Turmoil In Bolivia

Nov 14, 2019
Originally published on November 14, 2019 5:27 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Bolivia is in turmoil after President Evo Morales left. Morales was president of Bolivia for almost 14 years. He's a socialist. He's gone to Mexico, where he's been granted asylum. He left behind a country that is angry and volatile and is currently being run by one of his opponents. NPR's Philip Reeves has this from the capital, La Paz.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JEANINE ANEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's the first day of work for Bolivia's new leader. Jeanine Anez is in a 16th century Spanish colonial palace in the heart of La Paz. Sentries with red tunics and silver swords guard the gates outside. Anez has summoned the media here to deliver a message to her people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "I want to make it clear," says Anez, "this is not a coup d'etat. This is about restoring constitutional order."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "The only coup-maker in this country was evil Morales," she says.

Bolivia is polarized and unstable right now. Evidence of that is just outside her palace door.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR CLOSING)

REEVES: Walked out of the palace. And literally one block down...

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

REEVES: ...This is going on. Tear gas is very intense. There are lots of soldiers in riot gear around, barricades.

Supporters of Morales are on the streets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

REEVES: Thousands are gathered in a big square close by. Many are Indigenous people who economically benefited from the Morales years. They're upset their hero, Bolivia's first Indigenous president, is gone.

MARISOL: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "This is a coup," says Marisol, a teacher who'll only give her first name for fear of reprisals. "We don't recognize Anez," she says. "We want Evo Morales back. He'll always be our president."

(SOUNDBITE OF JETS BUZZING)

REEVES: Military jets buzz the crowd, perhaps trying to intimidate them. It doesn't work.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

REEVES: Morales was forced out after evidence emerged of a rigged election. His downfall is another episode in the left-right conflict playing out in Latin America.

Many of these protesters are convinced Anez has taken power illegally. They say Congress was supposed to approve her appointment. It met Tuesday to discuss this. Morales' socialist party has the majority in Congress. They didn't show up. Anez went ahead anyway and gave herself the job with backing from a constitutional court.

DAVID MIRANDA: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "There should've been a quorum," says David Miranda, an accountant. There wasn't one. He believes Anez has broken the rules.

MIRANDA: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: "These people are demanding democracy, yet they trample on it," says Miranda.

This is the fractious atmosphere into which Anez steps as she assumes Bolivia's highest office. Nancy Vacaflor from Bolivia's ANF news agency believes Anez was right to move quickly.

NANCY VACAFLOR: (Through interpreter) We had more than two days of a country without government. That wasn't sustainable.

REEVES: Vacaflor says Anez now faces a huge task.

VACAFLOR: (Through interpreter) People won't easily accept her presidency, and it will be a very complicated transition due to the time factor.

REEVES: Under the constitution, Anez is supposed to hold elections within three months. She says she intends to do that. Yet, this first requires reforming the electoral authority and calming down the violence.

VACAFLOR: (Through interpreter) I actually don't know if she'll have enough time.

REEVES: Anez's supporters are more optimistic. They include a bank teller called Octavio. He won't give his full name for fear of reprisals. Octavio spends his nights manning street barricades, defending the city center from possible attack.

How cold is it at night?

OCTAVIO: It was really cold, raining. Last night, it rained all night long.

REEVES: And your family - what do they think?

OCTAVIO: Yes, I have family. Oh, of course they worry about it. They don't want me to stay here, but I have to stay here to make a better country for our kids.

REEVES: He's delighted Morales has fallen from power. Things will be better now, says Octavio.

OCTAVIO: We have a conflict right now you see here. But we're going to make a solution, definitely.

REEVES: Until this week, Anez was a senator and a staunch right-wing opponent of Morales. Suddenly, she finds herself in charge of the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

REEVES: Back in the palace, her message to the people is over. Anez has moved to a lavishly decorated hall, where she leads a ceremony swearing in a new army chief, as so often the case in Latin America, a key ally if she's to succeed.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, La Paz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.