New uncertainty in Bolivia

Bolivia's second senate vice president and opposition politician Jeanine Anez, center, wearing the Presidential sash, looks out the balcony of the Quemado palace after she declared herself interim president of the country, in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

The Associated Press

Evo Morales supporters say his departure was a coup d'etat and an act of discrimination against Bolivia's indigenous communities

Luis Andres Henao and Carlos Valdez

Associated Press

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivians have new uncertainty to grapple with now that opposition Sen. Jeanine Añez declared herself interim president of the crisis-torn Andean country just hours after Evo Morales flew off to self-exile in Mexico.

Questions remained about who might rally around Añez, while Morales' supporters angrily accused her of trying to seize power in her declaration Tuesday, raising the prospect of more troubles following weeks of clashes over the disputed Oct. 20 presidential election.

Some people took to the streets cheering and waving national flags Tuesday night after Añez claimed the post of Senate leader, the position next in line for the presidency. Furious supporters of Morales responded by trying to force their way to the Congress building in La Paz yelling, "She must quit!"

Añez, a women's rights activist and former TV presenter, seemed in a tenuous position. She declared herself interim president even though she lacked a quorum in the Senate after Morales' party boycotted the session, and she wasn't sworn in by anyone before appearing on a balcony of the old presidential palace wearing the presidential sash.

"My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country," she said. "They can never again steal our vote."

Morales resigned Sunday under pressure from Bolivia's military chief following the weeks of violent protests fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the Oct. 20 election, which he claimed to have won.

Although Añez met with Gen. Williams Kaliman, the armed forces commander, it was uncertain how much support she could count on from other power centers.

Morales resigned shortly after an Organization of American States audit reported widespread irregularities in the vote count. Bolivia's first indigenous president arrived in Mexico on Tuesday under a grant of asylum. But his resignation still needed to be approved by both houses of Congress, and lawmakers could not assemble the numbers needed for formal sessions.

Añez forged ahead anyway, arguing that Bolivia could not wait and be left in a power vacuum. After Morales quit, resignations by allies left vacancies in the only posts listed by the constitution as presidential successors — the vice president, the head of the Senate and the leader of the lower house.

Añez was a second-tier opposition figure until Morales, Latin America's longest serving leader resigned after nearly 14 years in power.

She immediately tried to set differences with the socialist leader. She greeted supporters at an old palace instead of the nearby modern 26-story presidential palace with a heliport that was built by Morales and that his foes had criticized as one of his excesses. She also carried a Bible, which had been banned by Morales from the presidential palace after he reformed the constitution and recognized the Andean earth deity Pachamama instead of the Roman Catholic Church.

Morales said on Twitter from Mexico that Añez's "self-proclamation" was an affront to constitutional government. "Bolivia is suffering an assault on the power of the people," he wrote.

Even before Añez acted, thousands of his supporters were in the streets of the capital in peaceful demonstrations clamoring for his return. Military fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated Morales loyalists who were blocked by police and soldiers from marching to the main square.

"We're not afraid!" shouted demonstrators, who believe Morales' departure was a coup d'etat and an act of discrimination against Bolivia's indigenous communities.

"Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights," said Maria Apasa, who like Morales is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.

Morales' detractors accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and rigging the election.

Morales was met at Mexico City's airport by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard after a flight from Bolivia on a Mexican government plane and repeated his allegations he had been forced to resign by a coup.

"The president of Mexico saved my life," Morales said, thanking President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for granting him asylum. He vowed to "continue the struggle."

Ebrard said Mexican diplomats had to scramble to arrange a flight path for the plane because some nations initially closed airspace to it. The plane stopped in Paraguay to refuel.

Morales' departure was a dramatic fall for the one-time llama shepherd from the Bolivian highlands and former coca growers' union leader who as president helped lift millions out poverty, increased social rights and presided over stability and high economic growth in South America's poorest country.

In the end, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto power. He ran for a fourth term after refusing to accept the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president — restrictions thrown out by a top court that critics contend was stacked in his favor.

Gen. Kaliman, the chief of the armed forces, announced a joint police-military operation in a television address Monday seeking to calm street fighting. He said the hope was to "avoid bloodshed and mourning of the Bolivian family," and he urged Bolivians to help restore peace.

Ronald Arias said he had left his home in El Alto and walked for three hours to his job in downtown La Paz because the cable car connecting the cities was suspended for security reasons and barricades blocked access to public transportation.

Arias, a native Aymara, said that thanks to Morales, his parents in the countryside gained access for the first time to running water and gas for cooking.

"I was so saddened by his resignation," he said. "A lot of people in El Alto shed tears for the president."


Associated Press writers Paola Flores in La Paz and Christopher Torchia in Mexico City contributed to this report.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

An indigenous (Aymara Indian), Evo Morales was elected in 2005 by the people. Re-elected several times due in part of the good economic prosperity under his administration. Non-indigenous just cannot get over the fact Bolivia elected an American Indian majority into power. With all the improvements, one cannot understand why the opposition staged a coup when the country was headed in the right direction. I lived in Bolivia in the 1990s and know the extreme racism targeting indigenous people that existed there. Here is a partial list of improvements in Bolivian society under Morales administration:

  1. Bolivia's economy grew from $25.8 billion in 2005 to $83.5 billion in 2017....after decades in the $20 billion range.
  2. per capita GDP decreased from $3,000 in 1999 to $2,900 in 2005 before Morales came on scene...then Morales was elected president and the GDP per capita went from $3,100 per capita to $7,500 in 2017.
  3. Poverty rate in Bolivia under Pres. Morales went from 52.1% when he took office in 2006 to 24.70% in 2017....after a century the country was in the range of 50-60% poverty rate.
  4. Infant mortality rate improved from 53.11 per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 35.3 in 2017.
  5. Unemployment rate went from 11.4% in 1997 to 9.2% in 2005 (the year Morales was elected) 4% unemployment in 2017.
  6. Manufacturing output increase dramatically under president Morales from $1.1 billion in 2005 to $4.17 billion in 2018...after decades in the $1 billion range.
  7. GDP (real growth rate) 1999 at 2%. Ever since Morales took office, with the exception of 2009...growth rate has been above 4.2% every year.
  8. Reserve on foreign exchange/gold increased under President Morales from $1.798 billion in 2005 to $8,287 billion in 2017.
  9. Market value of publicly traded shares increased from $2.2 billion in 2005 to $12.3 billion in 2017.
  10. Healthcare spending (per capita) went from $44 per capita in 2000; $52 per capita in 2005; to over $213 per capita in 2016. This represents a 310% increase under President Morales in a 10 year period. Why would they run a government out, when things were going the right way? I understand about term limits...but things are well, shouldn't they want that trend to continue? If Morales is definitely gone, they ought to be grateful and throw a "thank you" party for him. Thank him for accomplishments made in the economic, healthcare, and human rights sector. God's blessing on Bolivia...especially our Native brothers. Native Pride!