Crowds of Evo Morales’s supporters gathered in Villazon, Bolivia on November 9, 2020, to welcome Morales’s return from exile, the former Bolivian president crossing the border from Argentina to reenter his home country. Nearly 2,000 supporters assembled to greet Morales, chanting “Evo! Evo!” as his presence reignited collective gratitude and hope for his former role to be restored in the Bolivian government. Morales previously served 14 years as the first Indigenous president, however, after last year’s politically tense election running against his primary opponent, Carlos Mesas, allegations against Morales of electoral fraud sparked riots and protests all across the nation.
Morales was forced to seek asylum in Mexico, ousting him from power. His return was incited by the landslide win of Luis Arce on November 8, 2020, the former economy minister and member of the Movement for Socialism party, an organization founded by Morales in 1998. Although Morales’s plan following his return to Bolivia is to preside in his stronghold in the province Chapare, many Bolivians are concerned Morales’s presence will reawaken the previous year’s strife, once again surging civilian deaths.
Morales’s joyous arrival in Bolivia was followed by his remarks of gratitude on Twitter, “Today is one of the most important days of my life, to be returning to the country that I love fills me with happiness.” Many civilians are curious about the events to play out amongst the power dynamic between Morales and Arce. Prompted by these inquiries, in an interview, Arce gave a response to make clear that he will not govern “in the shadows of Morales”. Alongside this claim, last month during an interview in the MAS headquarters, Arce stated “He will not have any role in our government. He can return to the country whenever he wants because he’s Bolivian … it’s me who has to decide who forms a part of the administration and who does not.”
Despite these definite plans of the Bolivian president, several political scientists agree the journey towards Morales’s complete removal of influence will be difficult. One scientist, Ximena Costa, said to news agency AFP, Arce must “consolidate his own legitimacy in the face of a figure as strong … as Evo Morales.” Likewise, political scientist Carlos Cordero commented on Arce’s strong will to remain in control, but the barriers Morales may create, “Morales will try to influence … Morales could be a political rival or a good collaborator for Arce.”
The heavy political divide between Bolivia’s population remains prevalent and highly tense, even after an exceedingly restful election when juxtaposed against the previous year. A running issue causing the country’s disunity can be expounded largely by various economic classes being geographically separated, large parts of Morales’s working-class supporters living in rural provinces, whereas opposing right-wing middle-class Bolivians take up the east.
Al Jazeera reported Argentine President Alberto Fernandez’s comments in relation to this issue not only affecting Bolivia but many Latin American countries as well, “We are part of a large nation. We don’t want countries for some, we want countries for all. It is the duty of all of us to stand up for threatened peoples.” Regardless of Morales’s presence flaring this tension, the next steps taken must be chiefly to deflate the social gap. Further, Arce’s succeeding responses must respond to the sudden recession brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to amplify economic rifts.
On October 20, 2019, the Bolivian election was annulled after Morales was charged with election fraud, and additionally angered many by amending the constitution to run for a fourth term. Dangerous protests sparked all over Bolivia, primarily concentrated around La Paz, where Morales’s supporters surrounded it to cut off food supplies from entering the city. This siege brought about events of an open fire on protestors, including a protest on November 20, 2019, where eight people were killed, two of the deaths simply being passersby not part of the protests. Morales was forced to resign and sought asylum in Mexico, returning to Bolivia a year later.
Following the establishment of Arce as Bolivia’s new president, he presented in his inaugural speech, “We must put an end to fear … I believe in justice, not in fostering an atmosphere … where being from another political party makes you an object of hate.” As follows, the president’s further plans will reflect in initiating economic growth. After placing 16 new ministers in the Cabinet, Arce has plans to issue debt and begin utilizing Bolivia’s large lithium reserve on the market. Furthermore, Arce told news agency EFE, “We are going to reestablish all relations” with other countries, currently already underway of strengthening ties with Iran and Venezuela. As for Morales, the former president plans to return to his home city, Cochabamba. Any further imbalances of power between Morales and Arce is yet to be shown.