Bolivia’s interim president Jeanine Anez on Thursday said exiled leader Evo Morales should not be allowed to stand in new elections as thousands of demonstrators marched through La Paz in support of the socialist, indigenous icon and against the new acting leader.
Columns of people streamed into the seat of government La Paz from the neighboring town of El Alto for the second day running to express their outrage over the coup that ousted Morales.
Waving multicolored “wiphala” indigenous flags, many of the demonstrators chanted: “The time is now, civil war” and “Come back Evo!”
Major indigenous protests have also taken place in recent days in other cities including El Alto.
Morales was Bolivia’s first indigenous president and is widely supported by the country’s indigenous people – who make up between 50 and 60 percent of the population.
“They are not going to take this lying down,” Alex Main, a Latin America expert with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said of the indigenous protesters in an interview with The Globe Post Tuesday.
The interim government announced on Thursday that talks with what’s left of the leadership of Morales’s Movement for Socialism (MAS) party had begun in a bid to bring peace to the deeply polarized country.
Pledging early elections, Anez – until now a little-known lawmaker – proclaimed herself acting president on Tuesday after Morales fled the country for Mexico, fearing for his safety.
As deadly protests raged, the military and much of the police refused to protect Morales and other MAS leaders. Morales’ house was ransacked and the homes of other MAS figures were also attacked.
The rest of the Constitutional line of succession – all of whom were MAS leaders – were also pressured into resigning along with Morales, who was accompanied by masked military members when he gave his resignation.
El Alto, 2:30pm: Many contingents make the long walk towards La Paz which is down hill and has people travelling 25km or more as there is no public transportation, no cars can make it past barricades, and the teleferico is out of service. Video is mine. pic.twitter.com/gwiHeYkXGZ
— Camila (@camilateleSUR) November 14, 2019
Anez’s move was validated by the country’s top court but has been denounced as illegitimate by Morales and his supporters.
Unrest erupted over contested, unsubstantiated allegations that the Morales government tampered with the results of October 20 polls to gain re-election for a fourth term.
The final results showed Morales won the election by a 10.5 point margin over his nearest competitor, clearing the 10 point threshold that prevents a second round.
His opponents and Organization of American States – seen as biased by Morales supporters and some experts – have claimed there were irregularities and implied his totals were inflated to carry him over the 10 point threshold.
Morales denied the allegations and agreed to hold a new election, but the controversy ignited a firestorm that ultimately resulted in the coup.
Amid the chaos, MAS figures including a female indigenous leader of a small city were terrorized by mobs. Other anti-Morales protesters were seen burning the indigenous flag in public, while some police officers were seen celebrating as they cut the indigenous flag off of their uniforms following the president’s ouster.
Anez said Morales could not take part in any new elections and that Bolivia’s constitution limits a president to two successive terms.
“Evo Morales is not allowed to stand for a fourth term. That’s why we’ve had all this upheaval,” said Anez.
The Supreme Court, however, had ruled that Morales indeed was allowed to run for a fourth term despite a 2016 popular referendum in which Bolivians narrowly voted in favor of term limits that would have prevented his recent re-election bid.
With tensions still high, the government said it had opened negotiations with MAS lawmakers, who previously boycotted the senate session in which Anez declared herself president.
“We have set up talks and we believe we can bring peace to the country,” said Anez’s cabinet chief Jerjes Justiniano.
The claim could not immediately be confirmed with the MAS party.
Thursday’s protests included Morales supporters like the “red ponchos” – members of the Aymara indigenous people.
“We are calling for the resignation of this racist president, this putschist,” said Juan Gutierrez, an Aymara.
Anez is a radical evangelical Christian, who declared that the “bible has returned to the presidential palace” in an apparent shot against the indigenous, who are largely not Christians. Morales had been a champion of secularism.
She has also come under fire for prior racist, anti-indigenous comments, including a 2013 tweet in which she branded indigenous beliefs “satanic” and said “Indians” don’t belong in the country’s cities.
After right-leaning Sen. Jeanine Áñez declared herself interim president of Bolivia, pro-Morales supporters took to the streets with flags representing Indigenous communities. pic.twitter.com/8akbAqn2Gt
— AJ+ (@ajplus) November 13, 2019
Morales has kept up attacks on the new government from his exile in Mexico.
In a Thursday interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa, he denied responsibility for the political crisis and said there was nothing he would have done differently during his three terms as president.
His tenure, widely celebrated by international economists, saw unprecedented levels of growth and a massive reduction in poverty, particularly for the indigenous, who have been historically marginalized.
“I have never thought of harming the Bolivian people,” he added.
Anez told reporters on Thursday that new Foreign Minister Karen Longari would “make representations” to Mexico to insist that Morales be held to the terms of his political asylum and prevented from participating in Bolivia’s politics.
Mexico responded that “a refugee’s freedom of expression cannot be subject to greater limitations than any other Mexican civilian.”
Nearly a month of protests and clashes have left 10 people dead and almost 400 wounded.
Normal business has resumed in the main cities, but schools and universities remained shut due to the continued threat of demonstrations. Many gas stations remained closed for lack of supplies.
Everybody needs to watch this video. Horrific.
Masked members of Bolivia's rightwing opposition assaulted Patricia Arce (the mayor of Vinto), dragged her through the streets barefoot, covered her in red paint, & forcibly cut off her hair.
This is what a coup looks like. pic.twitter.com/JfH2ACzwDS
— Eric Blanc (@_ericblanc) November 11, 2019
Buoyed by growing international recognition, Anez named new military chiefs and half of her proposed 20-member cabinet on Wednesday.
New defense minister Fernandez Lopez Julio said in a speech at the military college in La Paz that the incoming government would bring peace to the country.
“Above all, we will have to have faith in God,” he said, highlighting the conservative Christian emphasis of Anez’s government after she set the tone by brandishing a bible when assuming office on Tuesday.
The United States, Russia, Colombia and Guatemala all recognized Anez as the interim president, though Moscow said it considered Morales the victim of a coup.
Argentina’s president-elect Alberto Fernandez said once he assumes office, he would be willing to offer asylum to Morales and his former vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera.
The European Union’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said her bloc supported a solution that looked toward new elections and a way “to avoid a power vacuum, which could have dire consequences for the entire country.”
Break with Maduro
The self-declared interim president gave the first indication of her government’s foreign policy by recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido as his country’s president – a key shift of alliance in the volatile region.
The announcement removes one of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro‘s main allies as he fends off efforts to oust him amid a deadly economic and political crisis.
Maduro’s opponents have branded him a dictator while Guaido has declared himself Venezuela’s rightful acting leader. He has gained the recognition of 50 countries, including the United States.
The Globe Post’s Bryan Bowman contributed reporting to this article.