Bolivia’s new interim government has begun winning some international recognition but faced challenges to its legitimacy at home and lashed out at former President Evo Morales.
Jeanine Añez, a Senate deputy leader who has claimed the interim presidency of the Andean country, criticized Mexico’s government for allowing Morales to rally support from his newly granted asylum in Mexico City.
“We have to let the Mexican government know that cannot be happening,” Añez said.
Mexico welcomed Morales this week after he resigned — at military prompting — following massive nationwide protests over alleged fraud in an election last month in which he claimed to have won a fourth term in office.
Mexico’s government has referred to the ouster as a coup d’etat, as have other left-leaning administrations in Latin America. But Añez has begun gaining recognition from more conservative governments, including Guatemala and Colombia, as well as the United States and United Kingdom.
Añez also announced she would recognize U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó as that country’s legitimate leader, joining the U.S. and 50 other countries in repudiating socialist President Nicolás Maduro, an ally of Morales.
But members of the new government were focused on challenges continuing at home.
Members of Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism Party, who dominate both houses of Congress, began holding legislative sessions Wednesday aimed at questioning the legitimacy of Añez, who had been no higher than fifth in the line of succession before Morales resigned. She won recognition because those above her also announced their resignations — though, some Morales backers later tried to recant their resignations.
Violent clashes erupted between Morales loyalists and police in Bolivia’s capital and raged well into the night Wednesday. His supporters also flooded into the streets of La Paz’s sister city of El Alto, a Morales stronghold, waving the multicolored indigenous flag and chanting, “Now, civil war!”
Barricades continued to block some streets into El Alto on Thursday and some gas stations ran out of fuel.
In addition to accusing Morales of inciting violent dissent, the new government also took aim at some of his allies at home.
Añez’s new government minister, Arturo Murillio, said Wednesday evening that he had spoken with police and ordered a hunt for his predecessor, Juan Ramón Quintana — using the Spanish word for hunt that applies to chasing an animal.
“Why is it a hunt? Because he is an animal who is killing people,” Murillo said. Quintana apparently had vanished from sight.
“Those who deal in sedition, as of tomorrow, take care,” he warned.
The unrest is a sign of the challenges facing Añez, who was a second-tier lawmaker before she thrust herself into the presidency, citing the power vacuum created by Morales’ departure.
She needs to win recognition, stabilize the nation and organize new elections within 90 days, rebuilding after weeks of violent protests against Morales over his disputed claim to have won the Oct. 20 election amid claims of voter fraud.
“If this is seen by the indigenous social movement as an effort by the old elite to restore the old order in Bolivian society, I think that is a recipe for tremendous political conflict,” said Kenneth Roberts, professor of government at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Morales upended politics in this nation long ruled by light-skinned descendants of Europeans by reversing deep-rooted inequality. The economy grew strongly thanks to a boom in prices of commodities and he ushered through a new constitution that created a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia’s smaller indigenous groups while also allowing self-rule for all indigenous communities.
Although some of his supporters had been disenchanted by his insistence on holding on to power, he remains popular, especially among other members of his native Aymara ethnic group. Many of them worry they might lose their gains, and they have been protesting reports that the multicolored Wiphala flag that represents them has been burned by people who sympathize with the opposition.
“More than 13 years of progress under Evo were lost in a minute when he resigned,” said Magenta Villamil, a demonstrator. “They have not only burnt a flag — it’s the indigenous peoples.”
Morales’ backers, who hold a two-thirds majority in Congress, boycotted the session that Añez called Tuesday night to formalize her claim to the presidency, preventing a quorum.
She claimed power anyway, saying the constitution did not specifically require congressional approval. Bolivia’s top constitutional court issued a statement laying out the legal justification for Añez taking the presidency — without mentioning her by name.
But other legal experts questioned the legal technicalities that led to her claim, saying at least some of the steps required a session of Congress.
Añez swore in a new Cabinet on Wednesday, and she named new commanders in chief for all branches of the military. The move was seen as an effort to build an alliance with the military.
She also met with dozens of police officers and assured them they would get the working conditions that they demanded and never got under Morales. Police officers outside Bolivia’s presidential palace abandoned their posts and in some cities declared mutinies a day before Morales resigned.
Añez has also received the backing of Morales’ main election rival, former President Carlos Mesa, who came in second in the Oct. 20 ballot. But it’s uncertain how much support she could count on from other Bolivian power centers.
New Bolivian Interim Leader Blasts Mexico; Unrest Continues