UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Juan Evo Morales Ayma - Presidency

Evo MoralesThose who are against Morales are extremely against him. Since 2003 Bolivia was ruled by the streets. Opposition-led demonstrations in October 2003 in the capitol city of La Paz resulted in the death of a number of participants and to the flight into exile of President Gonzalo Sanchez Lozada. As a consequence, his successor, Carlos Mesa, governed in uneasy alliance with the indigenous supporters of Evo Morales, whose peasant roots in the Andean heartland of Bolivia gave his political message resonance in a region filled with impoverished farmers. His Movement to Socialism (MAS) party was soon the largest political force in the country.

Morales comes from the Chapare province, an area characterized by the cultivation of coca. Self-made, informally educated, and with limited political experience, he ran for congress in 1997 and won, receiving one of the highest votes of confidence in this election as well. Morales led the Coca Growers Federation. In that role, he revived labor-peasant militancy and radicalism and brought the movement to national prominence.

On December 18, 2005, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) candidate Juan Evo Morales Ayma was elected to the presidency by 54% of the voters. Morales won the December 2005 election by convincing, not only the poor and the indigenous to vote for him, but also a majority of the middle-class. Sick of the corruption by the established parties and thinking it would be better to have Morales in the government than on the streets made them decide to give him the opportunity to start his ´social revolution´.

Many of the circumstances which led to Chavez's election in Venezuela also exist in Bolivia. When Chavez was elected in 1998, Venezuela suffered from weak political parties, widespread perceptions of inequality in wealth distribution, poor economic conditions (in part due to low oil prices in 1998), and a collective sense that the entire political system was corrupt.

Bolivia’s first president to represent the indigenous majority, Morales continued to serve as leader of the country’s coca unions. During his campaign, Morales vowed to nationalize hydrocarbons and to empower the indigenous population. Morales was highly critical of what he termed “neo-liberal” economic policies. On January 22, 2006, Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera were inaugurated.

On May 1, 2006, the government issued a decree nationalizing the hydrocarbons sector and calling for the renegotiation of contracts with hydrocarbons companies. Morales promoted greater state control of natural resource industries, particularly hydrocarbons and mining, and of the telecommunications sector (see Economy section). These policies pleased Morales’ supporters but complicated Bolivia’s relations with some of its neighboring countries, foreign investors, and members of the international community.

Fulfilling another campaign promise, Morales convoked a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution. Early results in the July 2006 election to this assembly indicated that President Morales' Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won around 52 percent of Constituent Assembly representatives, followed by Podemos with 23 percent and the National Unity party with 4 percent, with the vote largely divided along east-west lines.

Evo Morales' election in December 2005 was a political earthquake in Bolivia, sweeping aside political expectations that have defined Bolivian politics for generations and at the same time breaking open fissures and offering up new possibilities. While President Morales' popularity has risen and fallen since his election, his popularity surged since the hydrocarbons nationalization and his successful use of political hardball tactics to overcome an opposition-imposed blockade of the senate. By the end of 2006, the traditional opposition appeared to be crumbling.

The assembly convened on August 6, 2006, and planned to complete its work by August 2007; however, the Congress extended its mandate to December 2007 after the assembly faced political deadlock over its voting rules. The MAS approved a constitution without the opposition vote in November 2007, in a controversial assembly session in which opposition delegates were blocked from voting by demonstrators and the armed forces. On December 14, 2007, Morales presented the constitutional text to the National Congress to request a referendum for its approval in 2008. The opposition-controlled Senate prevented the referendum legislation from moving forward.

Throughout 2008, members of the Morales government made public allegations that US Ambassador Goldberg's "Balkan separatist expertise" from his tour in Kosovo was evidence of his intent to divide Bolivia. The four eastern departments held a referendum for greater local authonomy on May 4th 2008, all approved a ´yes´ in the unofficial referenda. Unofficial, because the government didn’t recognize them and called them illegal. Political tensions between the government and the opposition over the new constitution, autonomy statutes passed by some departmental legislatures, and disputes over the division of tax proceeds from the hydrocarbon industry led to civil unrest, which culminated in violent discord in August and September 2008 in eastern departments. These events, referred to as the "coup civico-prefectural", commenced in date 9 September 2008. Bolivia was on the verge of a coup d’état, prompted by Governors ofDepartments opposed to President Morales (Curiously not favored by the military but by civilian authorities legitimately elected by the people).

On October 21, 2008, with a crowd of at least 50,000 pro-government supporters surrounding the National Congress, the government and congressional opposition agreed on final draft text for the new constitution. Voters approved the new constitution on January 25, 2009, and it entered into force on February 7, 2009. The new constitution called for national elections to be held in December.

President Morales was re-elected on December 6, 2009, with 64% of the vote, followed by former Cochabamba Prefect Manfred Reyes Villa (27%) and business leader Samuel Doria Medina (6%). The ruling MAS party won 88 out of 130 deputy races and 26 out of 36 Senate seats, gaining a two-thirds majority of the Plurinational Assembly.

After re-election, President Morales prioritized implementation of the new constitution. Morales and Vice President Garcia Linera pledged to move the country toward "communitarian socialism," with an "integrated" economic system featuring a strong state presence. The Morales administration promised greater investment in infrastructure, education, health, and a "great leap forward" in industrialization (including development of lithium reserves and the country's first satellite).

The 2009 constitution included mandates for implementing legislation, including five major pieces of legislation by July 2010. Required legislation included bills to codify and coordinate interactions between the co-equal "ordinary" and indigenous justice systems; reform and restructure the country's Supreme Court, Constitutional Tribunal, and National Electoral Court (considered the fourth branch of government); and define the roles and responsibilities of the central government and four autonomy levels: departmental, regional, municipal, and indigenous.

On December 26, 2010, the Morales administration removed subsidies for gasoline overnight. Gas prices rose 73% and, following nationwide protests over the “gasolinazo,” Morales reintroduced the subsidies. Morales’ popularity also was affected by police intervention in a march by lowland indigenous persons on September 25, 2011 protesting the development of a road through their protected territory. On October 16, 2011, the government held popular elections for the four highest judicial courts in the country. A majority of votes were returned null or blank due to frustrations over campaign restrictions, the recent police intervention, and complicated ballots.

President Morales held a national summit in late 2011 and early 2012 to formulate a new set of laws to address foreign investment, the hydrocarbon industry, and other issues. On January 23, 2012 Morales announced a round of cabinet changes, removing seven ministers and replacing two others in his 20-person cabinet. Morales organized a new holiday, the National Day of Coca Chewing, to protest the UN’s refusal to remove coca leaves from Schedule 1 of the 1961 Single Convention on narcotics.

On 31 October 2012 Bolivian President Evo Morales offered Sean Penn the post of honorary ambassador for coca legalization issues, but it was not clear whether the Hollywood star has accepted the offer. Penn’s opinion on one of his potential ambassadorial duties, overseeing a settlement of Bolivia’s territorial dispute with Chile, is also a question mark. The dispute stems from the war the two countries fought in 1879-1904, which resulted in Bolivia losing its outlet to the Pacific Ocean.

Morales, who led the country for almost 14 years as the first indigenous president, sparked a widespread backlash in 2019 when he ran for an unprecedented fourth term in the face of term limits and a national referendum. After claiming victory in that election, Morales was eventually forced to resign amid angry protests, and the police and military eventually dropping their support for him. He fled the country and a conservative interim government took over. As heir apparent to Morales, Luis Arce scored a resounding first-round victory in the 18 October 2020 elections, outpolling his chief challenger, centrist Carlos Mesa, by 26 points.

Former longtime Bolivian leader Evo Morales crossed the border back into Bolivia on 09 November 2020, ending a year in exile, after a close ally and member of his MAS socialist party was sworn in as president. Morales, who led Bolivia for almost 14 years as the first indigenous president, entered the country from Argentina after a farewell ceremony presided over by Argentine President Alberto Fernandez. Morales, who left Bolivia under a cloud in November 2019 after international observers cited irregularities in an election that gave him a fourth term in office, said that being able to return filled him "with happiness." "Today is one of the most important days of my life, to be returning to the country that I love so much fills me with happiness," he wrote. New President Luis Arce has said that Morales will play no role in his government.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 09-11-2020 15:45:36 ZULU