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LATIN AMERICA | 16-11-2019 11:31

Bolivia crisis deepens as two sides stake out positions

Interim leader Jeanine Áñez warns Evo Morales he will ‘answer to justice’ if he returns to homeland, as ex-president decries ‘coup’ and calls for UN mediation.

The ongoing political crisis in Bolivia took another sharp turn yesterday, as the country’s interim leader Jeanine Añez warned Evo Morales that he must “answer to justice” if he sets foot in his homeland again.

“He knows he has to answer to justice. There is electoral crime. There are many allegations of corruption in his government,” Añez told journalists in La Paz.

As she spoke, supporters of the exiled ex-president clashed with security forces in the streets of La Paz, with tensions in the troubled nation showing no sign of dying down.

Fighting back in an interview with local radio station El Destape, Morales accused the right-wing opposition of carrying out a “coup” led by the Lima Group, which he said “openly submits to the designs of the US empire.”

Following weeks of protests after his disputed election victory, Morales dramatically resigned from office last Sunday night.

By Tuesday, he was taking political asylum in Mexico after losing the support of the security forces.

An Organisation of American States (OAS) audit of the vote found widespread irregularities in the October 20 election that jump-started demonstrations of Bolivia. The Washington-based agency recommended holding new elections after it found “irregularities that range from serious to indicative” in virtually every area they reviewed – technology, the chain of custody of ballots, integrity of the count, and statistical projections.

Morales denies any fraud allegations.

MEDIATION CALLS

From Mexico, the Bolivian leader called for the United Nations, and possibly Pope Francis, to mediate in the Andean nation’s political crisis following his ouster as president in what he called a coup d’état which forced him into exile in Mexico.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said Thursday he is sending Jean Arnault, a personal envoy to Bolivia to support efforts to find a peaceful solution to the nation’s crisis.

“I have a lot of confidence in the UN,” Morales said. But he noted he wants the world body “to be a mediator, not just a facilitator, perhaps accompanied by the Catholic Church and if Bolivia crisis deepens as two sides stake out positions Interim leader Jeanine Áñez warns Evo Morales he will ‘answer to justice’ if he returns to homeland, as ex-president decries ‘coup’ and calls for UN mediation. Pope Francis is needed, we should add him.”

Morales said he is in fact still the president of Bolivia since the country’s Legislative Assembly has not yet accepted his resignation.

"The assembly has to reject or approve the resignation” which it has not done, argued Morales. “If they don’t approve or reject it, I can say that I am still president.”

Morales said he would return to Bolivia from Mexico, which has granted him political asylum, if that would contribute to his country’s pacification. Interim leader Áñez, however, has stated that Morales is free to return to Bolivia but if so, must “answer to justice” for poll irregularities during the 20 October elections and “corruption allegations.”

According to the Constitution, an interim president has 90 days to organise an election. The disputed accession of Añez, who until Tuesday was the second vice-president of the Senate, was an example of the long list of obstacles she faces.

Morales’ backers, who hold a two-thirds majority in Congress, boycotted the session she called Tuesday night to formalise her claim to the presidency, Saturday, November 16, 2019 preventing quorum.

Late Thursday, legislators with Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party (MAS) and Añez were working on an agreement for new elections which would help resolve the crisis. The deal would make Eva Copa Murga Senate president with the backing of legislators from Añez’s Democratic Unity party.

“It’s a historic agreement to pacify the country,” Copa Murga said. But other legislators said a deal had not yet been reached.

Moving to establish authority in the turbulent country, Áñez announced that Morales could not participate in elections again, but his MAS party could.

NEW APPROACH

Internationally, Añez has been recognised as Bolivia’s leader by some countries, including Brazil and the United States. Since then, she has brought on a wave of conservative measures marking a 180-degree shift in Bolivian foreign policy since Morales was first elected in late 2005. The first indigenous leader in the region kept close ties with Venezuela and Cuba, alongside open criticism of the United States.

On Friday, Interior Minister Karen Longaric announced that Bolivia would formally pull out of ALBA, a group of leftist countries including Venezuela and Nicaragua, as well as UNASUR. La Paz also recognised Juan Guaidó as the leader of Venezuela, another move solidifying Bolivia’s breaking of diplomatic ties with the Nicolás Maduro administration.

As part of the policy reshuffle, Bolivia recalled its ambassadors serving across the world, except for those located in the Vatican and Peru. The new government also said it would expel Venezuelan diplomats due to “violation of diplomatic norms,” for allegedly meddling in internal affairs.

“All personnel representing the government of Mr. [Nicolás] Maduro” will be expelled,” said Longaric.

Government Minister Arturo Murillo further accused “Venezuelans and Cubans” of participating in political actions against Áñez’ administration. Cuba, a former ally of the Morales administration, has also said it will repatriate 725 of its citizens from the country, including doctors and teachers practising in the Andean country.

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