What next for Bolivia?
Posted November 15, 2019 2:09 p.m. EST
CNN — A simple haircut can make Alfredo Mamani feel like things are getting back to normal. The school teacher is glad to get a trim after three tense weeks in Bolivia that have upturned its government.
Last month, a disputed presidential election led to nationwide strikes paralyzed this South American nation. The strike ended this week, with former president Evo Morales stepping down at the suggestion of the military, and Senator Jeanine Añez Chavez declaring herself the nations' interim leader. But as Morales' supporters accuse the country of orchestrating a coup, a political crisis could be developing.
Thousands have taken to the streets of La Paz in the three days since Añez took office, some resulting in confrontations with police and soldiers who patrol the perimeter of the national assembly. Tear gas, motorcycles and riot vehicles have been deployed to disperse the crowds calling for Añez to return her seat to Morales. On Wednesday, Bolivian Air Force planes flew over the protests.
Añez's ascension to power was necessary to avoid a vacuum in Bolivia's government, Mamani says. "We were drifting, we didn't know where we were going" he said, as barber Ronald Vargas clips his black hair.
But Vargas shakes his head in disagreement. He thinks Evo Morales should have remained president, instead of fleeing to Mexico where he has now received political asylum. "He should have stayed at least until a new election was held and he could hand over power to a new president," he says.
Opinions like those reflect the conflicted mood in La Paz, Bolivia's seat of government, where public workers work to clear the debris that blocked the streets and scrub away burn marks from fires set during the strike.
In Plaza San Francisco, in the capital city's historic center, the street vendors and other stores reopen their doors to clients who walk along Prado Paseño, a mayor avenue where civic and pro-Morales groups marched in the past few weeks.
Alicia Valenciana, who calls herself a chola -- the name used by indigenous peasant women in Bolivia -- says she thinks Evo Morales was falsely accused of fraud, but nevertheless welcomes a change in leadership after his nearly 14 years in office. "Our president left the country intact; he didn't steal. Now we have to wait what the new leadership brings," she said.
While the controversial former president's legacy will be ultimately be decided by historians, even those who fought to see him go admit he transformed the country.
Karla Huanca Laurenti points to a mural depicting Morales' face, over a soccer field. "He did do some good things," says the tourism student as she rides high over the city on el teleferico, a system of cable cars that connects several points of La Paz built, during during the Morales administration.
As the first indigenous president, Morales helped change the political system of the country to recognize the autonomy of rural indigenous communities, implemented social programs that helped grow the middle class, reduced illiteracy and built a highway system that made travel among the provinces easier.
Though Laurenti says she's glad the blockades are over and that Morales is out of power, she worries the situation is far from normal now. "There are many still mad because he left and are now protesting," she says.
Those protests are being organized just North of La Paz in the city of El Alto, where Morales is still popular. Just outside the teleferico station, a group of food vendors credit the former president with lifting them out of poverty. One of them, Segundina Cruz says the public health clinics established under Morales made it possible for her two children get medical attention that she couldn't afford otherwise.
Elsewhere in El Alto, clusters of 20 or 30 indigenous people march on the streets calling for Añez to resign. She doesn't represent the real people they chant as they wave the Wiphala, the flag of the indigenous people.
But not all are clamoring for the return of Morales. The group of street vendors outside the teleferico stations, disappointed as they are that the nation's first indigenous presidency has ended, say it's time for new blood to lead Bolivia. "We voted for Evo because he was new," says one woman, who declines to be named. "Now it's time for new people, not the same old ones. There are plenty of young people who should take over now"
The issue of an old and entrenched leadership is one shared by people on both sides of the debate, who complain that none of the candidates on the October 20 ballot, nor the civic leaders who pushed for fall of Morales, really represent all of Bolivia. Which is an obvious problem -- no one I spoke to could name a single public figure who could be the country's next president.