Tensions are escalating in Bolivia ahead of the first post-coup elections, which after numerous postponements are now slated for Oct. 18. On Sept. 21, a youth meeting of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) in the Manufacturing Complex of the working-class city of El Alto was attacked with tear-gas bombs by unknown assailants, causing an exodus from the cavernous space. (Nodal, Argentina, Sept. 21) Three days earlier, MAS supporters in the mining hub of Oruro hurled stones at a vehicle caravan of the right-wing Creemos (We Believe) coalition, forcing it to retreat from their barrio, known as the Mining Helmet for the strength of organized labor there. The protesters shouted "Out, out, out! Oruro must be respected!" (¡Fuera, fuera, fuera, Oruro se respeta!) (Bolivia Prensa, Sept. 18)
Protesters have launched blockades across main roads through Bolivia over the past days, effectively cutting off La Paz and other cities, to oppose the government's postponement of new presidential elections. The blockades have raised fears of food and gasoline shortages, with throngs of La Paz residents lining up outside markets and petrol stations. Chancellor Karen Longaric portrayed the protests as being masterminded from exile by ousted president Evo Morales, saying "Ex-president Morales and groups aligned with the Movement Toward Socialism have initiated violent and inhuman acts."
Ten days into a national "quarantine" declared in Bolivia, protesters are taking to the streets to demand food in working-class districts of cities across the country—in defiance of lockdown orders. Residents are calling for either greater flexibility in the lockdown, which has paralyzed the economy, or food distribution in their barrios. Street protests have been reported in El Alto, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Trinidad and Riberalta. The government of interim leader Jeanine Áñez has pledged one-time payments of $60 for elders, the disabled, pregnant women and others with special needs. Her supporters on social media are portraying the protests as fomented by the ousted Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).
The new Bolivian regime's Government Minister Arturo Murillo has announced creation of a special "Anti-Terrorist Group" (GAT), drawn from elite units of the National Police force, to "completely disarticulate all the terrorist cells" operating in the country. Murillo made the announcement at a Dec. 2 meeting of the National Police Special Anti-Crime Struggle Force (FELCC) in Santa Cruz, where he charged that recent political violence in the country had been instrumented by foreign "terrorist" operatives financed by Venezuela as part of a plan to "destabilize" the countries of South America. He particularly mentioned Martín Serna Ponce, a supposed operative of Peru's defunct Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), and Facundo Morales Schoenfeld, a veteran of Colombia's FARC. (Aristegui Noticias, Mexico, Dec. 3; La Razón, La Paz, Dec. 2)
Bolivia's Plurinational Legislative Assembly on Nov. 23 passed an "Exceptional & Transitional Regime Law" that annus last month's contested elections and calls for new elections to be held within 120 days—without Evo Morales as a candidate. The date for the new polls is to be set once new members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal are appointed. The pact follows talks mediated by the Catholic Church and the European Union between the new government of interim president Jeanine Añez and leaders of the ousted Morales' party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), which continues to hold a majority in both houses of the Assembly. (EuroNews, Nov. 25; PaginaSiete, La Paz, AP, Nov. 24; Reuters, Nov. 23)
Several are reported dead after National Police and army troops opened fire on indigenous demonstrators marching on the Bolivian city of Cochabamba Nov. 15. A march demanding the reinstatement of ousted president Evo Morales started that morning from the town of Sacaba, gateway to the Chapare region where Morales began his career as a campesino leader in the 1990s and still the heartland of his support base. When it arrived at the pueblo of Huayllani, on the edge of Sacaba municipality, security forces attempted to block their way over a bridge, and a clash ensued. The Defensoría del Pueblo, Bolivia's official human rights office, has confirmed the death of five, with 29 injured, but local media put the death toll at nine. Some 200 were also detained. The National Police claimed on Twitter that protesters attacked troops with "improvised firearms." No casualties among the security forces were reported.
On Nov. 10, Bolivia's besieged president Evo Morales flew from La Paz to the provincial city Chimoré in his traditional heartland of Cochabamba department, where he issued a televised statement announcing his resignation. The statement decried the "civic coup" that had been launched against him, noting more than two weeks of increasingly violent protests since last month's disputed elections. He especially called on Carlos Mesa, his challenger in the race, and Luis Fernando Camacho, the opposition leader in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, not to "maltreat" the Bolivian people, and "stop kicking them." He vowed that the fight is not over, and that "we are going to continue this struggle for equality and peace."
Riot police have clashed with protesters in cities across Bolivia as the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) announced a clear win for incumbent President Evo Morales 24 hours after the Oct. 20 elections, obviating the need for a second round with conservative challenger Carlos Mesa. The announced victory followed a sudden halt in the counting, before which Morales had been falling just short of the percentage needed to avoid the first run-off in his nearly 14 years in power. Crowds set fire to the TSE offices in Sucre and Potosi, and protesters torched ballots in Tarija. Street clashes erupted between Morales and Mesa supporters in La Paz and Santa Cruz. Mesa, of the Comunidad Ciudadana opposition bloc, is charging fraud, saying, "We are confident that the citizenry will not accept these completely distorted and rigged results." (AP, The Guardian, EFE, InfoBae, InfoBae, ANF, BoliviaPrensa)