One year after the coup put right-wing politicians into power in Bolivia, the candidate of the Movement for Socialism (MAS), Luis Arce won the presidential election held on 18. This means October 2020 opens the prospect of a comeback of Evo Morales who was previously forced into exile in Mexico.
The Coup in Bolivia for the sake of lithium
In November 2019, Evo Morales was forced into exile after he won his fourth presidential election. The coup supported by the military and the police but not the population, especially the indigenous, who were Morales main supporters. Morales was the first indigenous President of Bolivia.
The new interim President, Jeanine Áñez, repressed Morales supporters protests. At the same time, giving amnesty to the soldiers involved in massacres in which more than 30 protesters died. Human rights organizations Amnesty International, HRW, and the UN Human Rights Commission criticized the decree and asked Jeanine Áñez to repeal it immediately.
Even if Áñez revoked the controversial decree and tried after to negotiate with victims families, her reputation was already damaged.
Moreover, anti-indigenous tweets of the new President emerged. One of them showed Áñez had a very unfriendly opinion of first nations of Bolivia. Her tweets called the Aymara (indigenous) New Year a satanic celebration. In another one she appeared to say she dreamed of a Bolivia free of indigenous satanic rites. She implied the city is not a place for Indians who must stay in the highlands or the plains. Even if Áñez deleted her controversial tweets, the internet recorded them.
Understanding that Aymara make up 41% of the Bolivian population, you can see why indigenous people revolted against Áñez.
If the coup happened because of allegations of electoral fraud (proven later to be false), the real reason for the coup seems to be the huge lithium reserves in Bolivia. Indeed, the country has the biggest reserves of lithium in the world. This metal which is necessary to produce the electric batteries you have in your phone, your laptop, and your electric car.
This commodity is the reason behind the coup which is denied by everybody involved. Almost a year later, Elon Musk admitted the truth on Twitter. Tesla cars need a lot of lithium for their batteries.
Even if Musk, like Áñez, deleted the problematic tweet, it was saved in an archive. Answering to someone who criticized a comment he made about Bolivia’s internal policy, Musk said : “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”
Áñez planned to invite multinationals in the Salar de Uyuni to exploit the lithium. Morales fought to keep government control over the natural resources of the country. He wanted to process the lithium in Bolivia, and sell it to China rather than in the West.
The links between Áñez and the West were also visible when she integrated Bolivia in the Lima group. She recognized Juan Guaidó as the Venezuelan president even though he was never a candidate in Venezuela, instead of the legitimate one, Nicolas Maduro.
Disastrous results of Áñez’ policy
The resulting coup and interim government that was put in place after the putsch led to a sharp deterioration of the situation in Bolivia.
Morales succeeded during his three mandates to eradicate illiteracy in the country. He reduced poverty and inequality. Morales increased the taxes on profits for oil companies (from 18% – $173 million to 82% – $1,3 billion) which benefited country which had no fiscal deficit for the first time in 30 years. He took control of vital industries, increased the minimum wages, lowered the retirement age, banned GMO agriculture, and maintained a good economic growth rate during the 2007-2008 crisis.
Moreover, Áñez launched a real witch-hunt against Morales supporters that was condemned by HRW. HRW is anything but pro-Morales.
The case of Patricia Hermosa, Morales’ former cabinet chief and lawyer, who was arrested on dubious charges while pregnant (which is a violation of Bolivian law), lost her baby in while in prison because of lack of medical care in jail. This is emblematic of the reign of Áñez.
This may be the reason why Áñez postponed the scheduled elections twice this year avoiding a pronounced defeat of the right-wing in Bolivia. After pretending for months she would not be a candidate for presidential election, Áñez finally changed her mind in January 2020. Then she turned around renouncing her candidacy in September 2020 avoiding a split in right-wing votes. This threw Bolivia into chaos just before the elections as Áñez aggravated the societal rift in the country.
Victory of Morales’ party in Bolivia
It is in this context that presidential and general elections were held in Bolivia on 18 October 2020. Exit polls gave Luis Arce, the candidate of MAS (the party of Morales) as the winner in the first round with more than 50% of the votes, far ahead Carlos Mesa (who was around 30%).
Despite the fact that the first preliminary results showed a different picture, with almost equality between Arce and Mesa, the latter admitted his defeat rapidly, based on the exit polls results.
Áñez herself congratulated Arce and the MAS for their victory the day after the elections, while the ballots were still counted.
Now that 88,63% of the ballots were counted, the results confirm the exit polls, with 54,48% for MAS-IPSP (Arce), 29,3% for CC (Mesa), and 14,11% for CREEMOS (Camacho). As it is unlikely that the last ballots can drastically change the results, Luis Arce is officially the winner of the 2020 election in Bolivia. Moreover, the MAS party gained control of both houses of parliament during these elections.
Morales has already declared that he will come back from exile, without mentioning exactly when. Luis Arce on his side already said he wants to restore good relationships of Bolivia with Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran. These relationships were severely damaged by the actions of Áñez (like the recognition of Guaidó as Venezuelan president, which he is not).
“We are going to reestablish all relations. This government has acted very ideologically, depriving the Bolivian people of access to Cuban medicine, Russian medicine, and advances in China. For a purely ideological issue, it has exposed the population in a way unnecessary and harmful,” Arce explained.
Indeed, Nicolas Maduro, the legitimate Venezuelan President, congratulated Luis Arce for his victory.
Arce also emphasized that his government will open the door for relations with all countries based on mutual respect and sovereignty.
In the meantime, he warned that the Organization of the American States (OAS), which co-authored the report on the 2019 elections (later proven as inaccurate) and served as a pretext for the coup against Evo Morales, has to amend its mistakes in Bolivia. If OAS does not amend the mistakes it made, Arce has already announced that Bolivia will work with international organizations that respect the country instead.
Luis Arce also announced that his first measure will be to issue anti-hunger bonds, and start rebuilding production, which has been affected by the measures that the interim government has taken.
The new President of Bolivia should take office in the first half of November, but the game doesn’t seem to be over yet.
Indeed, despite censure motions against two ministers of Áñez, the latter reinstated them just after the elections. This violates the law. Among these two ministers is Arturo Murillo, the Prime Minister Arce wants to sue for his crimes as soon as he takes office. He asked the Supreme Court of Bolivia to prevent Murillo from fleeing the country.
The war for lithium in Bolivia has not ended with these elections. It is feared a second coup could occur to overthrow the newly elected President.