In Evo Morales’s Wake, Bolivia Left in Turmoil

In Evo Morales’s Wake, Bolivia Left in Turmoil

Bolivia was in turmoil for a second straight day as an opposition lawmaker declared herself the new head of state following the resignation of President Evo Morales, who arrived Tuesday in Mexico after being granted asylum.

Jeanine Añez, who had been vice president of the Senate, assumed the presidency by proclamation at a special session of Congress, saying the constitution put her next in line to lead this South American nation of 11 million people.

“I immediately assume the presidency of the state,” said Ms. Añez, a 52-year-old senator from northern Beni state who promised to hold new elections within 90 days. “I’m committed to enacting all the measures necessary to pacify the country.”

After resigning Sunday amid allegations that his government rigged last month’s presidential election, Mr. Morales struck a defiant tone upon arriving in Mexico, saying he was the victim of a coup. He also praised lawmakers loyal to him for trying to block the formation of a new Bolivian government by staying away from Congress and denying legislators the quorum needed to vote on a new president of the Senate, who would assume the presidency.

 “I congratulate our brother and sister lawmakers…for acting with unity and dignity and for rejecting manipulation by the racist, coup-plotting, right-wing sellouts,” he said via Twitter.

It wasn’t clear whether Ms. Añez’s move was legal, and it promised to spark anger among Mr. Morales’s supporters. In claiming the presidency, she cited articles of Bolivia’s constitution that lay out the order of succession when a head of state abandons power.

The streets of the capital La Paz, dominated by antigovernment protesters for the past three weeks, were filled on Tuesday with supporters of Mr. Morales, whose Socialist government held power for nearly 14 years. Many gathered near the Plaza Murillo, close to the Congress building, to express support for their former leader and to decry any attempt to replace him.

“The people are rising up,” said Nelly Alanoca, who runs a hair salon in La Paz and supports Mr. Morales. “The people are defending themselves.”

Tuesday’s developments appeared to only heighten the turmoil that erupted Sunday with the resignations of Mr. Morales, his vice president and the two top lawmakers in Congress. Police and soldiers patrolled the streets to prevent looting and at one point air force jets flew low over La Paz, apparently to intimidate pro-Morales groups gathering near the Congress building.

“The country can’t go forward without a new head of state,” Ms. Añez told a news conference earlier Tuesday. “This is urgent. This is what the Bolivian people want.”

“What Sen. Añez is doing is illegal,” Congressman Javier Quispe, a member of Mr. Morales’s still-powerful party, Movement toward Socialism or MAS, told Bolivia’s Panamericana radio station.

Mr. Quispe said most lawmakers from his party boycotted Tuesday’s session because they feared being attacked by anti-Morales protesters. He had demanded that Congress guarantee their safety by meeting in El Alto, a largely indigenous city overlooking the capital of La Paz that has long been a stronghold for Mr. Morales.

Mr. Quispe also said that rather than Ms. Añez, Adriana Salvatierra, the Senate president and a MAS member, was next in line to be president, even though she announced her resignation on Sunday and is now holed up in the Mexican Embassy in La Paz.

In El Alto and La Paz, people were bracing on Tuesday for violent protests as roads were blocked off by burned barricades, rocks and cables. Restaurants, pharmacies and most other stores were shut and schools canceled classes. In some neighborhoods in La Paz, small groups of men stood guard in front of their homes holding lengths of lumber, hoping to stave off looters and vandals. In other areas, supporters of Mr. Morales marched toward the center of La Paz carrying the rainbow-colored indigenous flag known as the wiphala.

“These people are traitors,” Juan Ledezma, a 74-year-old retiree, said of Mr. Morales and his supporters. “This wasn’t a coup d’état.”

Opponents of Mr. Morales say the president oversaw widespread fraud in the Oct. presidential election, in which he claimed to have won a fourth presidential term. The Organization of American States, which monitored the balloting, said it was marred by so many irregularities that it recommended that Bolivia hold a new election.

In Mexico City, Mr. Morales said he left Bolivia out of fear for his life and to prevent further bloodshed. On Nov. 9, he said, a military member of his security team showed him messages in which $50,000 was being offered for turning Mr. Morales in. He didn’t say who made the offer or give any further details.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Monday his country decided to grant Mr. Morales asylum “for humanitarian reasons, and given the urgent situation faced in Bolivia” after the ex-president made a request in a phone call.

Some former diplomats in Mexico said Mr. Morales was breaching international norms on asylum by using Twitter and making statements to Mexican media telling supporters in Bolivia he would return and urging them to resist what he called a coup.

“These types of things have very clear diplomatic rules that prohibit the person taking asylum from openly engaging in political proselytizing,” said Andrés Rozental, a former deputy Mexican foreign minister and founder of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

Mexico on Monday secured permission for the plane to land and refuel in the Peruvian capital Lima on its way to Bolivia. According to Mr. Ebrard, although it had been authorized to enter Bolivian airspace, once the plane approached Bolivia, the permission was revoked and it had to return to Lima.

Eventually, the Bolivian Air Force provided authorization and the plane reached the airport in Chimoré, where Mr. Morales had fled Sunday after resigning from the presidency.

The plane planned to return by the same route, but as it was about to take off, Peru revoked permission for it to land again and refuel in Lima.

“It was a very difficult, very intense situation because the airport where Evo Morales was located was surrounded by his followers or supporters, and inside the airport were Bolivian armed-forces personnel. That was the most tense moment for us. We had to come up with a Plan B,” Mr. Ebrard told a morning news conference.

With the assistance of Argentina’s President-elect Alberto Fernández, Mexico obtained authorization for the plane to land and refuel in the Paraguayan capital Asunción, south of Bolivia, although further diplomatic efforts were needed to again get permission to leave Bolivia.

Once the plane was in Paraguay, Peru agreed to allow the plane to cross its airspace—but not to land and refuel—so Mexico contacted the government in Ecuador, which said the plane could refuel in Guayaquil, if needed, on the Pacific coast.

But by then, Bolivia had again revoked permission for the plane to cross its airspace, leaving it with no way back until Brazil said it would allow it to fly around Bolivia over Brazilian airspace. Finally, a decision was made for the plane not to refuel in Ecuador, but instead cross Peru to reach international waters on its way to Mexico.

“It’s like a journey through Latin American politics, how decisions are taken, and the risks that are run,” Mr. Ebrard said in summarizing the ordeal.

Mr. Morales pledged to remain active in politics as long as he is alive. “Not because of this coup am I going to change ideologically…or stop working for the poor,” he told reporters at the Mexico City airport.

 

—David Luhnow in Mexico City contributed to this article.

 

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