Monday, November 11, 2019

Morales resigns, pressured by military and violent protests (Nov. 11, 2019)

Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned yesterday, leaving a power vacuum and a country torn by violent protests against and for his government. Morales said he was resigning to avoid further violence against his supporters. (La Razón, Página 12) Morales spoke last night, alongside vice president Álvaro García Linera who also resigned. He said pressure for his ouster amounted to a coup, after opposition protesters were joined by police over the weekend and the military commander-in-chief called on Morales to resign "for the good of Bolivia." (New York Times, Guardian)

Protests have been ongoing since Oct. 20's presidential election, in which official results granted Morales a fourth term. Opposition forces said there were irregularities in the vote count, and yesterday an OAS audit came to the same conclusion, and recommended annulling the vote. In an unprecedented move, Morales agreed to a new election yesterday, but that failed to calm waters. Over the course of the day, leading figures in Morales' MAS party resigned and the military  launched operations that appeared intended to protect protesters from armed bands of Morales supporters, reports the New York Times.

Through weeks of unrest, Morales never deployed state forces or called his supporters out to battle the opposition, notes the Washington Post. “They made a conscious choice to avoid sustained, violent conflict,” said Kathy Ledebur, the director of the Andean Information Network in Bolivia.

Police troops joining anti-government protesters starting Friday was a significant blow to Morales' ability to remain in power, report the Guardian and El País

La Razón reports that there was extensive looting and acts of violence last night in La Paz. Morales' house in Cochabamba was looted yesterday, minutes after the president resigned. (Página 12)

It remains unclear for now who will take power, as several officials in the line of succession have resigned. At least 17 officials resigned over the course of the weekend. (La Prensa, La Razón) A senator from the opposition Democratic Union party, Jeanine Añez, said yesterday she would assume the interim presidency and call a congressional session on today.

Morales' whereabouts remained unclear today. There were reports yesterday that he had flown to Chimoré, in Cochabamba state. Mexico offered to grant him asylum if he requested it. The commander of Bolivia’s police force said in a television interview that there was no warrant for Morales’s arrest. Mexican foreign affairs minister Marcelo Ebrard said yesterday that  20 other members of the government’s executive and legislature were already in the Mexican ambassador’s residence in La Paz.

Conservative leader Luis Fernando Camacho, who has become the leader of protests demanding Morales' ouster, called for followers to stay in the streets for two more days. (La Razón)

The former head of the electoral tribunal, who resigned yesterday, was arrested in relation to the Oct. 20 vote count, according to EFE.


Lula Livre

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was released from jail on Friday, due to a Supreme Court ruling that a person can be imprisoned only after all appeals to higher courts have been exhausted. (See Friday's post.) He is appealing two corruption related sentences, and could return to jail if he loses in either case. Lula has denied wrongdoing.

On Saturday he spoke to thousands of supporters gathered outside the headquarters of the metallurgic union he once led, in the outskirts of São Paulo. “During 580 days, I prepared myself spiritually, prepared myself to not have hatred, to not have thirst for revenge,” he said. “Why did I prepare? Because I wanted to prove that, even though jailed by them, I slept with my conscience much more at ease than theirs.” (Guardian)

Though Lula cannot run for office unless the criminal convictions are overturned, his release pits him as a charismatic voice of opposition to current President Jair Bolsonaro. The opposition has been largely "rudderless" and divided in the Bolsonaro era, writs Ernesto Londoño in the New York Times. Lula called on supporters to win back the presidency in Brazil's 2022 elections, on Saturday. (Associated Press)

The Supreme Court decision stands to affect thousands of inmates, including several high-profile people convicted on corruption charges. It overturns a decision from three years ago that critics say violated the constitutional presumption of innocence. Corruption prosecutors say it will make their work more difficult.

Lula's release was a setback for Justice Minister Sergio Moro, who oversaw the Car Wash probe and convicted the former president when serving as a lower-circuit judge, reports the Wall Street Journal. Leaked conversations between Moro and Car Wash prosecutors, reported on this year, appear to show politically motivated irregularities in the case against Lula.

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Upheaval in Latin America has diplomatic relations in the region in flux. Morales' resignation and Lula's release from jail added to an already polarized scene this week. Lula himself was one of the first to call Morales' ouster a coup -- along with Argentine president-elect Alberto Fernández -- while Bolsonaro celebrated that Bolivia's leader was pushed out by reports of electoral fraud. Colombia asked the OAS to call an emergency meeting regarding Bolivia. Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro and Cuba's Miguel Díaz-Canel voiced support for Morales. Mexico’s government rejected what it called a military operation under way in Bolivia, (El País, EFE, Reuters
  • Protesters around the region are essentially demanding for equality and democracy, argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times op-ed. "The new and old Latin American middle classes are clamoring — at the ballot box, in the streets, on social media — for an end to corruption and violence, but also for the type of welfare state that can reduce inequality, improve public services and raise incomes."
  • Colombia's "Estamos Listas" women's political movement aims to address issues of violence, femicide, poverty, and other hardships facing women in the country. Three women won seats in October's local elections, "a significant and symbolic win for a burgeoning political movement centered around a feminist agenda," reports Foreign Policy.
  • The European Union extended sanctions against Venezuela for another year, reports Efecto Cocuyo. EU foreign ministers decided to prolong an arms embargo and ban on equipment sales that could be used against demonstrators until Nov. 14, 2020, reports the Associated Press.
  • The United Nations' human rights committee called on Mexico to demilitarize the National Guard and to quickly resolve the case of the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students. The committee gave Mexico two years to advance on both issues. (Televisa)
  • Homicide prosecutions are rare in Mexico -- the Washington Post analyzes whether the high profile killings of nine Mormon women and children last week might prove an exception
  • Mexico needs "a comprehensive approach to fighting the cartels that includes more social spending but also more and better-equipped security forces, and an improved justice system," argues a Washington Post editorial that calls on the U.S. to support such an approach.
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