Bolivia's president lost a referendum earlier this year that could have kept him in power beyond 2019. The long-serving leader may try to seek reelection regardless.
BOGOTÁ — With Mauricio Macri's election in Argentina, moves to depose Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Keiko Fujimori's rise in Peru, the pieces are clearly shifting on Latin America's political chessboard.
For those at risk of losing their hold on power, the reactions are natural: They are either reluctant to abandon the power they won, democratically, years ago, or in the case of those with little time for democracy in the first place, they persist in their anti-democratic skullduggery.
Dilma and her former patron, now protégé, Lula da Silva are fighting tooth and nail to keep their posts. Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro sinks further with each passing day, even as he grasps the presidential baton tight. He knows what awaits him out of office. He recently used the Supreme Court to declare as unconstitutional a parliamentary law to pardon political prisoners. Did anyone imagine the Court would rule otherwise?
When you have nothing to lose, you pull out all the stops — just look at Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad. He wasn't going to be blown away by the winds of the Arab Spring. So he came out swinging. He remains in power. At the cost of a civil war, true, but that seems to be of little concern to him. His goal is to ride out an awkward patch, come hell or high water.
I'd say Bolivian President Evo Morales has a bit of the same instincts. Time to up the ante, he must have thought as he recently came out in defense of his chums, former Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Dilma and Lula. He cannot believe Cristina K has been summoned to court. It must be another of those parliamentary or judicial "coups" that the Left sees everywhere. Of course, if the courts were investigating right-wing opponents, then it would be justice taking its course, truth coming out and the fight against corruption.
Evo seems to be the least "compromised" of these leaders so far, though some inauspicious signs have been emerging. He lost his referendum to legalize his continuity in power, and has faced attacks over his private life. I'm guessing he will try another re-election, using as many referenda as necessary — like his late friend, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.
In the meantime, the presidential office has declared that the son he reportedly sired with a girlfriend (now jailed for "economic crimes") doesn't exist. Disappearances like this are not uncommon in Bolivia. After all, Morales made the Bolivian Republic disappear to make way for his Plurinational State, as the country is formally called.
Knowing that things are changing and that his opponents have multiplied, Morales has turned to talking tough. Any moment it seems he might declare war on Chile, with which Bolivia has longstanding territorial disputes. The external enemy, that classic ploy of dictatorial states. Of course it doesn't always work. It didn't for Leopoldo Galtieri, the last head of the Argentine junta, when he invaded the Falklands. In this case, Bolivia's demands that Chile grant it access to the Pacific is a rallying cry for Bolivian unity. The Hague Court is handling the matter for now.
Chile has little patience for these antics. As Ignacio Walker, a Chilean senator and ex-foreign affairs minister, has said, "We're tired of Bolivia using Chile in its internal affairs." He warned that if Bolivia "wants to keep provoking, Chile will defend itself calmly but very firmly."
Still, for Evo, if a crisis like this can keep him in power, maybe it's worth it.