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LATIN AMERICA | 09-07-2024 09:24

Brazil's Lula visits Bolivia seeking to unify the left after failed coup

Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva travels to Bolivia for a trip meant to broker peace between President Luis Arce and former president Evo Morales.

Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is pressing forward with his attempt to unify Bolivia’s splintered socialist movement, a task so tough even a failed coup against President Luis Arce couldn’t make it happen.

Lula arrived in Bolivia late Monday for a trip meant to broker peace between Arce and former president Evo Morales, whose efforts to run against his protégé next year have split their Movement for Socialism (MAS) party and strained the government’s ability to respond to economic woes that have plunged the Andean nation into crisis.

Two weeks after a rogue Army commander’s attempt to bring down the government nearly brought them back together, a truce seems as distant as ever: Morales, who initially condemned the uprising, now accuses Arce of having staged it himself.

The dispute roiling the party that has governed Bolivia for most of the last 20 years is unfolding against the backdrop of a dollar crunch that has caused fuel shortages and pushed it to the brink of financial calamity. Still scarred from a 2023 insurrection attempt against his own government, Lula is seeking to stave off further unrest in the historically turbulent nation that has experienced nearly 200 coups, revolutions or coup attempts since its independence two centuries ago.

“My trip to Santa Cruz de La Sierra is a vote of confidence in Bolivia to say that ‘Brazil is there,'” he told reporters Monday in Paraguay following a meeting of Mercosur, the trade union made up Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and the host nation. 

Lula will meet Arce in Santa Cruz de La Sierra on Tuesday during the Brazilian’s first visit to Bolivia since he returned to office last year. Mines and Energy Minister Alexandre Silveira is also leading a delegation of industry groups that are seeking the ability to directly purchase Bolivian natural gas, instead of going through Brazil’s state-run oil company. 

Lula is not scheduled to meet with Morales, according to Brazil’s Foreign Ministry. But “whenever Evo wants to talk to me, he just has to call,” Lula said of the leader with whom he has enjoyed close ties since they rose to power as part of Latin America’s leftward shift two decades ago.

 

Deepening crises

Arce, a UK-educated economist, ascended to the presidency in 2020, a year after Morales was ousted and exiled in what supporters regarded as a coup. But his popularity cratered as a shortage of dollars pushed Bolivia’s economy — once one of Latin America’s fastest-growing — into crisis last year.

Morales’s announcement that he planned to run in the 2025 election subsequently caused a rupture that has deprived Arce’s government of its congressional majority, further hamstringing efforts to respond to financial problems as the central bank’s reserves evaporated again.

Lula has avoided taking sides in the dispute, instead painting the revolt as part of a larger anti-democratic movement worldwide. Ahead of his visit, however, he also tied the troubles to economic problems the ongoing fight has made it harder for Bolivia to address.

“False democrats are trying to undermine institutions and put them at the service of reactionary interests,” Lula during his Monday address to Mercosur. “As long as our region remains among the most unequal in the world, political stability will remain under threat.”

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by Simone Iglesias, Bloomberg

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