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Illustration by Tom Abi Samra

Bolivia: Silenced, Broken, Fighting

It is imperative to end our silence and do so immediately. Whatever we have to lose cannot be greater than the justice of putting an end to Evo Morales’ regime.

When I open my eyes in the morning, the first things I see are the flags pinned on my wall, resplendent as always, a reminder of who I am, where I’m from and why I’m here. Today, the Bolivian one looks different. It looks blurry and dull — a result of the tears flooding my eyes as I realize what day it is.
October 10th: Bolivia’s Day of Democracy. It is the day that celebrates the triumph of our country over the intolerance, repression and violence brought by Operación Cóndor and the far-right dictatorships that plagued Latin America during the second half of the 20th century. It is a day that serves as a reminder that Bolivia is more than the simple sum of its parts.
Thirty-six years later, Bolivians are not celebrating democracy. We are being forced to go out into the streets to defend it.
Bolivia is a country of many contradictions. It was the first to cry for liberty, but one of the last to be liberated. It is one of the richest in natural resources, but remains the poorest country in South America. It has more football fields per capita than almost any country in the world, yet its football fans cry several times every season. Bolivia was left behind by a world in progress that was not going to wait for its citizens to sort out the ineptitude of their governments or the complacency of its people.
And so in the 21st century, when South America was struck by a new wave of political ideology filled with promises, Bolivia saw the rise of the [first indigenous president of Latin America] ( Evo Morales Ayma and his party “Movimiento al Socialismo” (Movement to Socialism).
Morales’s government seemed very promising at first. He portrayed himself as humble and determined, a leader who would finally instill a government that would fairly and equally represent the people. More importantly, Morales represented to many a long overdue social revolution that had been shut down during the times of Operación Cóndor and later overlooked by the following governments’ inability to put aside personal gain for the good of the country.
In the eyes of the international community, Bolivia seemed to be moving in the right direction, yet his early days were just the beginning of a painful story we all know painfully well. Morales’s government became plagued by corruption scandals and a number of incidents in which innocent blood was spilled. Blame was distributed to everyone and no one at once, and Bolivians were forced to carry on without a proper explanation.
In 2011, the government planned to build a road through a national park that would destroy the home and livelihood of thousands of indigenous tribes. 1500 people, including women, children and elders marched from their villages to the capital in protest and were met by a force of 500 policemen. Four people died, dozens went missing and hundreds were injured. It was common knowledge that the construction of this road would greatly facilitate drug trafficking and contraband, given the lax control the government promised over it.
On Feb. 21, 2016, Bolivia held a nationwide referendum to amend the constitution — which had been violently implemented in 2009 — to allow Morales to seek a fourth term in power, with the possibility of staying indefinitely. The result was clear: [51 percent] ( of the Bolivian population said no to Morales. As expected, the results of the referendum are not being respected. Morales has used every resource at his disposal to try to legalize his reelection and legitimize his dictatorship.
In the last month, the National Electoral Court, under Morales’s control, approved [legislation] ( that required parties to hold election primaries. This measure effectively overruled the legal precedent set by the referendum and officially legalized Morales’s candidacy in the 2019 elections. This law served to further disable several opposition political parties.
The desperation we feel is a product of the wounds of our history. We have seen time and time again how power has corrupted even the most noble ideals. Our future is as uncertain as our present. Morales’ crimes transcend debates over right- or left-wing politics. They are crimes against the core ideals under which Antonio José de Sucre and Simón Bolivar founded this country when they dreamed of a free, prosperous and independent America. I truly believe the words of our national anthem when we say “Morir antes que esclavos vivir” (die before living as slaves), but I am deeply saddened by the deafening silence of those who have the privilege to speak up and are not doing so.
I may be painfully far from home, questioning if this is really where I should be, but I am certain of one thing: it is imperative to end our silence and do so immediately. Whatever we have to lose cannot be greater than the justice of putting an end to Morales’ regime.
Matilde Handal Rabaj is a contributing author. Email her at
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