'A Crisis Of Incumbents' : How Political Unrest In Bolivia Resonates Across Latin America

Nov 15, 2019

Bolivia has been dealing with political unrest since the resignation of former president Evo Morales earlier this week.

Morales, who was elected the country’s first indigenous president, is now in exile in Mexico City. He stepped down amid allegations of fraud in thee most recent presidential election.

The political upheaval in Bolivia also comes at a crucial time in Latin America. There’s been recent protests in Chile. Authoritarian regimes have maintained power in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Brazilians elected an extreme right-wing president.

WLRN’s Tom Hudson spoke with Tim Padgett, WLRN’s Americas editor, and Joshua Goodman,  Latin America correspondent for the Associated Press based in Miami, about the latest from the hemisphere.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: Lots at stake in Bolivia and this transfer of power. What are the broader implications that are at play for the rest of the continent and Latin America-U.S. relations?

JOSHUA GOODMAN: There's a real problem throughout Latin America, whether it's on the left or the right, of accepting the transition of power, accepting defeat, accepting the rules of law. This scenario, which is being celebrated by people in Washington, being celebrated by Morales's opponents on the right, is not a good thing for Bolivia to have to be going through this. The democracy is going to emerge weaker because the institutions have been tested and have been shown to be pretty paper-thin.

Obviously, the country has a future. But it's gonna be easier the next time for someone to do this again, whether it's Bolivia, whether it's Paraguay, whether it's Venezuela. The rule of law is being compromised and that's a worrisome trend.

TIM PADGETT: That's why I wrote that it would've been better for the military in Bolivia to actually tell Morales to stay put, stay in office, finish your term while we hold a special election, which you cannot participate in. And then when that winner is elected, you hand the presidential sash to that person at the end of your term. That would have been so much better for Bolivian democracy. And to tell you the truth, it would have been far more humiliating for a vote because he would have been doing the democratic thing instead of the "demigod" thing.

HUDSON: Lots has been happening politically in Latin America in a very short period of time. How is this Bolivia situation looked at internally within the continent?

GOODMAN: There's a crisis of incumbents. It doesn't matter if you're left or right in Latin America right now. The region as a whole did very well economically over the past 15 years. And around 2015, the commodity prices started slipping and that really thrust everyone into a bit of an economic stupor.

Going forward, the region has a serious problem and needs to get over this sort of revanchist politics that we see all the time. It's sort of like a soccer match. Latin Americans love soccer and they're very passionate and they love to humiliate their opponent on the field and the fans off the field. I remember taking a Latin American to a baseball game once here, a Yankees-Red Sox game. They couldn't believe that the fans sit next to each other. So, this is an endemic problem that the region's politicians on both the left and right need to get over.

The left, it has to be said, was making something of a comeback. It just goes to show that the political center is more tilted to the left because basically the left has been very effective. The conservatives have not done well in talking about the real dollar-dollar inequality issues that affect people's lifestyle.

This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.