November 2019 was a month that no Bolivian citizen will forget due to the change of presidential power in Bolivia. A change that some even consider to be a coup d’état.

Who was the first indigenous president?

Evo Morales, Ayma native-born, conquered public spaces in the government which were previously forbidden for indigenous people in Bolivia since its independence in 1825. He is well-known because he broke the invisible wall which separated poor (indigenous) and rich people who, in the presidential election of 2005, won with a great majority never seen before in the history of Bolivia.

Many Bolivians identified with Evo Morales and called him “Evo Pueblo” which means man of the people. Morales represented a great change in Bolivian politics due to his vision and programs which were more inclusive and innovative than traditional policies.

During his inauguration, he mentioned “…these people have historically been marginalized, humiliated, hated, despised, condemned to extinction… these people were never recognized as human beings, even though these people are the original owners of this noble land, of its natural resources” (January 22th, 2006). This illustrious speech meant hope for Bolivian people.

Great social and economic changes

During his presidency, Morales supported many social programs that helped reducing poverty from 60 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2018. Similarly, inequalities decreased: Gini coefficient declined from 0.58 in 2005 to 0.44 in 2017. Life for Bolivian people improved enormously because of new social programs to support children “Juancito Pinto Program”, pregnant women “Juana Azurduy Program”, elderly citizens “Renta Dignidad Program” and social housing, among others.

Regarding economic indicators, Bolivia had a decrease in unemployment rate from 8.2 percent in 2005 to 4.27 percent in 2018. In addition, Morales adopted economic strategies which led the country to have a greater rate of GDP: 4.2 percent in 2018. Likewise, income per capita rose from USD 1,049 in 2005 to USD 3,720 in 2018, putting Bolivia above other Latin American countries such as Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua and Haiti.

What happened with the vision of the leader

Morales governed Bolivia for 14 years (2006-2019). During his term as president, Bolivia experienced economic growth, reduced extreme poverty and inequalities. However, corruption and his stubbornness to remain in power for longer than the Bolivian Constitution has established decreased his popularity among his supporters and opponents alike. According to the Corruption Perception Index, Bolivia´s position has worsened, from 117 in 2005 to 132 in 2018 out of 180 countries (Organization for International Transparency).

In addition to corruption, staying on for a fourth term, which is against the Bolivian Constitution, was the last straw for opponents of Morales who made many protests against his permanence in power. Likewise, the “Report-Audit-Bolivia-2019” made by the Organization of American States (OAS) establishes that the election of Morales in 2018 as President, is not legitimate due to electoral fraud. All these factors caused Morales to leave the country on November 10th for Mexico.

The government of Mexico and the incoming president of Argentina, Alberto Fernandez, described the events in Bolivia as a coup d’état. Regarding this position, we do not consider it as a coup d’état because according to the Bolivian Constitution, the army can make suggestions to the president in case of conflicts, so in this case the act was according to the law. Furthermore, it was not a coup d’état because the army did not want to take power of the country.

Other authorities such as Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right leader, and Carlos de Mesa, the former ex-president of Bolivia, who ran against Morales in the last election, considered Morales´ fleeing of the country as a triumph. We totally disagree with this view because the conflict between his supporters and opponents of Morales, which lasted almost a month, sadly led to the loss of many Bolivian lives.

The Nelson Mandela of Latin America?

The polemic fleeing of Morales to Mexico induced many analysts to comment regretfully, such as Mark Goodale professor of the University of Lausanne who said that “If he had groomed a successor and accepted a transition of power, he would have been seen as a Nelson Mandela of South America” (New York Times – November 11th, 2019)

Morales arrived at the presidency with a vision of change, and during the first years of his presidency did improve Bolivia’s power structure, gradually eliminated classism and racism towards indigenous Bolivians, the majority in the country. However, he failed to eliminate the common problem of corruption in Latin American countries that led to the deterioration of this image. Now the question arises: which one has more weight, the positive or negative aspects of Morales? Can we have another leader who can continue with Morales’ vision or not? Can we consider Morales the Nelson Mandela of Latin America?

Let history make the final decision about Morales and his appointment as an indigenous leader who fought for the rights of indigenous people in Bolivia.

Ingrid García Lino

Wilma Ticona Huanca