Former Bolivian president Evo Morales, back in his country from exile in Argentina after October's elections returned his Movement to Socialism (MAS) to power, warned Dec. 27 of the ongoing danger of a new coup d'etat and asked his followers to debate how to best defend new President Luis Arce and the "process of change." The comments came at a meeting in Chapare region of the MAS and affiliated Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, the campesino alliance that Morales once led. Recalling his own ouster in November 2019, Morales said: "The issue of the coup is still compelling; it is an ideological, programmatic struggle; it is a cultural, social, communal and, of course, an electoral struggle." Invoking divided loyalties in the military, he added: "I am also convinced that in the Armed Forces there are not only those who respect and admire the MAS, but there are also anti-imperialist soldiers." However, he added that "they are not many," and others have "submitted to the North American empire." (Prensa Latina, Prensa Latina)
In Bolivia's eastern lowlands, known as Oriente, the regionally powerful right-wing social networks have responded rapidly to the victory of socialist candidate Luis Arce in the weekend's presidential elections. Hundreds filled the streets of the region's principal city, Santa Cruz, on Oct. 21, and some 5,000 the previous day, waving Bolivian flags, honking car horns and chanting "¡Anulación, Anulación, Anulación!" However, the protesters' accusation that Arce won through "fraud" was explicitly rejected by Manuel González, head of the OAS mission in Bolivia. He said in a statement: "The people voted freely and the result was clear and overwhelming, which gives great legitimacy to the incoming government, the Bolivian institutions, and the electoral process."
Luis Arce, candidate of the party of ousted president Evo Morales, has seemingly swept to victory in Bolivia's Oct. 18 presidential elections. While the official count is technically still pending, results place him with more than 50% of the vote—well above the second-place center-right contender Carlos Mesa and with far more than the required majority to avoid a runoff. This represents a significant recoup of losses for the Movement Toward Socialism-Political Instrument for the Peoples' Sovereignty (MAS-IPSP), which Morales nominally still leads from exile in Argentina. As news of the victory broke, supporters gathered outside Arce's campaign office to chant "The pollera will be respected!"—a reference to the traditional skirt that has become a symbol of the MAS-IPSP indigenous base. But Arce is insisting there will be "no role" in his government for Morales, who has been barred by the courts from holding public office and faces criminal charges in Bolivia.
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)
Human Rights Watch released a report on Sept. 11, asserting that Bolivia's interim government, led by President Jeanine Añez, uses the judiciary to attack former President Evo Morales, his supporters, and former members of his administration. The report claims Añez's government "has publicly pressured prosecutors and judges to act to further its interests, leading to criminal investigations of more than 100 people linked to Morales government and Morales supporters for sedition and/or terrorism." The report states that many of these investigations "appear to be politically motivated." Among those charged is Morales himself, who was accused of terrorism after he fled the country last November.
The US Court of Appeals of the Eleventh Circuit in Miami vacated a lower court judgment that had exonerated former Bolivian president Gonzalo ("Goni") Sánchez de Lozada and his defense minister Carlos Sánchez Berzaín of responsibility for the killing of protesters during the 2003 "Gas War." The pair fled to exile in the United States after repression that led to the deaths of at least 58 protesters failed to put down the protests. In 2007, surviving relatives of eight killed in the repression brought suit against the two exiled leaders in a US district court under the Torture Victim Protection Act. The case, Mamani et. al v. Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín, marked the first time a former head of state has stood trial for human rights violations in a US court. In April 2018, the jury found the two liable under the TVPA and awarded plaintiffs $10 million in damages after a month-long trial that included six days of deliberations. But in an unusual move, Judge James I. Cohn set aside the jury verdict and entered its own judgment in May 2018, holding the defendants not liable based on insufficient evidence. The Eleventh Circuit has now reversed Cohn's ruling, and remanded the case to the district court. The lower court is instructed to weigh whether the jury verdict should be reinstated.
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."
A thousands-strong march through the Bolivian highland city of El Alto on July 28 was followed by a cabildo, or mass meeting, in which unions and popular organizations agreed to immediately begin an "indefinite" general strike, demanding that new elections be held on schedule. The country's first elections since the ouster of president Evo Morales last year were slated for Sept. 6, but the government of interim president Jeanine Añez has postponed them to Oct. 18, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. The cabildo was called by the Bolivian Workers Central (COB), the country's main trade union bloc, and included representation from campesino organizations such as the Túpac Katari Federation and Ayllus de Norte Potosí, as well as El Alto's powerful alliance of working-class neighborhood organizations, FEJUVE. COB leader Juan Carlos Huarachi affirmed: "If we join together as miners, campesinos, the middle class and El Alto, we can be dynamite." (Latino USA, Guerrerxs del Arcoiris, Los Tiempos de Cochabamba, Opinión, La Paz)