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2019 Bolivian protests

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2019 Bolivian protests
Manifestaciones en La Paz, Bolivia en contra el fraude electoral y el gobierno de Evo Morales.jpg
Protestors in La Paz
Date21 October 2019 – ongoing
Caused by
  • Suspension of the Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results (TREP) by the Plurinational Electoral Organ
  • Accusations of electoral fraud in regions of the country
  • Self-proclamation of Bolivian President Evo Morales as re-elected president, when the votes had not yet been fully calculated
MethodsProtests, rioting, civil resistance, unrest, strikes
Resulted in
Parties to the civil conflict

Evo Morales administration


Lead figures

From 21 October 2019, protests and marches have been occurring in Bolivia as a response to claims of electoral fraud in the 2019 general election. The claims of fraud were triggered by the sudden suspension of the preliminary vote count, in which incumbent Evo Morales was not leading by a large enough margin (10%) to avoid a runoff, and the subsequent publication of the official count, in which Morales won by over 10 percent.

Some international observers expressed concern over the day-long gap in the reporting of results, which was followed by a surge in Morales votes when the count resumed. Morales denied the allegations and invited foreign governments to audit the electoral processes, promising to hold a runoff if any fraud was found. The runner-up, Carlos Mesa, called for protests to continue until a second round was held, stating that he would bring forward proof that fraud occurred. While many demonstrations have been peaceful, violence has erupted, largely overnight. Senior members of the ruling party and their families have been victims of attacks, including burning houses.[3][4][5]

The police and army demanded Morales's resignation on 10 November, which he offered shortly thereafter.[6]



Article 168 of the 2009 constitution allowed the President and Vice-President to be re-elected only once, limiting the number of terms to two. The governing party, the Movement for Socialism (MAS) sponsored an effort to amend this article. The referendum was authorized by a joint session of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly on 26 September 2015, by a vote of 112 to 41.[7][8] Law 757, which convened the February referendum, passed by 113 votes to 43 and was promulgated on 5 November 2015.[9]

The referendum was held on 21 February 2016 and the proposed amendment was rejected by 51.3% to 48.7%. A successful "yes" vote would have allowed President Evo Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera to run for another term in office in 2019. Morales had already been elected three times. The first time, in 2006, is not counted, as it was before the two-term limit was introduced by the 2009 constitution.[9]

Despite the referendum result, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice – referring to Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights – ruled a little over one year later in December 2017 that all public offices would have no term limits despite what was established in the constitution, thus allowing Morales to run for a fourth term.[10]

2019 general election

On 20 October 2019, the first round of voting for all government positions was held. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal released two sets of counts shortly after the vote was closed. First was an exit poll that verified 95.6% of votes that showed incumbent President of Bolivia Evo Morales as having 9.33 percentage points over his main opposition and former President, Carlos Mesa. Leading by less than 10 percentage points indicates the vote must continue to a second run-off round. The complete count then appeared as provisional results on a website with routine live updates. At the point of 83.8% of votes in the complete count having been verified, the website showed Morales at 45.3% and Mesa at 38.2%; this also reflected a less than ten-point lead. However, no further updates to the preliminary results were made after 7:40 pm local time (UTC–4). The electoral authorities explained that updates to the preliminary count had been halted because the official results were beginning to be released; nevertheless, no official results were published overnight.[11]

At 9:25 pm, as the vote counting was still underway, President Morales declared himself the winner of the elections, stating that while he would wait for final scrutiny of the results, the outstanding vote from rural areas would guarantee his victory; he did not mention the possibility of a runoff.[12][13] Most of the remaining votes, from remote rural areas, were expected to go in Morales's favour, although the Organization of American States (OAS) recommended a runoff be held even if Morales's lead exceeded 10 points. Manuel González, head of the OAS election observation team in Bolivia, said that "In the case that [...] the margin of difference exceeds 10%, it is statistically reasonable to conclude that it will be by negligible margin" and that "given the context and the problematic issues in this electoral process the best option continues to be the convening of a second round." International observers expressed concern over the unexplained daylong gap in the reporting of results, which was followed by a surge in Morales votes when the count resumed.[14]

On 21 October 2019, a press conference of the Plurinational Electoral Organ was held, which published data of the rapid count of the system of Transmisión de Resultados Electorales Preliminares (TREP, "Transmission of Preliminary Electoral Results"), published at 7:30 pm, almost a whole day after being initially suspended,[15] stating that with 95.30 percent of the votes verified, Morales's MAS obtained 46.86% of the votes over the 36.72% of Mesa's Civic Community, surpassing the 10 percentage points needed to avoid a second run-off round and as such Morales would remain in power for a fourth term.[16][17]

On 6 November, the Bolivian opposition published a 190-page-long report containing fraud accusations, including irregularities such as mistaken electoral acts additions, data wiping and electoral acts where the ruling party obtained more votes than registered voters, expecting to send it to international organizations such as the OAS and the United Nations.[18]


21 October

Protestors knocking down a statue of Hugo Chávez, a friend and ally of Morales. The statue's decapitated head was later left at the door of an MAS politician.

Citizens held vigils at the gates of the computing centers of several departments.[19] The Commander of the Bolivian Police, Vladimir Calderón, said they were on alert for any event that could alter public order in the country after some social sectors called for civil resistance.[20]

According to Los Tiempos, on the morning of 21 October, in the Sopocachi and Miraflores residential neighborhoods of La Paz, ballots marked in favor of MAS and electoral material were found in the hands of people that were not Electoral Tribunal officials; videos of citizen reports circulating on social media show the police deploying tear gas against the residents of those residential neighborhoods and protecting the electoral material and the suspects.[21] As a result, the District Board of Parents requested the suspension of classes at schools in downtown Sucre.[22]

Protests in Sucre became violent, and the violence was severe to the point that a fire broke out in the campaign house of MAS and the offices of the Single Federation of Workers of Peoples Originating in Chuquisaca (Futpoch) were attacked.[23] Subsequently, female police officers members of the National Association of NCOs, Sergeants, Cabos and Police (Anssclapol) marched, calling for a peaceful night, on the 25 de Mayo Square. At the head was their leader, Sergeant Cecilia Calani, who was wearing a white handkerchief, demanding that the president respect the vote.[24]

Protesters set fire to electoral buildings and ballot boxes in the cities of Sucre and Tarija.[16][25] In Potosí, the COMCIPO march ended with the electoral court of the region being set on fire, damaging nearby homes.[26] Campfires and vigils by university students, supporters of Carlos Mesa and activists were set in other counting centers such as in Hotel Presidente, Hotel Real, Campo Ferial de Cochabamba. Police from Sucre were sent to Potosí to reinforce security and avoid possible disturbances before the vigil of citizens at the gates of the Departmental Electoral Court (TED), which denounced irregularities in the counting and computing of voting polls.[27]

At Hotel Real a clash between opponents and supporters of Morales and police took place; opposition groups were attacked with tear gas by the police.[28] Dozens were wounded, including the rector of the Higher University of San Andrés (UMSA), Waldo Albarracín, who was taken to the UMSA hospital.[29][30][31] Subsequently, the computing center at the Hotel Presidente suspended the vote count due to the protests that were in place.[32]

Four departmental electoral tribunals suspended the vote counting made by the TREP due to protests by citizens registered outside the computing centers.[33] The Mayor of Cobija, Luis Gatty Ribeiro, and the Governor of Pando, Luis Adolfo Flores, were attacked by a group of protesters, with Flores being hospitalized.[34] In Oruro, a MAS tent and a Public Ministry vehicle were destroyed.[35]

22 October

During and after images of a burning electoral council building

At dawn on 22 October, the head of a statue of Hugo Chávez was found at the door of the home of the Mayor of Riberalta, Omar Núñez Vela Rodríguez, after the statue was toppled and shattered by protesters.[36][37] Chávez, former president of Venezuela, was a friend and ally of Morales.[36] In Cochabamba, after violence at the Alalay Fairgrounds (FEICOBOL), which occurred between students and police on 21 October, 37 students from the Universidad Mayor de San Simón (UMSS) protested at Sucre Square against the alleged electoral fraud at noon. The police intervened with tear gas.[38][39]

Epifanio Ramón Morales, leader of the Ponchos Rojos organization, announced that they would hold marches in support of Morales, not ruling out including blocking roads and forming fences, in La Paz, and warned that they would respond to attacks with chicotes (whips) and weapons.[40]

23 October

Around noon, leaders of the Local University Federation (FUL) and university students seized the facilities of the Civic Committee of Tarija, ignoring the board because of their alleged political affinity with the ruling MAS party, and abiding by the indefinite strike called by the Conade.[41]

In Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni and Cochabamba, the first day of an indefinite public strike began. Kathia Antequera filed a formal complaint with the Special Force for the Fight Against Crime (FELCC) of Santa Cruz about the disappearance of Eduardo Gutiérrez, the spokesperson of the 21F party.[42]

The presidential candidate for Third System Movement (MTS), and former Education Minister, Félix Patzi, also spoke out against the fact that the votes for his party were passed to the MAS in the provinces of Larecaja, Caranavi and Palos Blancos.[43]

24 October

The Chuquisaca Departmental Electoral Court announced that the vote counting was being carried out in the municipality of Zudañez, because its facilities in the city of Sucre had been burned in the protests. The count was carried out in the meeting room of the Public Production Company Glass Containers of Bolivia.[44] Likewise, the Electoral Tribunal of Potosí ended the recount in the municipality of Llallagua, without notifying the delegates of the opposition political parties.[45] The counts show that in the municipalities of Zudañez and Llallagua the government party managed to obtain more than two thirds of the votes.[46]

A group of MAS supporters expelled a group of opponents from Plaza 14 de Septiembre in Cochabamba minutes before Morales gave a speech in the square. Opponents, who were on strike, reported receiving insults and threats.[47]

Towards the end of the day, clashes were recorded in the city of Santa Cruz between those supporting the victory of Evo Morales, and those demanding a second round. According to initial reports, several people were injured by stones and fighting in the municipality of El Torno.[48] Also in Cochabamba, there were clashes between students and supporters of President Evo Morales, and the police dispersed them with tear gas. MAS militants announced that they will remain in Cochabamba keeping vigil "until the final results."[49] Luis Fernando Camacho, president of the Civic Committee in Santa Cruz, again addressed the people of Santa Cruz reaffirming the call for strikes, and noting that Bolivia will not go to a second round with the same electoral authorities that oversaw this electoral process.[50]

Some Bolivians living in Madrid, Milan and Berlin demonstrated, demanding a second round between the leading candidates.[51]

At 7:00 pm local time, the Plurinational Electoral Body published the vote count in Bolivia and abroad (the result 'Mundo') at 99.99% counted, with Morales winning over 40% with a lead of 10.56 points over the other candidates, as a provisional result.[52]

25 October

By Friday 25 October, when the results were officially announced with Morales as the winner, several countries in Latin America, as well as the United States and European Union, had called for the second round to go ahead regardless.[53] From Thursday evening through the night, protestors filled the streets of the capital, chanting that Bolivia "is not Cuba or Venezuela" and should be respected.[54]

31 October

The government announced that at least two people had died in protests since 21 October, both in the town of Montero. The same day, the OAS began their audit of the election; they said it would take up to 12 days to complete, with Spain, Paraguay and Mexico monitoring.[55]

7 November

On 7 November, the death toll from the protests rose to three as a 20-year-old student called Limbert Guzman was killed during a confrontational protest.[56]

The small town of Vinto's town hall was burned down by protestors. Opposition protestors also attacked the MAS mayor, Patricia Arce, and dragged her through the streets barefoot, covered her in red paint and forcibly cut her hair.[57]

8 November

By 8 November, members of the police had joined the protests; in the evening, several could be seen protesting with flags on the roof of the Cochabamba police department,[58] as well as in La Paz, Santa Cruz, and Sucre.[59]

9 November

President Evo Morales invited parties to conduct "open dialogue". But Carlos Mesa refused and answered: "I have nothing to negotiate with Evo Morales and his government".[60]

The Bolivian army for the first time since the presidential election, discussed they would not oppose the Bolivian people as long as they asked for a political solution to overcome this problem.[61]

10 November

On 10 November the OAS published the report of the audit conducted during the elections. The report contained serious irregularities, adding that it was statistically unlikely that Morales had secured the 10-percentage-point margin of victory needed to win outright, saying that election should be annulled after it had found "clear manipulations" of the voting system that called into question Morales' win and that "The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case."[62][63]

The same day, General Williams Kaliman asked Morales to resign to "help restore peace and stability" after weeks of protests over the vote, adding that the military was calling on the Bolivian people to refrain from violence and disorder.[63]

Following this announcement, Morales spoke on television announcing his immediate resignation from an undisclosed location.[64][65]

11 November

Protesters took to the streets to celebrate, chanting "yes we can" and setting off fire crackers.[66] The police withdrew from La Paz streets as crowds welcomed the transfer of power with fireworks, while others looted stores and set reportedly politically motivated fires.[67]

Protests were also held in support of Morales throughout Bolivia. El Alto was the site of a particularly large protest, in which multiple people were injured, with crowds chanting, "Now, civil war!" and waving the Wiphala indigenous flag.[68] The acting president, Jeanine Áñez, called for the military to support the police tasks. The head of Bolivia's military said that following reports police have been overtaxed by weeks of unrest, the armed forces would provide help in keeping order.[69][70]

President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered Morales political asylum. The decision was critized by the National Action Party and the Institutional Revolutionary Party.[71]

12 November

On 12 November Morales left Bolivia on a plane toward Mexico, accepting the political asylum offered by President Obrador.[72] Former vice-president Álvaro García Linera also left the country.[73] Jeanine Áñez, acting president of the Senate of Bolivia, called an extraordinary session of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly in order to ratify Morales's and the other officials' resignation. Áñez called to all deputies and senators to participate, including the ones of the Movement for Socialism.[74]

At 18:48, per article 169 of the Constitution of Bolivia, Jeanine Áñez officially assumed functions as President of the Senate and acting President of Bolivia in front of the Plurinational Legislative Assembly; the session was boycotted by members of the Movement for Socialism.[75] The move was later upheld by the Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal.[76]

Videos also emerged of Bolivian police cutting the wiphala off of their uniforms. It was also removed from some government buildings and burned by protesters, who chanted "Bolivia belongs to Christ!"[77][78] This was later condemned by the acting president, Jeanine Áñez as a destruction of indigenous heritage.[79]


Reactions to fraud allegations

Morales on 23 October

The suspension of the vote count generated criticism in the opposition and the electoral observation mission of the Organization of American States (OAS).[16][17] In a press conference, the head of the electoral observation mission of the OAS, former Costa Rican foreign minister Manuel González,[80] made a statement in which his team expressed concern about the drastic and unexplained changes published by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that interpreted the victory of Evo Morales in the first round, saying "It is essential that the citizen's will be fully respected by honoring the values contained in the OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter".[81] In addition, the mission published a statement calling for respect for the will of the citizens.[82]

Carlos Mesa called for civil mobilizations in defense of the vote after denouncing fraud in the elections.[83][84] In a later video, Mesa called for constant protesting until a second round of voting was held, adding that he would bring proof of fraud.[85]

Opposition candidate Óscar Ortiz called to demonstrate in peace to "maintain the legitimacy of the democratic claim."[86]

The Bolivian Episcopal Conference (CEB) warned of fraud and demanded that the electoral authorities fulfill their duty as an "impartial arbitrator of the electoral process". The CEB also called on "international observers to fulfill their mission of monitoring the transparency of the electoral process" in order to respect the Bolivian people and the principles of democracy, noting that one of the observers for the election, the European Union, had financed the electronic vote count system and should, therefore, be mandated to ensure it is used properly.[87]

The Minister of Justice, Héctor Arce, denied the alleged electoral fraud and said that the demonstrations are unjustified, since the electoral calculation process is free and public.[88]

On 22 October, the Vice President of the Bolivian electoral board, Antonio Costas, described by news website Infobae as the only independent member of the TSE[relevant? ], resigned, criticizing the Electoral Tribunal for suspending the publication of the results of the TREP, saying that the issues with the count discredited the democratic process. Gunnar Vargas, also member of the electoral board, announced in the radio that he went into hiding for his personal safety.[85][89][90]

The National Committee for the Defense of Democracy in Bolivia (Conade) held the Morales government responsible for any confrontation that may arise in the country, and called for an indefinite national strike from midnight on the morning of 23 October.[91][92]

In a televised address on 23 October, Morales made a speech saying that there was a coup d'état underway in his country that had been orchestrated by right-wing groups in Bolivia with the aid of foreign powers; earlier that day, Manuel González opined that the second round should go ahead even if Morales is revealed to have achieved a lead of over 10 percentage points, as his vote margin (based on the earlier results) would still be "negligible".[85]

On Saturday 26 October, after international calls for an audit of the electoral processes, Morales invited foreign governments to hold one, and promised to move the election to a run-off should any fraud be found.[93]

In the announcement on Friday 8 November, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) denies that irregularities had taken place in the vote count. TSE referred critics to a report by the company Ethical Hacking, which had checked the electronic vote and did not find any kind of "alteration of the data." But the company’s chief, Alvaro Andrade, said his firm did find "vulnerabilities" in the vote count.[94]

Suspension of activities

The Bolivian Football Federation (FBF) suspended all matches on day 17 of the Clausura tournament of the Bolivian Primera División, due to a predicted lack of presence of both players and spectators because of the protests.[95]

The Bolivian Association of Supermarkets announced that the opening hours of supermarkets and hypermarkets for the day of 25 October would be from 7:00 am through noon.[96]

Press members incidents

A correspondent for the Cochabamba newspaper Los Tiempos, Wilson Aguilar, was assaulted on 21 October by MAS supporters during the Supreme Electoral Tribunal conference in La Paz.[97]

The newspaper El Deber reported that on the night of 21 October, Vice Minister of Communication Leyla Medinacelli called the newspaper to "ask for a headline" on the front page of the next day's edition, specifying that it should encourage protestors to "demobilize". The newspaper clarified that it does not allow people who are not their own journalists to "impose a headline".[98][99]

Suspension of publications due to security reasons

On 10 November the newspaper Página Siete announced it would not publish its morning edition of 11 November due to security reasons. The website and social media later resumed its updating.[100]

On 12 November the newspaper El Diario announced it would not publish its print edition of that day due to security reasons, while the online edition would still be updated.[101]

Accusations of racism

Añez's recent political importance prompted a closer look at remarks towards indigenous people on her social media accounts that have been described as racist.[102] One of her tweets from 2013 describes indigenous Aymara new year’s celebrations as "satanic", and in another post she questioned whether a group of indigenous people were genuine because they were wearing shoes.[103] An analysis in The Nation argued that Morales's ouster "threaten[ed] a potential return to anti-indigenous violence", noting that police forces had lowered and burned the wiphala (a flag representing indigenous groups in Bolivia and throughout the Andes) at the Legislative Assembly in La Paz, as well as cutting it from their uniforms, which, along with the mutiny of the police against the Morales government, led to retaliatory burnings of police stations by Morales supporters.[104][102][undue weight? ]


A pro-Morales counter-protest held before his resignation, featuring his likeness along that of Hugo Chávez

Counter-protests have been held in favour of Evo Morales both before and after his resignation.[105]

In Cochabamba, street clashes broke out between pro and anti-Morales demonstrators after an opposition leader made a speech in the city, in which he stated that he had written out a resignation letter that he demanded Morales sign.[106][107]

They increased in severity following Morales' departure, with pro-Morales indigenous protesters cutting off major Bolivian roads.[108]

In La Paz pro-Morales protesters clashed with police, military and opposition forces as they attempted to make their way to the city's centre to protest Morales' removal.[109] Another march of several thousand, held peacefully in the periphery of the town was held on the same day, with protesters lamenting the fact that military fighter aircraft flew over the city as military and security forces blocked them from reaching the city's main square.[110][111]

Pro-Morales counter-protestors wave the wiphala flag in El Alto following his departure

In response, pro-Morales protesters blocked roads leading to the city's airport.[112][113]

Demonstrators originating from El Alto, considered a "bastion of support" for Morales, further attempted to march to La Paz, but were stopped by more than 400 Bolivian policemen equipped with tear gas launches and water cannons and backed by the nation's military.[114] Police, military and opposition forces set up roadblocks in anticipation of a renewed counter-demonstrator march on the city's centre.[115]

In the early hours of 13 November, following the proclamation of the new acting president, thousands of Morales supporters took to the street in support of their former president, calling his resignation a "Washington-backed coup d'état".[116] A crowd managed to clear the way to Bolivia's national assembly in La Paz and protested the inaiguration by waving indigenous wiphala flags that by that point had become a symbol for Morales supporters.[117][118]

After videos showing the burning of the Wiphala, the multi-coloured flag of native people of the Andes, started circulating on social media, thousands of protesters took the streets waving the banner. Another video showed police officers cutting the flag out of their uniforms, which made a police officer issue an apology.[102]

See also


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