After 14 Years In Power, Bolivia's Morales Resigns Presidency
NOEL KING, HOST:
There are some remarkable political circumstances in Bolivia this morning. It's not clear who the country's president is. Evo Morales has resigned. He was a notable leader for a couple reasons. He was in power for 14 years. He was Bolivia's first indigenous president. But in this most recent election, there were accusations of fraud, and so people went out into the streets. Morales said he's stepping down to end the violence.
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EVO MORALES: (Through interpreter) I am resigning just so that my brothers and sisters and leaders of the Movement Toward Socialism don't continue being harassed, persecuted and threatened.
KING: NPR's South America correspondent Philip Reeves is on the line. Good morning, Phil.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So what happened here? What went so wrong for Evo Morales?
REEVES: Well, after all those accusations of fraud surfaced following last month's election, where he declared himself the victor after the first round, the Organization of American States sent in a team to find out what had happened. Early yesterday, it revealed its findings. It found many irregularities from faults in computer security, the count, custody of the ballot. And that really lit the fuse, and then Morales' collapse began yesterday with remarkable speed. He'd been under a lot of pressure already. On Saturday, the police had begun deserting their posts.
But after that report came out, some of Morales' allies began to abandon him. He tried to cling on to power by going on TV and saying he was offering new elections, and he was going to overhaul the electoral authorities. But that didn't work. And then the army chief turned up on TV and announced that he thought he should go, and Morales followed by saying he'd be turning in a letter of resignation to the Legislature. He's characterizing this, though, as a coup, saying he's stepping aside to restore calm.
KING: OK. So when you think of coup and you think of Latin America, you do think of the military and the role that they are playing or not playing. Can you talk a bit more about what the military did in this circumstance to make some people say, ah, this looks an awful lot like a coup?
REEVES: Well, they certainly accelerated his downfall by announcing at the week end that the army wasn't going to get involved in stopping these protests because it didn't want to confront its own people. And then it delivered what was clearly a very strong shove in Morales' back when the army chief, you know, turned up on TV saying he should go. Morales' supporters on the left around Latin America are going to see this as evidence that this was a coup, and there will be concerns about the role of the military in this. You know, this historic specter of a Latin American military takeover is lurking.
REEVES: But the counterargument's going to be that he was actually the victim of his own determination to bend the rules to remain in power for a fourth term. But all eyes are going to be on what the army does next. I mean, that's going to be a key question now.
KING: I'm trying to imagine being in a country where it is unclear who the president is. How are ordinary Bolivians responding to this?
REEVES: Well, there were a lot of celebrations on the streets. These began, actually, even before Morales had completed his announcement. People were honking their car horns and appearing on the streets waving flags and setting off fireworks and so on. But we are entering really perilous and uncharted waters. His vice president has also resigned. And the rules say that when the president and the Veep are gone, the head of the Senate should step in, but she's resigned too, as has the head of the lower house, the next in line.
So the speculation that legislators will now have to meet to appoint someone for some kind of transitional body that will take over until elections - they will need to act quickly. The situation on the ground is unstable. I'm seeing overnight reports of clashes, of arson attacks and looting.
KING: Wow. NPR's Philip Reeves. Phil, thanks so much.
REEVES: You're welcome.
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