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Bolivia, A Nation Divided Again After Morales Tastes Defeat

Morales hold on to his core support.
Morales hold on to his core support.
Sylvia Colombo


LA PAZ — As of Sunday, Bolivia is once again divided in two. It had taken President Evo Morales almost a decade to build a consensus around him, a consensus that had enabled him to be re-elected for a third five-year term in 2014 with 61% of the vote. But his failure this week to win a referendum that would have allowed him to stand for a fourth term means he will be governing until 2019 over a country that is once again divided.

Many analysts rushed to say that the slim "No" victory in the referendum on the constitutional change was yet another nail in the coffin of "Bolivarianism." But what we witnessed in Bolivia has more to do with the erosion of Morales' public image and the loss of confidence from his base support: the political left and indigenous movements.

The region's economic slowdown hasn't yet translated into noticeable negative effects in daily life, with Bolivia's GDP growing at an average of 5% over the past decade, leading to a fall in poverty and unemployment.

And yet, there's no indication that the majority of support for the "No" comes from a demand of change in economic policy or desire to reduce the government's role.

Morales' real difficulty is that he doesn't know how to deal with the negative consequences of the absence of change in power. Corruption is to blame. It's spreading in strategic government sectors, among them the Indigenous Fund foundation, accused of paying funds for construction projects, only 20% of which have actually materialized.

The most recent example is one that affected the 56-year-old President directly. Morales has been accused of having favored an ex-girlfriend, who also happens to be a senior executive at a Chinese company that was awarded $500 million worth of construction contracts.

The female question

Whereas the opposition was fragmented in the 2014 election, last Sunday's referendum made it possible for all those dissatisfied with Morales to make common cause. But it would be wrong to assume that this makes them a monolithic alternative to govern.

Instead, the "No" side brought together part of the entrepreneurship worried about the announced crisis and parts of an urban left that demands equal rights for all men and women before the law. They were joined by indigenous dissidents and part of the white elite who never accepted the idea of having someone from the Aymara people as the nation's leader. Encouraged by a wave of good polling results, Morales has also showed a more authoritative side lately, which has alienated some of his supporters, especially those most politically progressive.

At a press conference on Monday, the day after the referendum, a female journalist asked Morales what he'd do if he left the government. He replied that he was prepared to go back to his home region, Chaco, and offered her to be his cook. This sort of macho "joke" is by no means new, and feminist leaders see this type of behavior reflected in the lack of measures to promote a more egalitarian society, combat domestic violence (Bolivia is the leading Latin American country in that respect) and to open up the debate on abortion in Congress.

The question now is how these political forces will behave in this new scenario, with Morales now set to leave office in 2019. Having secured the support of 48.6% of the population for what would have been an unprecedented grab at power, his popularity remains high, even if attention will shift toward looking for his potential successor.

The greatest challenge continues to lie with the opposition, which has failed in the last three elections to unite together behind one candidate. Perhaps their success in defeating the referendum will remind them of the importance of unity and compromise.

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Why Netanyahu Has Little Choice But To Extend The Ceasefire

The Israeli government has declared it is opposed to any ceasefire with Hamas. But one of its key objectives — and the top priority for Israelis — is to recover hostages. And only the ceasefire can achieve that...

photo of people marching with the sign Bring Them Home Now

A march in London in support of bringing home to Israel the hostages held in Gaza.

Vuk Valcic/ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — Monday marks the fourth and final day of the ceasefire agreed upon between Israel and Hamas. Does that mean the war resumes Tuesday in Gaza? Probably not, and here is why...

During the first three days of the ceasefire, 40 Israeli hostages, mostly women and children, were returned to the Jewish state. According to the terms of the agreement, three times as many Palestinian prisoners were released. Additionally, 35 Thai nationals and one Filipino, also kidnapped on Oct. 7, were released separately, as part of a negotiation that went through Iran. And one Russian citizen, according to Hamas, "in response to the efforts of Russian President [Vladimir] Putin and in appreciation of the Russian position in support of the Palestinian cause."

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A fourth exchange is scheduled for Monday. Meanwhile, over these same past three days, hundreds of aid trucks have been able to enter Gaza, where humanitarian conditions are catastrophic.

What will happen Tuesday, considering that Hamas still holds more than 180 hostages? All communication channels have been hard at work for the past 24 hours, to extend this ceasefire and facilitate the release of more hostages and prisoners.

Qatar has been leading the negotiation efforts. An envoy from Doha arrived in Israel on a special flight on Saturday — something worth noting, given that the two countries have no diplomatic relations. The United States is also very active, with President Joe Biden personally intervening on Saturday, when the agreement showed signs of impending collapse.

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