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Q&A: Eric Farnsworth Talks Bolivia on CNN's The Brief with Bianca Nobilo

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Bianca Nobilo: If we could start with trying to get to the bottom of some of these disputed facts and what really happened here with the president’s resignation in Bolivia, [Evo] Morales is maintaining that this is some sort of coup, that it’s harkening back to the brutal military takeovers of years ago. But the opposition, the person who lost out to him to become president, is saying that this was very much a popular movement. What’s your assessment?

Eric Farnsworth: It’s really complicated and there’s history here. The short answer is that it’s not a coup in the traditional sense, certainly. President Morales did lose the support of the military and the police forces, and the head of the military did come out on Sunday and encourage President Morales to depart. Now, some people would say, “Well, what’s the difference?” There’s a nuance here and the nuance is that the head of the military asked him to depart so that they could restore calm to the streets. Now that really hasn’t happened, but it was really for public order and security.

President Morales said that he would step down so that Bolivia could recover—it was really on that basis. You also have to remember that just before that, on Sunday, the Organization of American States had come out with a really condemning report about the elections that Morales oversaw in October, which were clearly seen to be fraudulent and called for Bolivia to re-run those elections.
So, the political support for the president had been withering. He lost the support of the military, and he decided for his own good and the good of his country to depart. And now he’s in Mexico.

Nobilo: In terms of the political and almost biographical, psychological trajectory of Morales…he started [as] the first indigenous president of Bolivia. He was a llama farmer, I think, and he’s been in power for 13 years, so what happened here? How did he go from that to somebody who’s trying to really push the constitutional limits of power and then become embroiled in these accusations of fraudulent elections?

Farnsworth: This is really a shame in some ways because, had he left before this whole anti-constitutional effort to maintain power, his legacy would’ve been totally different. He was the first president elected as an indigenous person and you remember that the percentage of the population in Bolivia that’s indigenous is really quite large. It’s been downtrodden for years, it’s been overlooked, it’s clearly underprivileged, and to have a president who represents that segment of society is massive, not just in the Bolivian context, but also across Latin America. And we can celebrate that fact. He also brought some economic growth to the country. Certainly, he presided during a period of high commodities prices, he was the beneficiary of that. He did do some things which I think would cause people to say, “Well, indeed, he wasn’t like some of the other populist leaders around South America.” But he also exhibited a penchant to want to stay too long, and every leader is going to lose public support over time.

But he ran a referendum in 2016 that he lost, to allow him to continue in power, and he got the Supreme Court to issue a favorable ruling that somehow his human rights had been violated by not being allowed to run for the election and then the election that he ran was fraudulent. So, the people of Bolivia, even many of his supporters, really lost confidence in him and lost support and called out for change. So that’s where we are right now.

Nobilo: And Eric, Morales was the last of the original leaders of the “Pink Tide” in Latin America. Do you think that the pressure on him, and then his subsequent resignation, heralds the end or marks a repudiation of that? Do you think it’s the end of that movement as it were? Or its resonance in the region.

Farnsworth: It’s really hard to say. Every country is different, and the voters of each country react to their own personal and individual circumstances, but one thing that we can say is that the Pink Tide, as you referred to it, really did seem to mirror the commodities super cycle. When commodities prices were high, the populist leaders in the region were elected, they were popular, they ruled with a lot of money sloshing around. As commodities prices over the last couple of years have gone down, there’s been a lot less money to circulate. And issues like corruption, issues like anti-democratic governance become much more relevant to the voters. And that’s where, I think we’ve seen country after country try to turn a different direction. What we see quite clearly is that the leaders from the “Pink Tide” were all South American leaders and all of those countries are commodities exporters, so I think that has to be part of the discussion. It probably doesn’t explain all of it, but it’s certainly a large percentage of it.