Bolivia In Crisis: The Legacy of Evo Morales

by Marc Camanag
Staff Writer

Although there is little consensus on whether Bolivia’s recent shift in leadership constitutes a coup, there is a power struggle plaguing the nation. Amidst widespread protests, it is clear that the resignation of former president Evo Morales carried very real consequences for the Latin American nation and its people. But to what extent? The fall of Morales — the country’s first indigenous president — after nearly fourteen years in office sparked violent protests between his native loyalists and defected police forces. While mostly rooted in deep-seated fears of regression, strong opposing ideologies in Bolivia date back to earlier times involving oppressive post-colonial structures

The current interim president and successor, Jeanine Áñez, is a senator of European descent with a problematic history of anti-indigenous tweets. And since Morales’ resignation, Áñez has only served to further aggravate this ethnic tension. All things considered, Morales’ legacy may be the only tangible piece in the complex puzzle of Bolivia’s future. 

Morales’ ascension to power in 2006 was strongly regarded as a victory for indigenous Bolivians, who have long been subjected to hegemonic rule under a small elite of European descent. For many, Morales was a much-needed break from the tradition of the Spanish colonial era that had long divided the population. Under his administration, the stark social divisions of the past were completely disrupted by a rhetoric of populism and racial distinction. Morales’ Bolivia saw a growing number of indigenous representatives within the government, along with a revival of indigenous culture and the establishment of the Wiphala as an official flag. Despite criticism that his discourse was polarizing and sparked disunity, it is apparent that Morales had a major hand in uplifting the long-marginalized indigenous people of his nation.

Economically, the impoverished Bolivia thrived under his presidency, with two million people being lifted out of poverty through the redistribution of natural gas assets and maintenance of a balanced national budget. For a country that has long suffered from instability and poverty, Evo Morales was a beacon of hope — and then things started to change.

Eventually, Morales’ desire to protract his rule manifested in increasingly concerning behaviors. As more and more of his opponents were prosecuted and institutions become packed with pro-Morales figures, Bolivians began to search for a way out. Their victory in a referendum that enacted term limits was short-lived; soon after, the nation’s Constitutional Court ruled that such an imposition would violate Morales’ human rights. Years of dissatisfaction with the president culminated in this year’s presidential election, during which results were halted for an entire day prior to the announcement that Morales’ lead margin was enough to avoid a runoff. Amid mass accusations of fraud by the incumbent president, the Organization of American States confirmed the presence of irregularities and urged for a new election. This revelation only further incensed Bolivians, who took to the streets in late October to protest against Morales. 

These demonstrations proved to be the conditions for Morales’ fall, but the death blow came when police commandos in Cochabamba sided with protestors against the president’s re-election. The initially localized mutiny triggered a nationwide defection of security forces — an action that foreshadowed Morales’ demise. Now in the streets themselves, police officers across the nation voiced their disdain for Morales, burning the Wiphala flag and tearing the symbol from their uniforms. After weeks of protest, the military requested that Morales resign from the presidency to restore peace in the country. The demand — coup d’état or not — was successful, and the embattled Morales left Bolivia for Mexico soon after. 

Into today, the ex-president’s retreat has not become the solution that the military expected it to be. As Morales’ opponents scaled back from the streets, they were subsequently replaced by his supporters, who fear the loss of political gains made for indigenous communities. Jeanine Áñez — the self-proclaimed interim president — has done little to pacify this new unrest, seemingly condoning the police’s escalating violence against indigenous defenders of Morales and ignoring the rising death toll of these protests. Even with the promise of new presidential elections within ninety days, the opposition senator has faced incredible condemnation, particularly for creating a caretaker cabinet without any indigenous members and having made derogatory tweets against indigenous people — including one that referred to Morales as a “poor Indian”. With the nation in such a fragile state, Áñez must work quickly — before the crisis escalates into a violent and unforgiving civil war

For now, Evo Morales will likely remain in Mexico, where he has been granted asylum. Despite his desire to return to Bolivia and finish his term, it may be too late to make amends. For many, Morales’ legacy is already set in stone. 

Featured image courtesy of Ruperto Miller

ZIKA OUTBREAK: WHAT IS IT, AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE U.S.

By Rebecca Emrick
Staff Writer

The Zika virus that is currently having an abnormally high outbreak in South America has been linked to affected pregnant women who’ve also given birth to babies with a condition known as microcephaly. Additionally it’s been reported that infected individuals are also contracting a virus known as Guillain-Barré. The Zika virus spreads to humans from mosquito bites and is having an uncharacteristically large outbreak in South American countries.

In a report from the CDC, symptoms of the Zika virus include “fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week.” Recent news reports regarding the Zika outbreak in South America, and notably Brazil, have been linking this mosquito-spread disease to multiple problems. The most prominent problem that Brazil is facing at the moment with the Zika virus, are pregnant women. Pregnant women who have been infected with the Zika virus, via mosquito bites, have been known to give birth to babies with a condition known as microcephaly: a condition in which the brain of an infant is not fully developed which leads to “severe brain damage [that] affects all aspects of a child’s development, both physical and mental” and sadly infants affected with the disease are expected to live about 10 years.

Although this disease isn’t new to Brazil, the number of cases is astonishing and it is partly to blame for the sheer number of infant disease cases that have recently broken out in Brazil. “Brazil had fewer than 150 cases of microcephaly in the whole of 2014, but there have been about 4,000 since October [2015]”, and while the link in the Zika disease being found in pregnant mothers hasn’t been directly linked to infants with microcephaly, it’s hard to deny the coincidental nature of the mass amount of outbreaks along side the mass influx of babies being born with this life-threatening condition. Countries alongside Brazil such as Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica have called for women to delay pregnancies up to 3 years until more information is known about the Zika virus and it’s effects on humans.

Health ministers  hope that governments in Latin America will call on women to delay pregnancies in order to express to citizens the effects and consequences of becoming pregnant and the effect of the Zika virus at this time. Although good in nature, women’s rights activists have called out these governments as being naïve, because “women in the region often had little choice about becoming pregnant”. In a recent interview with BBC, Monida Roa, a member of Women’s Link Worldwide group explained that “it’s incredibly naive for a government to ask women to postpone getting pregnant in a context such as Colombia, where more than 50% of pregnancies are unplanned and across the region where sexual violence is prevalent”. This proves to be a problem, especially for a country like Colombia that has had the second highest outbreak behind Brazil at 13,500 reported cases. If it is true that women have little power in when they become pregnant due to sexual violence, leading to unplanned pregnancies, then governments in these regions with a strong history in sexual violence should either be shifting their cautionary tales, or shifting their focus.

In addition to the recent birth defects that have been linked to the Zika virus, another rare condition being linked to this fast spreading condition is known as Guillain-Barré: the individual that has been bitten by a mosquito with the Zika virus is almost completely paralyzed for weeks on end. In a recent interview, Dr. Wellington Galvão, a hematologist in northeast Brazil estimates “Zika increases by about 20 times the probability that an individual can get Guillain-Barré.”

After examining the Zika outbreak in Latin America, one may ask the question “what does this have to do with me?” Consequently, travel warnings have been issued to Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela. These warnings are especially prevalent for those living on the borders of the affected countries such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A Texan was diagnosed with the Zika virus, after returning back to Texas from a trip to South America. Although there have been some cases of people being infected with the Zika virus in the U.S., in all of the cases the infected person had contracted the disease from outside the U.S.

If you live close, or in one of the affected areas, here are some steps that you can take to avoid being bitten by a possibly affected mosquito:

  • Use insect repellents (for tips and pointers, visit the CDC website)
  • When weather permits, wear long sleeved shirts and long pants
  • Use air conditioning or window/door screen to keep mosquitos outside. If you’re not able to take these steps, sleep under a mosquito bed net
  • Emptying standing water from containers such as flower pots or buckets

For further information on precautionary measures, and what to do if you’re infected please visit the CDC website.

Image by Agência Brasil Fotografias