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“This Is a Military Coup”: Bolivian President Evo Morales Resigns After Army Calls for His Ouster

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Bolivia is in a state of political crisis after longtime President Evo Morales resigned Sunday following what he described as a military coup. Weeks of protests have taken place since a disputed election last month. Morales announced his resignation in a televised address Sunday, shortly after the Bolivian military took to the airwaves to call for his resignation. Bolivia’s vice president also resigned Sunday, as did the head of the Bolivian Senate and the lower house. Opposition leader Jeanine Áñez, who is the second vice president of the Bolivian Senate, is claiming she will assume the presidency today. Evo Morales was the longest-serving president in Latin America, as well as Bolivia’s first indigenous leader. He was credited with lifting nearly a fifth of Bolivia’s population out of poverty since he took office in 2006, but he faced mounting criticism from some of his former supporters for running for a third and then a fourth term. For more on the unfolding crisis in Bolivia, we speak with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. His latest piece for The Nation is headlined “The Trump Administration Is Undercutting Democracy in Bolivia.” “This is a military coup — there’s no doubt about it now,” Weisbrot says.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivia is in a state of political crisis after longtime President Evo Morales resigned Sunday following what he described as a military coup. Bolivia has been the scene of weeks of protest since a disputed election last month. Morales announced his resignation in a televised address Sunday.

EVO MORALES: [translated] To my brothers and sisters of Bolivia, the whole world, I want to inform you, from Lauca Ñ — I’m here with the vice president and minister of health — that I have decided, after listening to my friends at CONALCAM and the Bolivian Workers’ Center, and also listening to the Catholic Church, to resign my position as president.

AMY GOODMAN: President Morales spoke shortly after the Bolivian military took to the airwaves to call for his resignation.

WILLIAMS KALIMAN: [translated] After analyzing the internal conflict situation, we ask the president of the state to renounce his presidential mandate, allowing for peace to be restored and the maintenance of stability for the good of Bolivia.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivia’s vice president also resigned Sunday, as did the head of the Bolivian Senate and the lower house. The top two officials on Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Court have been detained. Opposition leader Jeanine Áñez, who is the second vice president of the Bolivian Senate, is claiming she will assume the presidency today.

Evo Morales was Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, was credited with lifting nearly a fifth of Bolivia’s population out of poverty since he took office in 2006. But he faced criticism from some of his former supporters for running for a third and then a fourth term. Evo Morales’s whereabouts are unknown. His home was ransacked Sunday. Mexico has offered Morales asylum. Hours before resigning, Morales had agreed to call for new elections, after the Organization of American States issued a report claiming there was, quote, “clear manipulation” in last month’s election results. According to the official results of last month’s election, Morales won 47% of the vote and just narrowly avoided a runoff election. But the OAS immediately questioned the election process, sparking mass street protests. Critics of the OAS say the global body did not provide any evidence of actual vote rigging.

We go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, his latest piece for The Nation headlined “The Trump Administration Is Undercutting Democracy in Bolivia.” Talk about the latest developments, the resignation of President Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, this is a military coup. There’s no doubt about it now, after the head of the military told the president and vice president to resign and then they did. And I think it’s really terrible the way it’s been presented, because, from the beginning, you had that OAS press release, the day after the election, which hinted — or implied, actually, very strongly — that there was something wrong with the vote count, and they never presented any evidence at all. They didn’t presented it in that release. They didn’t present it in their next release. They didn’t present it in their preliminary report. And there’s really nothing in this latest so-called preliminary audit that shows that there was any fraud in this election. But it was repeated over and over again in all the media, and so it became kind of true. And, you know, if you look at the media, you don’t see anybody — you don’t see any experts, for example, saying that there was something wrong with the vote count. It’s really just that OAS observation mission, which was under a lot of pressure, of course, from Senator Rubio and the Trump administration to do this, because they wanted — they’ve wanted for some time to get rid of this government.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain how the election went — Morales stopping the election count, resuming it — and then what kind of majority he needed to avoid a runoff.

MARK WEISBROT: OK. So, this is very important, because this has been very badly described, I think, in most of the media. You have a quick count, which is not even the official count of the election, and it’s not binding. It’s not what determines the result. It’s just something that is done while the votes are being counted to let people know what’s going on at that time. And so, the quick count was interrupted, and when it resumed — and it was interrupted with Evo leading by about 7 percentage points. And when it came back, his margin increased. And if you read the press here, any of the articles, it’s reported as though something terribly suspicious happened. He didn’t have enough votes — he needed a 10-point margin in order to — a 10-point lead over the next runner-up in order to win in the first round, and he didn’t have that when the vote count, this quick count, was interrupted — or, the reporting was interrupted, I should say. And then, you know, he got it in the last 14 — last 16% of the votes counted. He reached 10%. But if you look at what was really — so, this was reported as a very suspicious thing. And this is what’s reported over and over again to make it look like something was wrong.

But if you look at it, actually — actually, the whole vote count — you see there was a steady trend of Evo’s margin increasing almost from the beginning. And it didn’t change in the last 16%; it just continued because — and you can look at the areas that were coming in — these were rural and poor areas where Evo Morales had more support. That’s all that happened. This happens in elections. You can see this if you watch election returns in the U.S. So, there was never anything there.

AMY GOODMAN: Several Latin American leaders have criticized the ouster of Evo Morales in Bolivia. This is Argentina’s President-elect Alberto Fernández.

PRESIDENT-ELECT ALBERTO FERNÁNDEZ: [translated] What’s happening in Bolivia is that there’s a dominant class that will not resign themselves to losing power to the hands of a president who is the first Bolivian president that looks like Bolivians. That’s what’s happening.

AMY GOODMAN: And British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted Sunday, “To see @evoespueble who, along with a powerful movement, has brought so much social progress forced from office by the military is appalling. I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence. So, if you can talk, Mark Weisbrot, about the role of the Bolivian military? And what about the Trump administration?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think the most — you know, the Bolivian military very clearly said — I mean, before they did that, they said they weren’t going to intervene, in terms of the protests. But they very clearly — the head of the armed forces said that Evo should resign, right before he did that. And so it was a military coup. And Evo Morales is calling it that, of course. And there isn’t any doubt about it. The media hasn’t really mentioned it as much as a military coup, but it definitely is.

In terms of the Trump administration, you can look at tweets and statements from Marco Rubio right before the votes were even counted, saying that there was going to be fraud, and, you know, making it clear that they didn’t want this government to be there. And so, yeah, I think that — I mean, it’s very obvious that they supported this coup. And it’s very obvious that they pressured the OAS, where the United States supplies 60% of the budget.

And, you know, this is the problem. The media treats this OAS as though it’s really an independent arbiter here. And they do have electoral missions, and most of the time they’re clean, but they are not always. You know, in Haiti in 2011, for example, they reversed the results of a first-round presidential election without any statistical test, recount or any reason. It was completely political. And in 2000, they reversed their position, their report on the election, when the United States, as you know and you’ve reported on this show, wanted to cut off all international aid to Haiti and spent four years preparing for the coup of 2004. So, the OAS played a major role in that by changing their report on the election in Haiti. And so, I think this is a kind of a classic military coup supported by the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Mark Weisbrot, you have the CIA involvement in coups in Bolivia in 1952, in 1964, 1970, 1980. Would you add 2019 to that list?

MARK WEISBROT: I would add it to the list. I mean, we don’t have the hard evidence of what they did. You know, it’s not like 2009 in Honduras, where Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoirs that she worked in the OAS, too, to prevent the elected president, who you’ve had on this show, from coming back to the country and to the presidency. But I think we’ll probably find out more later. But it’s just — it is very obvious that they supported this coup.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier today, Evo Morales tweeted, “The coup perpetrators who attacked my house & my sister’s, who threatened to kill ministers and their kids, who humiliated a mayor, are now lying & trying to blame us for the chaos and violence that they created. Bolivia & the world are witnesses to this coup.” Among those who condemned the coup are Lula — yes, the Brazilian former president, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also big news. And we just have 30 seconds. But if you, Mark, can talk about the significance of his release from prison after a year and a half? He had been the front-runner in the election before he ultimately was imprisoned. Now he’s out. What does this mean?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, this is definitely a victory. But the thing that I worry about most is they could arrest him at any time for any reason. You have the so-called justice minister of the country who is the judge who put him in prison and in a trial that really almost everyone now knows was lacking in evidence and was really a political trial. And so, and you have, you know, a very — I don’t know how else to say, but a fascistic government. So, he is definitely in danger, and there’s going to be a need to really defend him.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Of course, we’ll continue to follow these developments. Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, speaking to us from Washington, D.C. The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, resigned yesterday, saying he was ousted by a military coup.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice. It’s held in South Carolina. I co-moderated. Today we play you our segment with Elizabeth Warren.

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