Evo Morales has taken great strides in improving Bolivia’s economy, dismantling poverty, and improving the lives of many indigenous Bolivians. Why, then, has Morales become the latest victim of a militaristic coup?
There are many factors contributing to the latest resistance against the former president, from Morales eliminating term limits to allegedly tampering with election votes. Along with coup led by the military targeted toward the former president, the current examples of democratic backsliding in Bolivia do not foretell an optimistic future for the country.
The socialist leader first encountered controversy when he petitioned the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal to eliminate presidential term limits and, by a slim margin, won.
The elimination of term limits has never boded well for democracy. Whether it be China’s Xi Jinping or Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the absence of term limits can and have emboldened leaders to stay in power as long as possible. Larry Diamond outlines the aspects of a liberal democracy in his book, Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. He claims a key attribute to a liberal democracy is “party alternation in government.” Abolishing term limits could effectively diminish the possibility of alternations of power within the executive branch as well as transform Bolivia into an illiberal democracy.
The process in which term limits were eliminated in Bolivia is nothing short of executive aggrandizement. Nancy Burmeo explains in an article entitled “On Democratic Backsliding” that gradually and incrementally chipping away at checks on the executive power, like term limits, through legal channels is just as dangerous as if done illegally.
However, the controversy surrounding Morales came to a head when the recent presidential election sparked suspicion.
When questions regarding the legitimacy of Bolivia’s October presidential election started to arise, violence, protests and riots became increasingly present as tensions intensified. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s president of almost 14 years, instantly became a pariah among detractors, enduring accusations of tampering with the latest election.
The Organization of American States reports that there was “intentional manipulation” and “serious irregularities” within the election, claiming that the signatures of poll officials were falsified. Following the reports of alleged voter fraud, Morales was forced to resign by the head of the country’s military and police.
Despite the circumstances regarding the latest election, Morales was still the victim of both a classic coup d’état and promissory coup. And this has been used as a catalyst for Morales’ right-wing rivals to harness political power. One politician that has garnered notoriety following Morales’ exile is Jeanine Anez, the conservative interim president of Bolivia.
Morales argues the reasons for him being ejected from the presidency are completely different than what is being asserted by the interim government. He stated, “My sin was being indigenous, leftist, and anti-imperialist.”
However, many have claimed this was not a coup but rather a necessity to ensure democracy. Burmeo addresses this common response. In the case of promissory coups, the ouster will often claim the coup was “a defense of democratic legality and make a public promise to hold elections and restore democracy as soon as possible.” This has undoubtedly been the case when it comes to the tumultuous circumstances surrounding Morales.
All of these instances of backsliding regarding the Bolivian government do not bode well for the future of Bolivia’s democracy. It seems that the government is fighting corruption with increased corruption. With the elimination of checks, alleged voter fraud, and blatant coup d’états, time will only tell if this trend of backsliding that can be observed in Bolivia will continue.
Aleem, Zeeshan. “Bolivia’s Coup Is Still Happening.” The Nation, 18 Nov. 2019, https://www.thenation.com/article/bolivia-coup-morales/
Bermeo, Nancy. “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy, 2016.
Diamond, Larry. Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation. 1999.
“Evo Morales: Bolivian leader’s turbulent presidency.” BBC, 10 Nov. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-12166905.
“Evo Morales: Overwhelming evidence of election fraud in Bolivia, monitors say.” BBC, 6 Dec. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-50685335.
Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt