WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
28 Mar 2020 | Podcast

Upheaval in Bolivia: Political Crisis, COVID-19, and the Run-up to New Elections

Audio of a March 27 WOLA web discussion of events in Bolivia since the October 2019 general elections and the onset of COVID-19, with analyst Linda Farthing, Robert Albro of American University, and John Walsh, WOLA’s director for drug policy and the Andes.

Bolivia’s October 2019 elections prompted accusations of fraud, triggering widespread protests. Facing a national police mutiny and a public warning from the military to step down, then-President Evo Morales resigned on November 10 and fled the country within days. Amid the turmoil, a transitional government under Jeanine Áñez took power on November 12, on dubious grounds constitutionally but with the military’s backing. In the days following Áñez’s swearing in as interim president, security forces killed at least 30 people—mostly working-class and indigenous Bolivians—while hundreds more were injured, and thousands detained. Most of the fatalities occurred in episodes characterized as massacres based on preliminary reporting by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Bolivia’s interim presidency and the holdover national legislature—with Morales’ MAS party holding a majority in both chambers—agreed upon legislation to annul the October 2019 elections and to provide for new electoral authorities. National elections are scheduled for May 3, 2020, with a potential second round presidential vote set for June 14.

Bolivians and the region remain sharply divided over the events that led to Morales’ downfall, the legitimacy of Áñez’s interim presidency, and the conduct of her government. Early polling indicates a sizeable lead for MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce, trailed by former president Carlos Mesa and by Áñez herself—who entered the race despite having promised not to run. But even as election day approaches, the COVID-19 pandemic and strict measures to contain it are throwing into question whether elections will take place as scheduled on May 3 or will be postponed.

Linda Farthing is a journalist and researcher who was in Bolivia from October 2019 to March 2020 reporting and commenting for The GuardianThe EconomistAmericas Quarterly, Al Jazeera, NPR and BBC. She is the co-author of three books on Bolivia, including Evo’s Bolivia: Continuity and Change (University of Texas Press, 2014).

Robert Albro is a Research Associate Professor at American University’s Center for Latin American & Latino Studies. He received his PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Chicago, and has conducted ethnographic research and published widely on popular and indigenous politics along Bolivia’s urban periphery. Much of that work is presented in his book, Roosters at Midnight: Indigenous Signs and Stigma in Local Bolivian Politics (SAR Press, 2010). More recently his work has engaged diverse arenas of cultural policy, including intersections of culture with climate change, and has edited or co-edited four volumes, including most recently Church, Cosmovision, and the Environment: Religion and Social Conflict in Contemporary Latin America (Routledge, 2018) and Montañas y paisajes sagrados: Mundos religiosos, cambio climático y las implicaciones del retiro de los glaciares (UARM Press, 2019).