NEW YORK (Nov. 11, 2019) – Evo Morales resigned from the Bolivian presidency yesterday, following three weeks of massive peaceful protests triggered by overwhelming evidence of fraud. The Organization of American States (OAS) determined there had been “clear manipulation” in the outcome of the Oct. 20 presidential election, sparking the citizen movement that forced Morales to step down.
“After Bolivia’s election fraud was confirmed, there was no doubt that the Morales regime needed to step down and face justice. What’s important now is that Morales’s party leadership demand its violent mobs stop attacking protesters and destroying property,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “For a successful return to democracy, Bolivian lawmakers must ensure that the selection of the transitional government is as transparent and law-abiding as possible.”
In office since 2006, Morales had illegally sought a fourth term as president on Oct. 20, in defiance of a 2016 referendum in which Bolivians decisively voted to uphold existing term limits. Over his almost 14 years in office, the Morales government has systematically violated freedom of expression and assembly, and stacked the courts with his partisans. With the judiciary under his control, Morales has both relentlessly persecuted political opponents and independent journalists, and has been able to repeatedly violate the term limits provisions of the new Constitution his party advocated for in 2008.
On the day of the presidential election, the Electoral Organ (OEP) began publishing preliminary results through their quick count system, the Safe and Fast Transmission of Electoral Records (TREP). But around 8 p.m., suddenly and without explanation, the results stopped being published, with nearly 84 percent of the precincts reporting. At that point, incumbent Evo Morales led the runner-up Carlos Mesa by a little over 7 percent of the vote, almost 3 points short of the necessary 10 percent lead needed to avoid a runoff election.
The OEP only resumed reporting the results 24 hours later, and shortly after announced that Morales had obtained just enough votes to avoid a runoff. This unlikely upswing in Morales’ favor was noted with alarm by observers from the OAS and the European Union.
In the following weeks, more irregularities in the election started to surface, and analyses by both the OAS and organizations directly involved in the process exposed them. Last week, a report by the Ethical Hacking Group, an IT consulting firm hired by the Bolivian government to audit the safety of the election, concluded that because of the alterations in the code and databases, breaches in protocol, and the use of servers not originally intended for this process, the election result should be declared “null and void.”
A preliminary report by OAS echoed some of the findings by EHC, but also raised alarms regarding a significant number of cases of possible forgery of signatures in electoral records, particularly in absentee ballots from Argentina, subpar security procedures when handling sensitive documents, and a statistically-improbable swing in the tally of the last votes.
While both organizations concluded that Morales would have likely won a plurality of the vote, the abrupt change in the last five percent of the count could not have realistically accounted for the final reported outcome of a 10.56 percent lead by Morales. That lead put him just above the cutoff to avoid a runoff vote in which the opposition would have likely prevailed, as the first-round contest was split among three anti-Morales political parties.
Morales and his cabinet took a defiant posture against the allegations and called on their bases to defend the government. Statements by Morales himself, Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramón Quintana, and Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta, repeatedly taunted protesters and claimed that if they did not accept the results of the elections and put a stop to the demonstrations, violence would escalate.
Over the past weekend, the protests reached a tipping point. On Nov. 9, the police throughout the country declared a mutiny against the government, and joined protesters in calling for new elections. On Nov. 10, the OAS published a report concluding that massive fraud took place and called for the government to hold new elections. Immediately after, Morales and Vice President Alvaro García Linera were reported to have fled from La Paz to the Chapare region in Cochabamba, where Morales still has strong support from coca producers.
While Morales was reportedly in Cochabamba and without the support of the police, Morales’s supporters ambushed the buses of protesters on their way to La Paz in Vila Vila (department of Oruro), taking many of them as hostages and injuring nearly 40 people in the process. A female student demonstrator who managed to escape the violent Morales’s supporters, reported her colleagues had been beaten and sexually abused. Another group of protestors on their way to La Paz from Potosí was met in Oruro with live ammunition from pro-government paramilitary groups, leaving several wounded.
In the way of these attacks, Marco Antonio Pumari, an indigenous leader leading the Potosí civic committee – who largely headed the country-wide protests along with Santa Cruz Civic Committee leader Luis Fernando Camacho – called Morales a “murderer,” asked for his immediate resignation, and called on the military in a televised public statement to either protect the Potosí protesters or to hand them their guns so they could defend themselves.
In reaction to this, the military responded by announcing they were going to fulfill their constitutional role of protecting the citizenry by moving to defend civilians against any paramilitary actors.
Hours later, and in the wake of several resignations by high-ranking government officials, the head of Bolivia’s armed forces General Williams Kaliman appeared on national television, saying, “After analysing the internal conflict situation, we suggest the president of the state renounce his presidential mandate, allowing for peace to be restored and the maintenance of stability for the good of Bolivia.”
Shortly after, both Morales and Garcia Linera announced that they were resigning, “as a result of an ongoing coup” and in order to prevent “more violence” from being carried out “by Camacho and [opposition candidate Carlos] Mesa” against government officials. According to government sources, anti-Morales protesters had broken into and vandalized one of Evo Morales’s houses in Cochabamba and set fire to both his sister’s and Oruro’s governor houses in that region.
Morales’s recorded resignation purposefully omitted any mention of prominent civic and indigenous leader Marco Antonio Pumari, who was more prominently involved in the protests than opposition candidate Mesa, in order to support his government’s the narrative that he represents a unified indigenous movement.
Other traditionally pro-Morales and largely indigenous groups such as the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), the Confederación Única de Trabajadores Sindicales y Campesinos (CSUTCB), and the controversial Aymara group Ponchos Rojos, also sided with the civic movement on Sunday and asked for Morales’s resignation.
On Oct. 30, days before the resignation, armed pro-government groups in Montero, in the department of Santa Cruz, clashed with protesters, killing two people. A week later, another pro-democracy activist died hours after he was beaten into a coma by pro-government mobs.
While some pro-democracy protesters did attack and even set fire to some of the houses of political figures from the ruling party, including Evo Morales’ sister’s home in Oruro, the civic protesters have overwhelmingly abstained from resorting to physical violence. In contrast, pro-Morales mobs are responsible for the deaths of at least three civilians – Mario Salvatierra, Marcelo Terrazas, and Limbert Guzmán Vásquez.
Even after the party leadership had announced their resignations, including President Evo Morales and Vice President García Linera, violent mobs of Morales supporters continued to attack civilians, loot businesses, and burn houses in La Paz and Cochabamba.
Earlier today, a group of pro-Morales protesters armed with dynamite and sticks marched through El Alto terrorizing the population while chanting “Civil War! Civil War!”
HRF condemns the violence carried out by these paramilitary groups, as well as any violence promoted by civic leaders or the political opposition, and calls on Bolivia’s Police and the Armed Forces to restore peace and prosecute those committing vandalism and violence.
As Bolivia moves forward in replacing Evo Morales’s competitive-authoritarian regime, it’s critical that the political institutions proceed in accordance with the Bolivian constitution, a civil transitional government is established, and free and fair elections are called within 90 days.
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