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Evo Morales ready to return to “pacify Bolivia, not as a candidate”

Speaking from Mexico, to where he fled after stepping down on Sunday amid growing violence over election fraud claims, the former Bolivian president tells EL PAÍS that he is the victim of a coup

Evo Morales in Mexico City on Wednesday.
Evo Morales in Mexico City on Wednesday. El País

Evo Morales, 60, has only been in Mexico for 24 hours – he landed there on Tuesday after the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador granted him political asylum on humanitarian grounds – and already his agenda is packed.

Morales, who stepped down as president of Bolivia on Sunday following weeks of street violence, said in an interview with EL PAÍS conducted in Mexico City that he is the victim of a coup. He also called for an end to the violent confrontations, and refuted the claims of election fraud that triggered the violence and his own resignation.

Bolivia’s first indigenous president had been in power since 2006 after winning three elections. A senator named Jeanine Añez Chavez has declared herself interim president until new elections are held.

The people will never be silenced with weapons

Question. When did you decide to give up the presidency?

Answer. The coup began on October 21, the day after the elections, with false accusations of fraud. Now I realize that this claim constituted the real fraud. For two weeks it intensified, and the coup was consummated when the police rebelled and joined the coup. We asked for dialogue with the four parties represented in parliament. In order to avoid deaths and injuries, I said let’s not have a runoff but an election, without Evo as a candidate, with new members of the electoral tribunal. But they kept up the aggression. Until the time that I resigned, there had been no deaths by gunshot. Afterwards, there were four or five.

Q. Shortly before stepping down, the head of the army had suggested you should resign. How did you take this?

A. I can’t understand it, I had good references about General Kaliman. I had talked with the armed forces, and they’d told me they were going to stay in their place. Later, they called for my resignation. It’s further evidence of the coup. Obviously I feel betrayed, but not just that. All these years we have been investing in equipping the armed forces, but to defend the homeland, not to go against the people. I don’t know what side of history they’ll end up on, but they’re making a mistake. I urge them not to use weapons against the people. The people will never be silenced with weapons.

Q. What solution do you see for your country?

OAS chief Luis Almagro is awaiting instructions from the government of the United States

A. The first thing is to stop people getting killed and wounded. That is up to the army and the national police. With an indigenous president, they never thought about a curfew, or a state of emergency. They staged the coup to defend the wealthy people. They use airplanes and helicopters to intimidate the people. This is a class problem. I have asked for a national dialogue with the presence of civic committees, political forces, the right, the social movements, the state, the government. If Álvaro [García Linera, the vice president] and I stepped down, it was to pacify things, not to keep up the violence.

Q. Who’s the boss in Bolivia right now?

A. There is no authority; it might be that unconstitutionally self-declared president.

Q. Who do you think holds the most power in the country?

A. I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you. It’s the military command and the police command.

Q. On Monday, the second vice president of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez, declared herself president. On Tuesday the Senate president, Adriana Salvatierra, who should have assumed the presidency following your resignation, was prevented from entering parliament. Do you think that Salvatierra should declare herself president, or would that create further division?

A. The first thing that the legislature needs to do is either reject or approve my resignation. As long as it does not do this, I am still the president. Once approved, the position would go to the vice president, who has also stepped down. Constitutionally, the next person in line is the president of the Senate, Adriana Salvatierra. That alleged declaration [by Áñez] is unconstitutional. It confirms the coup.

Q. How long do you plan on remaining in Mexico?

As long as there is life, I will remain in politics

A. I’d like to leave right now. If I can contribute to a peaceful solution, after my resignation, I will.

Q. A lot of people think your return would mean a return to power. Are you ready to give that up and not run as a candidate?

A. Look, in the early hours of Sunday, the Organization of American States [OAS] already had a preliminary report ready making it look like there had been [electoral] fraud. Yet they had told us that the report would not be ready until the 12th, and later even asked us for a November 13 deadline. I asked to talk with OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro at three or four in the morning, but he refused. I spoke with his chief of staff, Gonzalo Koncke, and told him that the report was going to set the country on fire, that there were going to be deaths as a result. They [the OAS] say that I won the election but not clearly; in this case there should be a runoff. But no, they want a new election. That’s a political decision. Now they’re saying we staged a self-coup. Luis Almagro is awaiting instructions from the government of the United States, everything makes sense that way. I had some degree of hope in the OAS. We told them to audit the election, I was convinced there was no fraud. I have never in my life liked to do anything illegal. The underlying issue is that they don’t accept the indigenous vote. After the first report, the Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results, came out, I was winning by 7%, but the rural, indigenous vote was still uncounted. I said we would win. They are rejecting the indigenous vote, and that is going back to the past, to colonial days.

Q. Let me ask you again: are you willing to return to your country and not remain in power, nor to run as a candidate, if it brings peace?

A. Of course. I have stepped down, and there is still violence.

Q. A month ago, as you were campaigning, you told me that if it were up to you, you would’ve retired already. Do you regret having run again to remain in power?

A. There’s no reason why I should have regrets. I joyfully accepted after my brothers and sisters told me: “Your life does not depend on yourself, it depends on the people.” As long as there is life, I will remain in politics.

Q. Your trip to Mexico has been a portrait of Latin American politics.

A. I respect and earnestly thank Paraguay and Brazil. Mexico obviously saved my life. I cannot understand how Peru, with whom we have such friendly relations, did not allow the plane to land in Lima.

This is an abridged version of the original interview in Spanish.

English version by Susana Urra.

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