’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice declare term limits invalid under a 1969 international treaty.

Morales resigned Nov. 10 after the Organization of American States (OAS) reported significant irregularities in the Oct. 20 election, and after he lost the support of the police and military.

Gen. Williams Kaliman, commander in chief of the Bolivian military, asked Morales to resign on Nov. 10 to “help restore peace and stability.”

“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 said in a Nov. 11 statement.

“These events send a strong signal to the illegitimate regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua that democracy and the will of the people will always prevail. We are now one step closer to a completely democratic, prosperous, and free Western Hemisphere.”

Morales announced his resignation from an undisclosed location. He accused his election rival, Carlos Mesa, and protest leader Luis Fernando Camacho of being part of a conspiracy and a “coup” against him.

His socialist allies in Latin America, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernández, described the move as a “coup.” Nicaragua’s government, ruled by far-left leader Daniel Ortega, claimed “fascist practices” were at play during Morales’s resignation.

Brazilian conservative President Jair Bolsonaro wrote “A great day” on Twitter, in an apparent reference to events in Bolivia.

New Election

Morales’s departure has been marked by widespread celebrations in the landlocked Central American nation, home to about 11 million.

A demonstrator shouts during a protest against Bolivia’s President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia, on Nov. 10, 2019. (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Some, however, have taken the chaos as an opportunity to loot and burn businesses.

“People are trying to cause chaos,” said Edgar Torrez, a 40-year-old business administrator in the capital La Paz, saying politicians and criminals were all taking advantage of the situation.

Under Bolivian law, the head of the Senate would normally take over provisionally. However, Senate President Adriana Salvatierra also stepped down Nov. 10, as did many of Morales’s allies in government and Parliament.

According to the Bolivian constitution, another in line for the presidency is Senate Second Vice President Jeanine Añez, a member of the opposition Democratic Union party and senator for the department of Beni in the country’s lowland northeast.

Añez flew into La Paz, saying she was willing to take over. On arrival at El Alto airport, she was met by an Air Force helicopter to be taken to a military academy before traveling to Congress, another senator said.

“If I have the support of those who carried out this movement for freedom and democracy, I will take on the challenge, only to do what’s necessary to call transparent elections,” said Añez.

Speaking tearfully about the crisis, she said the Senate would look to hold a session on Nov. 12 and urged members of Morales’s Movement for Socialism (MAS) party to find a constitutional solution and interim president.

Morales’s resignation still needs to be approved by the Legislative Assembly, convened by both chambers of Congress. That appeared set to be delayed until at least Nov. 13 after the Chamber of Deputies said it would suspend a planned meeting on Nov. 12 as some of its members were unable to reach La Paz, citing “force majeure” and insecurity.

Protests

Protests against Morales started shortly after the election. Preliminary results showed that Morales didn’t have the requisite 10-point lead over Mesa and a second-round runoff election was in order. Yet, on the evening of Oct. 20, the government stopped updating the results. When the updates resumed 24 hours later, Morales had a 10.12 percent lead, marking him the victor.

On Nov. 6, the opposition published a 190-page report alleging fraud, including some localities reporting more votes for Morales than there were registered voters.

Police forces were seen joining anti-government protests, while the military said it wouldn’t “confront the people” over the issue.

Four days later, the OAS reported that it found “clear manipulations” of the voting system.

“The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case,” the preliminary OAS report had stated.

Morales Rule

Morales has been known for inflaming rhetoric against “American imperialism” and for nationalizing Bolivia’s abundant natural gas reserves upon taking office in 2006. He’s also been criticized by other leftists for not being socialist enough, such as by allowing foreign companies to remain in the country and act as service providers for the gas industry.

Gas exports continued their previous soaring trend in the first several years of Morales’s rule, benefiting from high gas prices. The revenue has allowed the government to subsidize fuel prices and substantially increase government spending. The massive poverty rate—nearly half of the population living on less than $5.50 a day in 2006—was nearly halved in the first several years under Morales. Yet, the rate was already dropping at a similar rate since its peak in 2000, roughly mirroring the country’s booming gas exports. As gas prices dropped, the expansion stopped in 2015 and exports have somewhat receded since. The poverty rate has virtually stagnated since 2014, along with government revenues. Yet government spending has continued to climb, leading to sharp increases in national debt.

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.”

Jack Phillips and Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Petr on Twitter: @petrsvab
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