Morales’s Exit in Bolivia Leaves Violence and Political Vacuum

LA PAZ (Reuters) -
Demonstrators run on the street during a protest against Bolivia’s President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia, Sunday. (Reuters/Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

Buildings were set alight in Bolivia’s capital La Paz overnight in apparent retaliatory attacks after Evo Morales, president since 2006, resigned under pressure from anger over his disputed re-election last month.

A report from the Organization of American States (OAS) released on Sunday had said the election should be annulled and rerun because “clear manipulations” of the voting system called into question Morales’s win.

Soon after, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader said he was stepping down to ease the violence that has raged since the election on Oct. 20 – but repeated his argument that he had been the victim of a coup.

On Monday, the leftist stuck to his defiant tone, in comments that appeared unlikely to calm violence between his supporters and opposition activists.

“The world and our Bolivian patriots repudiate the coup,” Morales tweeted. “They moved me to tears. They never abandoned me; I will never abandon them.”

While some Latin American countries had backed his allegations of a coup, others had called for a new election.

Morales had triggered protests by running for a fourth term in defiance of term limits, before claiming victory in an election marred by allegations of fraud.

Morales’s vice president and many of his political allies in government and the legislature stepped down with him.

In the capital and the eastern city of Santa Cruz, crowds cheered his resignation.

But as night fell, gangs roamed the streets, looting businesses and setting fire to properties. Prominent opposition figure and academic Waldo Albarracin tweeted that his house had been set on fire by Morales supporters.

Another widely shared video appeared to show people inside Morales’s own property with graffiti daubed on the walls after he flew to another part of the country.

It was not initially clear who would take the helm of the country pending a new election, though opposition senator Jeanine Añez said she was prepared to accept the responsibility.

“If I have the support of those who carried out this movement for freedom and democracy, I will take on the challenge, only to do what’s necessary to call transparent elections,” Añez told the news channel Red Uno on Monday.

“It’s not that I want to assume this by force, it is a constitutional succession for now that I have to assume.”

In Bolivian law, in the absence of the president and vice president, the head of the Senate would normally take over provisionally. However, Senate President Adriana Salvatierra also stepped down on Sunday.

Legislators are expected to meet on Monday to agree on an interim commission or legislator who would take temporary administrative control of Bolivia, according to a constitutional lawyer who spoke to Reuters.