Thousands of people took to the streets in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz this weekend in protest against far-left President Evo Morales over his handling of wildfires that have ripped through swaths of the country’s forests this year.
Around 350,000 protesters filled the streets of Santa Cruz on Saturday, brandishing placards calling for a “punishment vote” against Morales in the country’s upcoming presidential election.
Residents of Santa Cruz, a city known for its wealth and strong industrial base, have long been opposed to Morales’s leadership and his growing alliances with Cuba and Venezuela. The region is also home to the Chiquitano dry forests, where many indigenous communities typically supportive of Morales have lived for hundreds of years.
Drone footage of the protests in Bolivia last night.
— Joshua Potash (@JoshuaPotash) October 5, 2019
Many Bolivians have demanded that the government declare the fires a national emergency to help bypass bureaucratic barriers that would allow the country to receive aid from abroad. Morales has rejected this idea on the grounds that it could “invite foreign meddling in a sovereign issue.”
The issue may prove crucial in the country’s presidential election this month, where Morales may be forced into a second-round runoff against his rival Carlos Mesa, himself a former president. Despite being a member of the Revolutionary Left Front (RFI), Mesa is widely seen as more business-friendly and a less radical version of Morales, who has allied the country with authoritarian regimes around the world such as Cuba, Iran, and China.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly last month, Morales affirmed his government’s commitment to dealing with the forests, while also raising the alarm on the issue of climate change.
The consequences of climate change will condemn, according to data from our organization [the United Nations], millions of people to poverty, hunger, no potable water, losing their homes, forced displacement, more refugee crises and new armed conflicts.
In recent weeks, fires have broken out in Bolivia, which we have been fighting against using our financial, technical and human resources. To date, our country has spent more than $15 million to mitigate fires.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has so far taken most of the flak for his supposed lack of response to the fires, with liberal and left-wing media outlets using it as an opportunity to undermine the economic and agriculture policy of his conservative government.
“[Bolsonaro and his Environmental Minister Ricardo Salles] have not merely permitted these devastating fires, but have encouraged and fueled them,” Guardian columnist David Miranda recently bemoaned, without making any reference to Morales. “They have done so with a toxic brew of radical ideology, political corruption and banal greed. Put simply, the ongoing destruction of the Amazon is taking place because of policy choices made by those who now rule Brazil.”