Bolivia: Tearful Police Beg Leftists to Stop Rioting After Evo Morales Resignation

Policemen with a sign against ex-President Evo Morales gather at the police's Special Tactical Operations Unit headquarters in La Paz on November 11, 2019. - Bolivia's Evo Morales announced his resignation on Sunday, caving in following three weeks of sometimes-violent protests over his disputed re-election after the army and police …
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Police in La Paz, Bolivia, pleaded with leftist rioters on Monday to stop destroying the city in statements in the indigenous Aymara and Quechua languages following the resignation of socialist President Evo Morales.

Morales, the first indigenous president of the country, resigned on Sunday following the revelation by the Organization of American States (OAS) of the use of a mystery, unsupervised server to count the votes in the October 20 presidential election, which Morales won with a significant margin following the shutdown of the legal election commission server. The Bolivian constitution term-limited Morales from running, but the leftist forced the nation’s top court to decree that being on an election ballot was a “human right” in 2017.

Tearful police officers held an event Monday in La Paz’s Murillo Square in which they addressed supporters of Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party, identifying themselves as indigenous people. The group of officers flew the Wiphala flag, a multiethnic flag representing the indigenous peoples of Bolivia that legally serves as a representative flag of the state of Bolivia. Rumors circulated throughout the country that protesters against Morales burned the Wiphala flag and that officers had torn it off of their uniforms. The officers organizing the La Paz demonstration highlighted the Wiphala on their uniforms to reporters.

“We as police feel very deeply in our hearts … as we are the Bolivian people and come from indigenous families,” one of the officers participating in the event said in Spanish, following statements in Quechua and Aymara. “That is why we are making a public plea for peace – for peace, we will raise the Wiphala flag to deny [the rumor] that we had abandoned the Wiphala since infiltrated people prompted this confrontation between police and the people, to make the Bolivian police look bad.

“At every moment, the police are with the people and for the people,” the officer added.

Elsewhere in the city, officers asked rioters to prevent more violence.

“We ask the people to reconsider, we don’t want deaths, we don’t want injuries,” one officer said. “Stop harming the people, we are Bolivian.”

An independent opposition lawmaker, Rafael Quispe, raised the Wiphala flag in Murillo Square after it initially came down, as well, emphasizing while raising it, “the Wiphala does not belong to the MAS.”

Quispe posted briefly on Facebook late Monday, after the event, that socialist MAS supporters had tried to burn down his home: “I had to leave running to safety.”

Quispe is one of dozens of politicians, local and national alike, who have experienced home attacks since Morales resigned – including Morales himself. Both opponents of Morales – many of whom are left-wing but not supporters of the MAS party – and MAS supporters have taken the streets to start fires, block roads, and attack police. On Sunday night, MAS supporters in La Paz burned down a third of a public transportation system’s bus fleet, a total of 63 buses. The newspaper Página Siete, whose offices came under attack on Sunday temporarily, described a nationwide “wave of terror” by socialists following Morales’ announcement that he would resign.

“La Paz and El Alto are the cities worst hit by the wave of terror launched by sectors supportive of MAS [Movement Towards Socialism, Morales’ party], which began to attack businesses and, later, private homes,” Página Siete reported, noting that attackers targeted the home of El Alto Mayor Soledad Chapetón and her father despite being a member of a left-leaning opposition coalition.

On Monday, Página Siete reported that socialists ransacked the National Regional Customs deposits in El Alto. “Dozens” of looters overwhelmed the few police officers there, who fled. The Bolivian newspaper El Deber put the number of people in the mob attacking El Alto on Monday at around 8,000 people, citing police, who largely fled the scene outnumbered. Some in the mob reportedly shouted “this is it, civil war” while burning down key downtown centers. El Alto City Hall was set on fire overnight Sunday.

La Paz National Police commander Antonio Barrenechea requested a military intervention on Monday in light of the “unsustainable” violent situation.

“I don’t want to carry any more dead on my shoulders,” Barrenechea said.

In response to the police’s request for help, the nation’s military announced late Monday it would begin moving into the major cities to “avoid bloodshed and mourning for the Bolivia family,” according to armed forces head Williams Kaliman.

“We remind the people that the armed forces will never open fire on them,” Kaliman emphasized in his announcement of a new urban military operation.

Local reports showed armored vehicles rolling into El Alto and La Paz overnight into Tuesday and, by Tuesday morning, many city streets were largely empty. Businesses chose not to open so as to not tempt looters; many refused to send their children to school.

Coca grower unions in Cochabamba, where Morales is from, announced following his resignation that they would launch a “permanent mobilization” in defense of the socialists. Defending farmers who cultivate coca, the plant that cocaine derives from, was a flagship policy of Morales’ tenure; when he resigned, he claimed he would return to Cochabamba to lead the coca growers’ unions.

Morales has since fled to Mexico.

Leonardo Loza, a coca grower leader, told reporters that the unions will wait for the national legislature to make a decision on who runs the country, and “of course … we reject all the mistreatment, humiliation, and shootings in El Alto – that is what the right wanted and that is what they want to install as government.” He did not offer any evidence for “the right” being involved in the socialist rioting in El Alto.

Bolivia does not have a president at press time, as the nation’s vice president and most of the chain of command fled with Morales.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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