Socialist ex-President of Bolivia Evo Morales, who resigned last year after the Organization of American States (OAS) found evidence that his Movement Towards Socialist (MAS) party committed fraud in that year’s election, returned to the country on Monday following a year in exile.
Following the OAS findings in early November 2019 — which concluded that Morales won the election amid a long list of electoral irregularities — Morales resigned from the presidency and fled to Mexico, then Argentina, where he stayed through Monday morning. Morales’ candidacy itself was unconstitutional, as he had already served three terms in office. Morales forced the Supreme Court to declare that the Bolivian constitution’s term limits were a violation of his human rights, forcing his way onto the ballot.
Morales fled the country along with most of his cabinet and other senior officials, leaving a conservative senator, Jeanine Áñez, as the highest-ranked person in the chain of command. Áñez concluded her term as interim president last week, having fulfilled her mandate to organize free and fair elections. MAS candidate Luis Arce won the October 2020 election, prompting Morales to return.
During Áñez’s term, the brief conservative government filed a case against Morales at The Hague for crimes against humanity, offering evidence that Morales had attempted to cause mass starvation in cities while abroad to force a return to power. “Don’t let food into the cities,” a voice the Bolivian government claimed was Morales can be heard saying on audio of a phone wiretap allegedly of a conversation Morales had with a union leader shortly after he fled the country. Morales also publicly called for the creation of violent socialist terrorist cells to enforce his will while he was gone.
Bolivian prosecutors also found evidence that Morales had committed statutory rape — a birth certificate listing him as the father of an infant born to a 16-year-old girl.
Morales has denied the charges and Arce rapidly announced his government would not pursue them. The MAS government has instead begun legal proceedings against Áñez for “genocide” against socialists, accusations she denies.
Morales, arrived in Uyuni Monday night on his way to his native Cochabamba, where he is expected to return to political agitation. Morales announced that he planned on organizing a socialist caravan to accompany him to Cochabamba, according to Bolivia’s Jornada.
Morales crossed the Argentine-Bolivian border on Monday accompanied by socialist Argentine President Alberto Fernández, who is facing nationwide protests attracting thousands of people due to his mismanagement of both the economy and the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. Morales published photos of large groups of people meeting to greet him on Monday, Morales waving the Whiphala, an indigenous Bolivian flag, in celebration. Morales clearly appears wearing a sanitary mask covering only his chin — not his nose or mouth — in front of what appears to be a densely packed mob of hundreds of people.
Estoy muy agradecido con el pueblo boliviano por recibirme con tanto cariño. pic.twitter.com/Ba0bJYPcu7
— Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) November 9, 2020
Morales used the attention diverted to him this week to denounce the United States.
“What was the goal of the North American empire?” Morales said of the United States. “To eliminate, to proscribe the MAS. They couldn’t do it and when the MAS participated [in the election], they said: MAS cannot return to the government nor can Evo return to Bolivia. Yesterday, MAS returned to the government, and now Evo is in Bolivia! They failed.”
The U.S. State Department congratulated Arce, who was inaugurated on Sunday, and the MAS party on their victory and acknowledged the legitimacy of the Bolivian election, contrary to Morales’ claims. America sent a delegation to attend his inauguration.
In statements in Uyuni on Tuesday, Morales attacked the United States, Japan, and South Korea, dismissing any attempts at diplomacy by the latter as craven attempts to “guarantee prime materials.” Similar throngs greeted Morales in Uyuni there, where he announced he wanted to build battery factories in recognition of its rich lithium deposits. Lithium is a mineral commonly used to make batteries.
Intensa fue la alegría en #Uyuni, tierra del litio, donde los pobladores salieron a darnos la bienvenida y muestras de aprecio, pero sobre todo, las fuerzas para mantener siempre viva la esperanza en un mañana. ¡Gracias, uyunenses y uyenensas! pic.twitter.com/HUL2xeXPjk
— Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) November 10, 2020
The warm welcome from grassroots socialists contrasted significantly from what the MAS leadership had hinted at in October, shortly after the election that won them the presidency.
“At this moment, he cannot return, he has no fundamental guarantees [of rights]; he has no due process; it is not convenient for him to come,” Sebastián Michel, a spokesman for the MAS party, said at the time.
Arce himself, currently the head of state, refused to answer when BBC asked when he believed Morales would come home, nor did he offer any sentiment that he personally would like to see Morales back on Bolivian soil.
In Cochabamba, residents have already begun protesting his return, expected sometime Tuesday or early Wednesday. Residents told local media they were especially concerned about Morales’ alleged sexual proclivities, in particular accusations that he frequently engaged in sexual relations with minors. According to Áñez, senior MAS members were aware of his sexual preference for girls and acted to prevent his prosecution.
“We cannot let that accused man enter,” a mother protesting Morales on Tuesday shouted, according to El Deber.
“It is an affront to Bolivian justice, an affront to Bolivian women, to our girls,” another protester said in Cochabamba, where the protest appeared to be led by women.
El Deber published photos of signs in the city of Oruro that someone had plastered throughout the streets. “Protect your girls, pedophile Evo has arrived,” one of the signs read. “Evo, atheist, Oruro hates you!” read another.
Members of the opposition parties told another Bolivian newspaper, Página Siete, that Morales’ victory tour disgusted them.
“Evo Morales is not the face of reconciliation in Bolivia, he is the face of authoritarianism, the face of the abuse of power and of extravagance,” Senator Andrea Barrientos said.