By Tom Phillips and Uki Goñi
Bolivia’s exiled former president Evo Morales has landed in neighboring Argentina having been granted asylum by its new leftwing leaders in a move likely to further vex Brazil’s far-right administration.
“He’s just arrived. He has come to stay,” Argentina’s foreign minister, Felipe Solá, told reporters on Thursday morning.
Solá said Morales had requested refugee status and attributed his arrival to the fact that “he feels better here than in Mexico” where Bolivia’s first indigenous president initially sought shelter after fleeing his country on 11 November.
Soon after, Morales tweeted: “A month ago [when] I arrived in Mexico, our sister country which saved my life, I was sad and devastated. Now that I’ve come to Argentina to continue struggling for the most poor … I feel strong and energized. Thanks to Mexico and Argentina for all your support and solidarity.”
Morales’s flight from Bolivia followed accusations – detailed last week in a damning 100-page report by the Organization of American States (OAS) – of efforts to rig the 20 October presidential election in his favour.
Some observers suspect Morales’s decision to base himself closer to Bolivia is part of a nascent bid to launch a political comeback in the country he governed for nearly 14 years from 2006.
Morales will not stand as a candidate in fresh presidential elections, expected to take place early next year. But on Sunday his party, the Movement Towards Socialism (Mas), named him its campaign chief, suggesting he hopes to stay involved in Bolivian politics.
“Thank you for not abandoning me. I will always be with you,” Morales tweeted after that decision.
In a recent interview in La Paz, Eva Copa, a Mas senator, said the party needed to look to future and engage in a process of “self-criticism” over its “mistakes”. But she insisted Morales would remain a key figure for the movement. “Evo is an emblem … and it will have to be him who decides who the candidates are … Politics is basically his life,” Copa said.
“Wherever he is, we will always respect him. Wherever he is … he will always have an important role to play in our country’s politics.”
Morales’s new hosts said they would ask him to refrain from interfering in Bolivian politics from his new home. “We want Evo to commit to not making political statements in Argentina,” Solá was quoted as saying by the newspaper La Nación. “This is a condition we have requested.”
But many doubt Morales will remain silent and expect his presence to further inflame tensions between Argentina’s new leftwing government and Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who refused to attend this week’s swearing-in of Alberto Fernández.
Ivan Briscoe, director of Latin America and the Caribbean at the International Crisis Group, said a diplomatic rift between Brasília and Buenos Aires will probably be one of the region’s major stories of 2020. “Between Bolsonaro’s rabid rhetoric and the response – which is likely to come from [Argentina’s vice-president] Cristina Fernández – I can see a tide of verbal tension,” Briscoe said.
Morales’s arrival will “test the limits” of Argentina’s relationship with Bolivia and Brazil, said the Buenos Aires political analyst Marcos Novaro, who was skeptical that the former president would keep his pledge to avoid political statements. “Mexico has offloaded the problem – and having Morales active politically in Argentina is much more serious than if he was active in Mexico,” he said. “If Argentina refuses to play a role in the democratization of Bolivia through new elections, while Brazil does play that role – and the new government of Bolivia resembles the current interim government, Argentina will have missed the boat in its relationship with Bolivia,” he said.
Credit: The Guardian, www.theguardian.com