The leftist leader had some worthy accomplishments during his long tenure as Bolivian president. But his quest for indefinite leadership cost him in the end.
Nine years ago in América Economía, we published an editorial praising "Evonomics," the economic policies of the now deposed Bolivian president Evo Morales. Those policies served the country well and, even in light of recent events, there's still no reason to argue otherwise.
Indeed, during most of his long rule as president (2006 to 2019), the country enjoyed stability, a growth rate considerably above the regional average — GDP quadrupled — and saw a substantial reduction in poverty levels, from 60% to 35% of the population.
His downfall was the product of his grave political sins.
Things soured a bit in his controversial third term. Oil and gas prices had been falling, prior to the president's sudden departure, and public spending was rising inexorably, with the fiscal deficit expected to reach 8% of the GDP this year.
But that's not what sank Morales. His downfall, rather, was the product of his grave political sins. After changing the Constitution so he could compete for a third presidential term, he imposed a plebiscite to give himself the chance to run for a fourth term. And when he lost that referendum, he called upon the Supreme Court — that eminent assembly of his sympathizers — to declare it his "human right" to be reelected indefinitely, regardless of what the Constitution states.
Morales back in 2008 — Photo: Joel Alvarez
When elections for this fourth term were held, on Oct. 20, he committed fraud before the exasperated gaze of an entire nation and observers from the Organization of American States (OAS). The body audited the electoral process and concluded on Nov. 10 that a recount of votes had indeed been tainted with large-scale fraud. The OAS urged new electoral authorities to hold new general elections.
Meanwhile, and especially in recent days, vigorous protests erupted across the country against the fraud. Police began a mutiny and abandoned the government in several cities, and finally, in the capital La Paz, the Armed Forces chief announced on Nov. 9 that the military would not intervene in the conflict. The next day, with disorder now generalized and nationwide, he "suggested" to Evo that he resign for the sake of the country's peace.
The situation is more uncertain today. The deputy-speaker of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez, has now assumed the presidency though it is unclear whether MAS, Morales's party, will allow the necessary quorum to process his resignation and formalize Áñez as head of state. A measure of peace and quiet has in any case returned to the country after two days and a night of terror in La Paz and other cities.
Was this a coup d"état? The police mutiny was crucial, as was the refusal by the Armed Forces to actively back Morales against protesters. The commander making a "suggestion" to the president certainly doesn't look good, though troops have not moved onto the streets nor into government offices. The government is now trying to follow the institutional path with the military's backing, so it is at the very least an undefined situation. This review hopes the institutional path will continue and we shall no longer see soldiers ruling in Bolivia or anywhere else.
The situation is more uncertain today.
Morales fell under the weight of his own errors, and horrors. He sought to perpetuate himself and his friends in power, moving step-by-step toward an autocracy that was condemned even by the peasant organizations that originally backed his leadership. Even the main Workers Union that backed him for so many years abandoned him in the end.
The gods blind those they wish to confound, as they said in the ancient world. Power made Evo blind — and greedy — and his reign came to a tragic end because of it.