Dan Collyns – The Guardian
Bolivia’s former president Evo Morales has boarded a plane bound for Mexico where he has been granted asylum, the Mexican foreign minister has announced.
Earlier on Monday evening Morales tweeted a farewell after his resignation in the wake of a disputed election, saying that he would be take up the offer of asylum in Mexico but would soon “return with greater strength and energy”.
The Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted a picture of the former leader draped in the flag of Mexico, and said: “The Mexican Air Force plane has already taken off with Evo Morales on board. According to current international conventions, it is under the protection of Mexico. Your life and integrity are safe.”
Morales left behind a country close to chaos as his supporters and adversaries clashed on the streets, and reports of looting, vandalism and arson in the wake of an October election which the Organisation of American States reported to be rigged in his favour.
The police urged La Paz residents to stay indoors and declared they were joining forces with the army to help quell the violence, as Morales’ departure stoked fears of a power vacuum.
Morales said in his tweet: “Sisters and brothers, I leave for Mexico, grateful for the generosity of the government of that kindred people who gave us asylum to defend our lives. It hurts to leave the country for political reasons, but I will remain vigilant. Soon I will return with greater strength and energy.”
Morales’ decision to step down followed several quick-fire developments on Sunday, beginning with the release of a report by the Organisation of American States (OAS) which said it had found “clear manipulations” of the voting system in the October presidential election and could not verify the first-round victory for Morales. The president responded by saying he would call fresh elections but stepped down after the head of the army publicly called for him to leave his post.
On Monday, Morales used social media to accuse the opposition leaders Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho of instigating a coup against him. “[They] lie and try to blame us for the chaos and violence that they provoked,” he said.
A senior US official said that Washington did not consider Morales resignation and departure to constitute a coup. “All these events clearly show is the Bolivian people have simply had enough of a government ignoring the will of its voters,” the official said.
The news brought mixed reactions around the world. Donald Trump welcomed it as “a significant moment for democracy in the western hemisphere”. The US president said in a written statement: “After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’ departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard.
“The United States applauds the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.”
Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, is an iconic figure for the international left and was the last survivor of Latin America’s “pink tide” of two decades ago. But the country has been roiled by mass protests since the disputed election.
In Mexico Ebrard issued a statement on Monday defining what had happened as a “military coup” and calling for an urgent meeting of the OAS.
“What happened yesterday [in Bolivia] is a step backwards for the whole continent,” he said. “Military coups never bring anything positive and that is why we are worried.”
Mesa, Morales’ closest rival in October’s disputed election, said the president was brought down by a popular uprising, not the military. He said the military had made a decision not to deploy in the streets because “they didn’t want to take lives”.
In Bolivia the immediate concern was the void left as resignations by Morales and his vice-president, Álvaro García Linares, were followed by the next in line, the senate president, Adriana Salvatierra. Her deputy, Jeanine Añez, is expected to assume the interim presidency later on Tuesday.
“Please excuse me if my voice breaks,” a tearful Añez said after arriving in Congress under heavy guard. “It’s so hard to see Bolivians clashing, no matter which side they’re on. They are being mistreated, and I’m asking you to cease the violence.”
Carlos Cordero, a political scientist at La Paz’s San Andrés university, said: “We are living in chaos with no one assuming the reins of power,” adding that no clear timeline had emerged for scheduling a fresh vote.
A senior US state department official said a copy of Morales’ resignation letter was circulating: “We’re trying to determine if that is a valid document or something else that somebody fabricated, but we have seen a draft that has been signed.”
Another senior US official said: “Our understanding is that what happens in fact is that people serving in public security forces and the police declined to repress the protests and later that members of the armed forces declined to repress these protests.
“And at that point Evo Morales resigned when leaders of the security forces pointed out the obvious: that he had lost the faith of the public, and that the security situation had become exceptionally grave.”
Commenting on the wave of resignations, the official said. “There is still a constitutional structure and there is still a clear line in their constitution for creating a legitimate succession of authority, and we hope that all members of all political parties participate fully in creating a quorum that will allow that process to move forward.”