Bolivians grapple with uncertainty as opposition leader claims presidency

Click to play video: 'Bolivia’s interim president sworn in' Bolivia’s interim president sworn in
WATCH ABOVE: Bolivia's interim president sworn in – Nov 12, 2019

Bolivians have new uncertainty to grapple with now that opposition Sen. Jeanine Añez declared herself interim president of the crisis-torn Andean country just hours after Evo Morales flew off to self-exile in Mexico.

Questions remained about who might rally around Añez, while Morales’ supporters angrily accused her of trying to seize power in her declaration Tuesday, raising the prospect of more troubles following weeks of clashes over the disputed Oct. 20 presidential election.

READ MORE: Bolivia’s former president accepts asylum, flies to Mexico as protests rage on

Some people took to the streets cheering and waving national flags Tuesday night after Añez claimed the post of Senate leader, the position next in line for the presidency. Furious supporters of Morales responded by trying to force their way to the Congress building in La Paz yelling, “She must quit!”

Story continues below advertisement

Añez, a women’s rights activist and former TV presenter, seemed in a tenuous position. She declared herself interim president even though she lacked a quorum in the Senate after Morales’ party boycotted the session, and she wasn’t sworn in by anyone before appearing on a balcony of the old presidential palace wearing the presidential sash.

“My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country,” she said. “They can never again steal our vote.”

Click to play video: 'Supporters of Bolivia’s former president march in streets' Supporters of Bolivia’s former president march in streets
Supporters of Bolivia’s former president march in streets – Nov 12, 2019

Morales resigned Sunday under pressure from Bolivia’s military chief following the weeks of violent protests fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the Oct. 20 election, which he claimed to have won.

Although Añez met with Gen. Williams Kaliman, the armed forces commander, it was uncertain how much support she could count on from other power centers.

Story continues below advertisement

Morales resigned shortly after an Organization of American States audit reported widespread irregularities in the vote count. Bolivia’s first indigenous president arrived in Mexico on Tuesday under a grant of asylum. But his resignation still needed to be approved by both houses of Congress, and lawmakers could not assemble the numbers needed for formal sessions.

Click to play video: 'Why Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales resigned' Why Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales resigned
Why Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales resigned – Nov 12, 2019

Añez forged ahead anyway, arguing that Bolivia could not wait and be left in a power vacuum. After Morales quit, resignations by allies left vacancies in the only posts listed by the constitution as presidential successors — the vice president, the head of the Senate and the leader of the lower house.

Añez was a second-tier opposition figure until Morales, Latin America’s longest serving leader resigned after nearly 14 years in power.

READ MORE: Bolivia thrown into power void as president, top officials resign after weeks of unrest

Story continues below advertisement

She immediately tried to set differences with the socialist leader. She greeted supporters at an old palace instead of the nearby modern 26-story presidential palace with a heliport that was built by Morales and that his foes had criticized as one of his excesses. She also carried a Bible, which had been banned by Morales from the presidential palace after he reformed the constitution and recognized the Andean earth deity Pachamama instead of the Roman Catholic Church.

Morales said on Twitter from Mexico that Añez’s “self-proclamation” was an affront to constitutional government. “Bolivia is suffering an assault on the power of the people,” he wrote.

Click to play video: 'Bolivia’s Morales arrives in Mexico after being granted asylum' Bolivia’s Morales arrives in Mexico after being granted asylum
Bolivia’s Morales arrives in Mexico after being granted asylum – Nov 12, 2019

Even before Añez acted, thousands of his supporters were in the streets of the capital in peaceful demonstrations clamoring for his return. Military fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated Morales loyalists who were blocked by police and soldiers from marching to the main square.

Story continues below advertisement

“We’re not afraid!” shouted demonstrators, who believe Morales’ departure was a coup d’etat and an act of discrimination against Bolivia’s indigenous communities.

“Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights,” said Maria Apasa, who like Morales is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.

Click to play video: 'Unrest in Bolivia after Morales resigns' Unrest in Bolivia after Morales resigns
Unrest in Bolivia after Morales resigns – Nov 11, 2019

Morales’ detractors accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and rigging the election.

Morales was met at Mexico City’s airport by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard after a flight from Bolivia on a Mexican government plane and repeated his allegations he had been forced to resign by a coup.

“The president of Mexico saved my life,” Morales said, thanking President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for granting him asylum. He vowed to “continue the struggle.”

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: How countries have reacted to Bolivia’s president stepping down

Ebrard said Mexican diplomats had to scramble to arrange a flight path for the plane because some nations initially closed airspace to it. The plane stopped in Paraguay to refuel.

Morales’ departure was a dramatic fall for the one-time llama shepherd from the Bolivian highlands and former coca growers’ union leader who as president helped lift millions out poverty, increased social rights and presided over stability and high economic growth in South America’s poorest country.

Click to play video: 'Bolivia protests: Riot police fire tear gas at protesters calling for Morales’ resignation' Bolivia protests: Riot police fire tear gas at protesters calling for Morales’ resignation
Bolivia protests: Riot police fire tear gas at protesters calling for Morales’ resignation – Nov 6, 2019

In the end, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto power. He ran for a fourth term after refusing to accept the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president — restrictions thrown out by a top court that critics contend was stacked in his favor.

Story continues below advertisement

Gen. Kaliman, the chief of the armed forces, announced a joint police-military operation in a television address Monday seeking to calm street fighting. He said the hope was to “avoid bloodshed and mourning of the Bolivian family,” and he urged Bolivians to help restore peace.

Click to play video: 'Mexico foreign minister says Bolivia’s Evo Morales granted asylum' Mexico foreign minister says Bolivia’s Evo Morales granted asylum
Mexico foreign minister says Bolivia’s Evo Morales granted asylum – Nov 11, 2019

Ronald Arias said he had left his home in El Alto and walked for three hours to his job in downtown La Paz because the cable car connecting the cities was suspended for security reasons and barricades blocked access to public transportation.

Arias, a native Aymara, said that thanks to Morales, his parents in the countryside gained access for the first time to running water and gas for cooking.

“I was so saddened by his resignation,” he said. “A lot of people in El Alto shed tears for the president.”


Sponsored content