The return of Evo Morales’ party to power in Bolivia redraws the map of political equilibria in Latin America. Although the country does not exercise enough weight to shake up the region – it has only 11 million inhabitants and a very modest economy compared to its neighbors -, the electoral victory of former minister Luis Arce has a great symbolic reach. His victory redefines alliances and gives oxygen to leftist projects.
The general elections held on Sunday, after almost a year under the interim government of Jeanine Áñez, returned control to the Movement to Socialism (MAS). And if that formation managed to win without Morales and his deputy, Álvaro García Linera, both asylum seekers in Argentina, the vote was somewhat of a referendum on the former president who resigned in 2019, amid accusations of electoral fraud. One of the messages released by the indigenous leader on social networks after the announcement of the preliminary results comprises a photograph of these alliances, which include names with trajectories that are sometimes radically different, but that have a common denominator: their opposition to the conservative bloc in South America, headed by Jair Bolsonaro and the Colombian Iván Duque. “In addition to the people, several presidents and former presidents saved my life,” said Morales, before thanking Argentine Alberto Fernández, Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Cuban Miguel Díaz-Canel and Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro.
The first two were essential in November last year, when the Bolivian Armed Forces forced the government to resign, after 14 years in power, and precipitated his departure from the country. Morales first traveled to Mexico and later settled in Argentina, where he has continued ever since. On Monday night, he had dinner with Fernández, who did not hesitate to describe the events that had convulsed Bolivia in recent months as a “coup d’etat”. The other leftist rulers spoke in similar terms.
It turns out that there is a chasm between the Argentine president or López Obrador and, for example, Nicolás Maduro. Venezuela has for years been plunged into an unprecedented institutional and economic crisis, and the management of the Chavista regime, which is also trapped by the sanctions of the Donald Trump Administration, has already led to the exodus of nearly five million people, according to the United Nations. A year ago, several opposition politicians saw the fall of Morales as a kind of itinerary or model for a transition also in Venezuela. The president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, readily praised the process in Bolivia as exemplary. In a conversation with interim President Jeanine Áñez, she went on to state that “we are inspired by you, in the example of the liberator’s beloved daughter, of this strength that you have shown, above all, your attachment to your magna and leading a transition. Your example is not a brisinha, is a hurricane of democracy to liberate Venezuela, but also Nicaragua and Cuba ”.
This position aroused suspicion in more moderate sectors of the Venezuelan opposition. In addition, the parallelism between the political project of MAS and the direction of Chavism is not sustained. The indigenous leader made the mistake of disregarding the result of the referendum on an indefinite re-election, which he lost in 2016, and decided to return to run for election. This created a crisis of legitimacy. However, its economic management does not allow comparisons with the catastrophe that affects millions of Venezuelans.
In any case, Maduro, increasingly alone on the international board, took advantage of Arce’s victory to fill his chest and issue a warning to his opponents. “Bolivia and Venezuela are united by a historic struggle that has been going on for centuries and is not over yet,” he proclaimed. Hugo Chávez’s successor, who called for parliamentary elections in December – which will be boycotted by the majority of the opposing forces, alleging lack of guarantees -, also considers that “the united and conscientious Bolivian people defeated the coup with votes”.
There are other names on Morales’ thanks list. Former head of the Spanish Government José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who remains very active in Latin America with his participation in the Puebla Group’s initiatives, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Ecuadorian Rafael Correa and Colombian Ernesto Samper. All of them were very critical of the Organization of American States (OAS) and its secretary general, Luis Almagro. The return of MAS represents a severe blow to the strategy of the multilateral organization, as it was precisely a complaint of electoral fraud filed by the OAS that triggered the 2019 crisis. The OAS electoral audit, however, was subsequently questioned by other studies. In the repetition of the election a year later, and with a renewed Electoral Tribunal, Morales’ party even improved its result.
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