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Is Bolivia’s Morales following the lead of other Latin American strongmen?

By José María Leyes

In recent years, the world has finally taken measures to counter growing authoritarianism in Latin America. For example, democracies around the world have withdrawn their recognition of the illegitimate regime in Venezuela — where strongman Nicolás Maduro has held onto power through electoral fraud and violent repression — and condemned Daniel Ortega’s regime in Nicaragua for massacring nearly 500 protestors in the last year alone.

Yet as these crises have captured the world’s attention, this same brand of brutal authoritarianism has silently taken root in my country, Bolivia, too. And as with Venezuela and Nicaragua, the situation in Bolivia should elicit serious concern.

José María Leyes

President Evo Morales is following the classic dictator’s playbook. First, he removed term limits for office. Bolivia’s constitution limits the president to two terms in office, but determined to circumvent this, Morales held a legally binding referendum in 2016 to allow him to run for a fourth term. In a major upset, Bolivians rejected the referendum. Undeterred, Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party then challenged the term limits in court, and the Constitutional Tribunal — whose judges Morales personally appointed — struck them down under the preposterous argument that term limits violate human rights.

Morales has now launched his presidential campaign for the elections this October, and if he wins, he will be on track to become president for life. He already has started taking the necessary steps — following Maduro and Ortega’s example, Morales has imprisoned many of his leading political opponents and critics. I should know — I am one of Bolivia’s estimated 80 political prisoners.

Bolivian President Evo Morales

As mayor of the city of Cochabamba and a leading opposition leader, I had planned to challenge Morales for the presidency. Because of this — and my outspoken criticism — I now sit in jail. Last year, while meeting with European Union and United Nations officials in Europe, I spoke out against Morales’ autocratic attempts to stay in power. Soon after, Morales’ government falsely accused me of rigging two municipal bidding processes so that specific individuals would win the contracts. However, I have never met nor had any contact whatsoever with these individuals and did not receive a penny from anyone for these alleged crimes; the government does not claim otherwise. Furthermore, the government has suspended three judges who ruled in my favor, and even charged one of them criminally. And even though I have not been convicted of any crime, I have been detained and suspended as mayor for more than a year.

The government has similarly targeted dozens of other opposition leaders with the help of the judiciary, which Morales has stacked with political allies. Showing a brazen disregard for the rule of law, the Morales regime has repeatedly used an anti-corruption law to prosecute opposition leaders, even when the alleged crimes happened before the law was adopted. Few members of Morales’ party have been prosecuted.

Morales has also cracked down on independent media, proposing a “law against lies” targeting unfavorable news about his government. As Bolivians have turned out to protest Morales’ bid for reelection, student massacres, and his government’s entrenched corruption and ties to drug trafficking, he has at times responded with violent repression. He even spent $7 million of government funds to build a museum to glorify his life story in his home village of Orinoco, where 90 percent of the population lives in poverty.

The Morales regime clearly hopes to silence its critics — but the people will not let this happen. And I will continue to bring the government’s abuses to light, including in my own case. Recently, my international lawyer filed a complaint against Bolivia with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, asking it to find that the Bolivian government is detaining me in violation of its obligations under international law.

My case, however, is only one small example that shows Morales is not the democratic leader he claims to be. In fact, he has begun to take Bolivia down the same path that led Venezuela and Nicaragua into dictatorship and disintegration — and unless the world acts quickly, he will succeed.

The international community must support democracy and human rights in Bolivia. The U.S. Senate recently took an important step in this regard by unanimously approving a resolution criticizing Morales’ undemocratic bid for reelection. Other legislatures should follow suit. The Organization of American States must treat the illegal Supreme Court decision that purported to authorize Morales eligible to run for a fourth term in the same way it treats similar judgments from Venezuela. And all democratic countries should warn Morales that if he is stays in power for another term, he will not be recognized as a legitimate leader.

The world must stand in solidarity with the Bolivian people and their democratic aspirations before it is too late.

José María Leyes is a Bolivian opposition leader and the mayor of Cochabamba.

32 thoughts on “Is Bolivia’s Morales following the lead of other Latin American strongmen?

  1. President Evo Morales is one of the most popular presidents in the entire world and the economy of Bolivia is doing well. Leyes is part of the shameful Bolivian old white ruling class which wants to return to power, but is very unpopular and has little chance of doing so. The old white ruling class just can’t stand having a indigenous president.

    1. The same way the white ruling class of Venezuela couldn’t stand having a brown president. It’s a lot like what happened during the Obama administration. Remember the FEMA camps?

      1. Since there is no advantage to dictatorships using white vs brown is a weak weak argument.

    2. If he is so darn unpopular and has little chance of winning then let him run for office rather than putting him in jail.

  2. It’s heartening to see Morales’ poll number at 31%. It proves that crime doesn’t always pay.

    1. If he’s really polling at 31%, why is everyone so worried about him running for reelection?

      Maybe because he’s not really polling at 31%?

  3. Leyes’ family and friends want the old days of huge cocaine production, as seen in the modern movie “Scarface.” Killing all the locals who get in the way is no big problem for them, either. This Leyes is a mouthpiece for the banksters and NWO. Throw him into the garbage can.

  4. What is this “classic dictator’s playbook” they keep warning us about? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall classic dictators coming to power by election and then staying in power by being reelected. The “classic” dictator’s playbook, especially in Latin America, is coming to power by a US-sponsored coup and then canceling any further elections. The idea that Evo winning the next election means he’ll be “president for life” is absurd. It means he’ll be president for another term, after which his performance will be evaluated by the people and they’ll have an opportunity to decide whether or not to keep him in the job for another term. Aren’t these the same people who always claim we need to run government like a business? Do businesses remove a CEO after an arbitrary number of years even when the shareholders are happy with their performance?

    1. You fail to acknowledge that the dictators need to take responsibility for their atrocious actions.

      1. I also failed to acknowledge that atmospheric carbon has surpassed 300 parts per million, but that also had nothing to do with this discussion.

  5. In the spirit of the fairness doctrine (remember that quaint institution?), here’s an article summarizing 4 of the cases he has been indicted on. There are another 6 cases pending.

    While the author claims he’s being charged for being in the opposition, the evidence presented at his indictments seems pretty cut and dry. In the 2 school backpacks cases, the supplier purchased 91,000 units from China, had them shipped to Bolivia, and then had them embroidered with the seal of the mayor’s office a full 100 days before the contract was was awarded and, even more telling, nearly a month before the bidding process even began. A year later, they did the same thing with a supplier by a different name with the exact same business address. Both contracts were awarded by executive order, a power that is supposed to be used for emergency situations like natural disasters, not the annual purchase of school supplies.

    In another case, he failed to pay back a 1.3 million bolivares loan to purchase asphalt for the city, a loan he claims never occurred, a loan that is documented on multiple audio recordings and photographs that were presented in court.

    In a fourth case, he once again issued an executive order for the purchase of security cameras for the city, bypassing the bidding process and unilaterally selecting the supplier. The contract was awarded in a record 27 days.

    So those are the 4 cases pending against him so far. Contrary to his statements in this article, he has not been detained and suspended as mayor for over a year. He was first arrested at the end of November of last year but was released to house arrest. He was jailed once again in February after it was determined he was a flight risk (his wife had made several recent trips to the US and it was feared she was arranging his exile). He was suspended as mayor a couple months ago in a unanimous decision by his own city council (with the votes of several members of his own party) after another arraignment hearing revealed that in addition to the mountain of documentary evidence, there were also audio recordings and photographs disproving his claims of having never met the co-conspirators. Before his arrest, his approval ratings were in the 20s. Couldn’t find a poll indicating where they are now.

    Isn’t the internet great? I’m in the middle of the ocean and yet I got all that from multiple local Bolivian news sites from articles published on the dates from the initial accusations, through the indictments and the preventive detention hearings. They included arguments from his attorneys, from the prosecutors, from pundits defending him and pundits attacking him. I found no record of any judges being suspended or charged with a crime as he states, maybe someone else can find info on that. I also found nothing indicating that anyone anywhere in Bolivia thought he could potentially challenge Morales in the upcoming presidential election.

    This article looks to me like a propaganda piece written for a foreign audience that cannot read local news sites to get the whole story. I suspect we’ll be hearing Leyes’s name in English-language news stories as an example of a political prisoner by a leftist president, bla bla bla. They’ll claim it’s an example of Morales getting rid of anyone who could defeat him in the presidential race, yet it doesn’t appear anyone thought he was a contender for the presidency. Whatever the ultimate outcome may be, it’s safe to say that he’s not there because Morales felt threatened by a mayor with an approval rating in the 20s.

    1. It looks like your research is biased otherwise there would be some negative reports on Morales as well. We are certainly aware that you favour all the dictators of the world, Correa, Maduro, Morales, Castro. It would help if this extensive research that you seem to have time for would also include the truth about how these dictators actually treat their people and how they need to control their people and suppress them. For example there are 3 million people that have left Venezuela and yet you seem to not acknowledge that there is a problem with the leadership (Maduro) in that country. I know that you will blame all the other democratic countries for all the problems that occur in the dictatorships but that is a weak argument and is not accurate. Shifting the blame is the only defense dictators have. It appears as though your only information is from the internet which could also be fake news. Most of use put more credibility to the people on the ground actually living the atrocities. Keep in mind that Morales has control of the media.

  6. Sounds a lot like the USA. Our President is no more than a mouth piece (puppet) for the banksters. The people “think” they are free to vote and that their vote really counts. Nothing is further from the truth. The president is chosen before the race even begins. After all, if you had all of the money and had all of the power would you take a chance on letting a maverick move into the White House? Voting is determined by who counts the votes. America is the most crooked country in the entire world as we continue to export our “democracy” to other countries. That is why we have military bases in all most ALL of the world’s different countries. We hook countries on easy money (knowing they can’t pay the loan) and then steal everything that is worth having from each country as well as replace their president with one of our choosing. Don’t go thinking that America is the land of the brave and the free. That is NOT true!

    1. US must be doing something good if so many from other countries want to live there. If you dislike your country so much then don’t collect the money from the US; the sweet lucrative funds available from this democratic free country.

    2. Many BRAVE men and woman gave up their lives so that you can live in a free, safe, democratic country giving you the opportunity to make big dollars so that you can move out and live somewhere else without any consequences when you bash the US

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  7. The popularity of popularity contests remains popular.

    In related news that is just as old, weasels continue to pop. Which is fine by them, so long as they all pop together. Dance macabre’s – including democracy macabre — the way the money, & much else, goes.

  8. I was just waiting to hear how the dictatorship lovers were going justify authoritarianism….I;m hearing people on this site talk about…..
    – drugs (really…if the locals are convinced then they will not vote for him…let him run rather than jail him. The people on the ground are the most knowledgeable of who is involved in the drug trade.
    – sifting through the internet looking for articles that are pro Morales and anti Leyes may not be truthful if the press is controlled by Morales.
    – white vs black – that is a weak argument
    – the most absurd thing I’m hearing is that the US is responsible for putting in a dictator. That is so absurd that it is laughable.
    – if Morales is so loved why does he need to jail someone that is running against him.
    – the most popular president in the entire world. HA. If anyone believes that we have some ocean front property in Arizona

    If Leyes is not a worthy candidate or a popular one then he will not get elected. So one does wonder what Morales has to worry about. OH YEA I know. Molares is a dictator and will do anything to stay in power for years and years just like Maduro in Venezuela and Ortega in Nicaragua and Castro in Cuba which I may add are ALL dictatorships suppressing their people with violet suppression.

  9. The main goals of the dictators is to undermine democracy. We as a society should not let the dictators and corrupt politicians weasel their way into countries and violently suppress the people. It is up to us that believe in freedom and safety and democracy to stand up for what our ancestors fought for. If anyone sticks up for these dictators (Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Russia etc) they then give them the opportunity to justify their corrupt behavour and shift the blame onto the democratic countries.

    If you believe in communism then we highly recommend you move to a communist country (Cuba, Russia) but don’t be taking your sweet lucrative pension with you that you were lucky enough to get while being in a democratic free country. Try to live there and see how well you will survive like the other people trying to survive in these countries. These communist countries DO NOT offer pensions and at the same time allow their people to move to another country and still collect this money.

    1. A fanatic is someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject.

      1. You pride yourself in having proof of your point of view and spend hours in the internet on this anti democratic pro dictatorship yet I’m surprised that the only come back you have is to degrade someone that believes in freedom and democracy

        1. When was the last time you replied to any comment without invoking “pro dictator’?

          1. That is because all your words are always sticking up for the dictators and knocking down democratic countries. They are your words.

            1. A fanatic is someone who can’t change their mind and won’t change the subject.

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