Pelo Mundo

Elections in Bolivia: the challenge for democracy


17/10/2020 12:11

(J. Karita/AP Photo)

Créditos da foto: (J. Karita/AP Photo)


Since Evo Morales' forced resignation on November 10, 2019, fin the aftermath of a controversial election, Bolivia has been ruled by an unelected government, which came to power supported by the main opposition political parties in confusing circumstances, to say the least. The disruption resulting from the constitutional succession raised to power an interim president, Jeanine Añez, whose mission was to call new elections within three months. They will finally take place on October 18, 2020.

After inaugurating her government with the persecution of leaders and supporters of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) [Movement to Socialism], defamed to the category of "hordes" and accused of "terrorism", along with threats against the "seditious" press and a repression that left at least 33 dead and hundreds injured, the interim president has certainly gone far beyond her mission.

In addition to the country withdrawal from ALBA and UNASUR, the systematic replacement of its ambassadors or more recently the promotion of military personnel by presidential decree, the transitional government has made, without the support of the Bolivian people's vote, a series of decisions that concern democracy advocates around the world.

Extortion and freedom restriction

If the return of former exiles, accused by Morales' government of participating in terrorist organizations or extortion of public funds, was hailed by the Añez government as a sign of a return to "normality," today, several hundred former MAS leaders and social organizations are indicted with no reaction from those who, in the fall, mobilized in the name of democracy.

Several international reports have denounced Añez government's abuses, including ta Human Rights Watch’s, which mentions "a political attack on Morales and his supporters" and points to "restrictions of expression freedom and excessive and arbitrary use of pretrial detentions."

The exposure of fake Facebook accounts being used to spread government propaganda, the controversial assignment of heads of national state companies, the liberalization of agricultural exports and the decree authorizing the new GMO species crops for the benefit of agribusiness in the rich region of Santa Cruz, a MAS’ bulwark opposition, are but elements that should alert to the democratic crisis that Bolivia is going through.

Last June, the interim government ventured to donate state land to the agribusiness sector and, under the false pretext of fighting Covid-19. They also dared to make a transfer of US$600 million of public funds to pay off debts of large private companies in Santa Cruz (among its main beneficiaries was the new minister Branko Marinkovic). The desire to reorient public policies in favor of large private companies also meant to authorize a bank interest rates increase, to reduce the tax rate for large companies and to attempt to privatize Cochabamba's public electricity distribution company (ELFEC).

Besides the purchase of overpriced and unusable hospitals’ ventilator scandal, which led to the arrest of the Minister of Health, loans made to the Bolivian state to deal with the health crisis, including the $327 million agreed with the IMF without the approval of Congress, illustrate the state of widespread corruption in the country: at least 20 cases of corruption and irregularities affected ministers or people close to the Añez government.

Under the pretext of "saving" and redirecting the budget to the health sector, the executive closed its embassies in Iran and Nicaragua early June. In the same vein, the Ministries of Culture, Sport and Communication were placed under the oversight of other ministries, with reduced budgets and competencies, and public television programs in Amerindian languages were abolished. And it has been in the name of the health crisis that the Añez government aspired to postpone the elections, finally scheduled for October 18, 2020.

Repression and violence

The repression continues under the strict control of Arturo Murillo, the Homeland Minister who seems to be sometimes the one who really governs the country. In a few months, the Bolivian state's spending on importing weapons to equip the police forces reached US$ 15 million, 18 times the amount spent in 2019. While violence is continuously targeted at MAS militants, there are attempts to prevent Louis Arce from being eligible. He belongs to the same party, and polls show him as the front-runner in the coming election. And the common interests between the Santa Cruz powerful autonomous agro-industrialists and Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil raise doubts about the intentions of the Bolivian "democratic bloc" that allegedly favors respect for the vote rather than preventing the return of MAS to power. Such suspicions were revived by the recent Bolivian Minister Karen Longaric statements before the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament, strongly criticized by the vast majority of parliamentary groups.

As Lula's personal experience in Brazil shows, it has become commonplace to resort to political maneuvers, in South America, to set up electoral or judicial attempts aiming at destabilizing and inhibit inconvenient candidates. The accusation of voter fraud that precipitated Evo Morales' departure last November was largely based on a report by the Organization of American States (OAS), now questioned by several studies, widely reported by the international press. A similar process appears to be used by the current interim government, which points to the threat of future fraud.

Certain international bodies, in particular the OAS and the European Union, which did not hesitate in 2019 to call for a second round of elections, currently demonstrate intriguing neutrality. The peaceful outcome of this election can only be guaranteed if all Bolivian citizens residing in Bolivia or elsewhere have unrestricted and transparent access to this decisive vote, and if their results are respected by all candidates.

In a context of significant violence committed during the election campaign, especially against the MAS, it is essential to increase vigilance on the conditions under which these extremely polarized elections will take place. The Bolivian people, strongly affected by Covid-19 crisis, should not, under any circumstances, relive the tragic events of November 2019 and must be able to find a democratic way out of this conflict and this polarization of society. Not only is the Bolivian political actors responsibility at stake, but the international community’s.

The following professors have signed this manifest:

Victor Audubert (Univ. Sorbonne Paris Nord, IDPS),

Olivier Compagnon (Univ. Sorbonne Nouvelle, CREDA),

Hervé Do Alto (Univ. Côte d'Azur, ERMES),

Élise Gadea (Univ. Sorbonne Nouvelle, CREDA/IFEA),

Pablo Laguna (Univ. Sorbonne Nouvelle, CREDA),

Claude Le Gouill (Univ. Sorbonne Nouvelle, CREDA),

Françoise Martinez (Univ. Paris 8, LER),

Baptiste Mongis (Univ. Sorbonne Nouvelle, CREDA),

Franck Poupeau (CNRS, CREDA).

*Tradução para o inglês: César Locatelli

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