Meanwhile in Bolivia …

Alternate Title: State of the Pink Tide Update

The pink tide of leftist leaders in Latin America has been receding. And while we don’t want to get complacent, there is mostly good news from the region … and a fight in Bolivia.

The best news comes from Argentina, where business-friendly President Mauricio Macri’s reformist government trounced the party of former leftist President Cristina Fernandez. His Cambiemos party’s victory indicates that the short-term hurts caused by economic reform won’t derail the agenda, and Argentina is closer to coming out of the basket-case tunnel.

In Ecuador, Rafael Correa’s handpicked successor Lenin Moreno defeated businessman Guillermo Lasso, but he’s not turning out to be the machine lackey he was feared to be. According to The Economist:

Mr Correa is alarmed because, to the surprise of many, Mr Moreno has turned out to be his own man with his own ideas … He has built bridges with the opposition, businessmen and civic groups. He has turned Ecuadoreans’ anger over corruption to his political advantage. He stripped [Vice President] Glas of most of his powers and authorised prosecutors to proceed against him. This month Mr Glas was detained on suspicion of taking bribes from Odebrecht, a Brazilian construction firm (which he denies). In all, two dozen officials who had served in Mr Correa’s governments face corruption charges …

“Mr Moreno is seeking to press his advantage with a referendum on constitutional changes to be held early next year. One would restrict presidents to two terms, thus barring Mr Correa from running again. Another would replace the seven members of a body set up by Mr Correa’s constitution, which controls appointments to the judiciary, the electoral authority and the prosecutor’s office. Eventually, they would be elected by popular vote.”

No good news from Venezuela, where master strategist Nicolas Maduro has all but consolidated power into one-party rule. In my opinion, the only thing that can lead to regime change is a default on PDVSA debt, which is largely out of Maduro’s control.

And that brings us to Bolivia, where President Evo Morales is attempting to do away with term limits. He’s currently serving his third five-year term, which ends in 2019. So he’s already been in office since 2006, and an electoral victory in 2019 would make it 20 years of Evo in Bolivia.

Bolivia’s constitution, drafted by Morales himself, prohibits a fourth term. But Morales tried to abolish that clause with a referendum in 2016, which he lost. Now he’s trying the courts.

“Morales had accepted defeat in early 2016 when 51 percent of Bolivian voters rejected his proposal to reform the constitution to end existing term limits in a referendum,” according to Reuters. “But last month, Morales’ Movement to Socialism (MAS) party asked the country’s highest court to rescind legal limits barring elected authorities from seeking re-election indefinitely, arguing that these violate human rights.”

“Morales’ arguments for clinging to power are so ridiculous that they would be funny if this wasn’t happening in one of the world’s poorest countries … And, believe it or not, his argument is that his own human rights would be violated if he weren’t allowed to run,” writes Andres Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.

“But after almost 12 years in office and a long list of abuses of power, Morales’ current effort to once again change the constitution and invalidate the 2016 referendum deserves international condemnation. He should not be allowed to become president for life, nor to insult people’s intelligence by claiming that he has a ‘human right’ to do so,” writes Oppenheimer.

Two weeks ago, thousands of demonstrators turned out in La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba to protest Morales’s move.

Photo credit: Reuters / David Mercado

The story is remarkable for how little coverage it’s getting. Those two links are about all there is in the big English-language media, and the second one is an op-ed. I think I only heard about it because Kevin Howlett tweets about it.

Maybe because Bolivia’s entire population is just slightly more than that of Lima, or because its $33.8 billion GDP would make its economy larger than only Vermont if it were an American state, or ranked between Latvia and Serbia if it were an EU country.

But Morales is a high-profile figure, and if he pulls this off there are implications for the region.

Reader “Luis” in Bolivia offers his on-the-ground perspective:

Evo have lost a lot of public support and important bases, Bolivia’s largest workers union COB among them. That is pretty bad for a union leader.

In the 21F referendum Evo lost with 51% opting for no. Those numbers should be a lot worse now. According to the latest poll in nine of the biggest cities, 70% is against his reelection.

There are a lot of similarities with Venezuela but also a lot of differences. For instance there are no colectivos or paramilitaries in Bolivia. [Morales’s politicaly party] MAS was definitely not prepared to lose public support. The original plan was probably for Evo to step down and somebody like Leonardo Loza take his place. With the political landscape of today however they don’t want to risk it with a fairly unknown candidate. With a corrupt supreme court they might get away with electing Evo again.

However you have to take into account Bolivia’s track record in getting rid of presidents. To govern in Bolivia without public support is very difficult.

Still a long time to go until 2019 eleccions. Will be interesting to see who will be the opposition candidate as they will most likely form an alliance. Tuto Quiroga is a US-educated ex-president and would be a good choice.

This interview sums the current situation of Bolivian politics with MAS in decline: José Antonio Quiroga: “Es mejor prepararse para el post evismo.” To go deeper, see the reelección tag on El Deber or repostulacion on Los Tiempos.

All I have to say is, these leftists hailed for their respect for democracy during the commodity boom don’t seem so democratic when polls don’t go their way.



  1. That happened here in Nicaragua. Our ol buddy Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista party rules everything, including the Supreme Court. Funny, it was them who decided term limits should be abolished, paving the way for Daniel’s third consecutive term.

    Perfectly legal. Right?

    Well, when he ran for his third term, he also decided to switch out his vice presidential running mate for his wife. So now the president and vice are husband and wife. A dynasty to be if ever there was one.

    So here we are now just one year into Daniel’s third term and everybody knows he is ill…he has some undisclosed terminal disease that will knock him out before too long. And his wife will then take the reigns. So I am not surprised about Evo’s push to hang on to power. I mean, latin america has had peace for too long, wouldn’t you say? It isn’t latin america if there isn’t grounds for revolution brewing somewhere.


  2. Now, that being said, life has really improved under Daniel Ortega’s leadership. So while I support the rule of the people and sticking to the democratic laws that govern society, I do wonder how Nicaragua would be better off with some other leader.

    The Sandinistas might be corrupt but, as my Nica wife says, they are the least corrupt of them all.

    How do Evo’s opponents stack up against his MAS party?


  3. @ Casey — a Nicaragua update is certainly missing here!

    Interesting what your wife says, but I must be a little skeptical. I mean, most economists rank Nicaragua as the poorest in Central America, and second to only Haiti in the Western Hemisphere.


  4. So the constitutional supreme cort has now Opened the way for reelection. Protests began yesterday and will get worse. On sunday there is judicial elections and prognostics are that 70% will vote null (nulo). Evo will end up hanging from a lamp post or fleeing to Cuba.


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