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Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

Bolivia: We Swore to Die Before Living as Slaves

Evo Morales’ government is as inept and repressive as it is incapable. The people of Bolivia don’t just want a re-election or a second round. We want Morales and his dictatorial regime gone.

11 days ago, thirty years of democracy were dealt a death knell as Bolivia succumbed to another dictatorship at the hands of one of its most influential figures, Evo Morales. Morales, who has been in power since 2006, has led a government plagued by scandals. His government is the textbook definition of corruption and hypocrisy. Always a fervent critic of Western powers (which he refers to as “the empire”) and capitalism, Morales now flies around the world in multi-million-dollar jets and spends thousands of dollars on clothes and lavish vacations. Morales has successfully developed a cult of personality around himself, building a museum worth nearly eight million dollars and dedicated it to himself in a town with only 638 inhabitants and zero touristic value. The museum, along with many other monuments he has constructed for himself, are simply overpriced vanity projects aimed at glorifying his turbulent decade and a half in power.
Scandals about his personal life left Bolivians wondering whether we were discussing a soap opera or our government. The most notable scandal that left Bolivians baffled was the case of Gabriela Zapata. A story that began as an affair ended up uncovering a government corruption network that granted concessions to Chinese companies at a loss of billions of dollars for Bolivia. Morales’ government is one that claims support for indigenous communities, yet destroys their historic homelands with roads known to facilitate drug trafficking and illegal coca plantations. A government that once promised an overdue social revolution today only preaches hate, violence and distrust across all cultures, races and ethnicities.
Morales’ government is as inept and repressive as it is incapable. The vice-president, a supposed mathematics major, cannot even solve simple multiplication problems. It is a government that takes advantage of the ignorance they promote with their lack of attention to education and healthcare. It is notorious for using the same abusive tactics on protestors that it once denounced. In 2016, some of Bolivia’s disability rights activists, many of whom were in wheelchairs and on crutches, marched 380 km from Cochabamba to La Paz to demand a monthly government benefit of 500 bolivianos (about 70 USD) that would help people with severe disabilities live with dignity and independence. The government’s response was extraordinarily severe, and included water cannons and tear gas.
“They plastered us with water; after we fall out of our wheelchairs, we can’t get back up,” claimed a victim. “But still, they kept shooting us with jets, savagely, vindictively. It was as if they wanted to drown people.”
And while most of the world had its eyes on the fires of Brazil, the ecological disaster that occurred in Bolivia under Morales was almost completely ignored. Due to lax control as well as government-sponsored grants to expand agricultural land into protected areas through slash-and-burn agriculture, a raging fire that consumed 4 million hectares and incinerated thousands of species of plants and animals broke out. Despite desperate cries from the entire country, the government took more than two weeks to even acknowledge the issue, and later refused to declare a national emergency because it would give way to international interference in internal affairs.
On Feb. 21, 2016, Bolivia held a referendum that asked the populace whether Morales should be allowed to amend the constitution he himself set in place and run for a fourth consecutive term in office. Despite proof of electoral fraud, the opposition claimed a stinging victory by a small margin, with 51.6 percent voting “no.” Yet, as expected, Morales ignored the will of the people and did whatever he had to do to legitimize his dictatorship, running for a fourth term in 2019.
After spending millions of bolivianos of state funds from the Ministry of Communications on his official campaign, Morales perpetrated one of the most blatant frauds in our history. During the vote count, despite their best efforts to fix the results, it seemed as though Morales’ main challenger, Carlos Mesa, had managed to trigger a second round. An express order was issued by the head of the TSE — the Supreme Electoral Tribunal — to suspend the official count for 16 hours. Meanwhile, the government cut off power and telecommunications in key areas to double their efforts to alter the results. Nearly a day after, when the results came back online, Morales had taken a sharp lead that seemed to defy all trends and logic. This would effectively give him a first-round victory. Morales claimed the tide changed when the rural and indigenous votes were finally counted, but those claims are dubious at best. The United States, Canada, the European Union and the Organization of American States (OAS) have expressed their misgivings about these results, with the OAS electoral mission calling the change "drastic and hard to explain". To explain the scale of electoral fraud, I should point out that my own grandmother, who has been dead for 6 years, apparently voted in the election.
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A screenshot of the election results website, showing the author's deceased grandmother having voted.
Since then, much of the country has mobilized to protest the fraud, with millions of people taking to the streets in all of Bolivia’s main cities. The country has never stood more united than it does now, led by a powerful and well-informed youth that had been quiet thus far. It is resistance under a mantra of unity across race and social classes, avoiding racist, homophobic and sexist insults that would have previously prevailed and divided the movement.
A year ago, I sat in this very spot, staring at the same flag on my wall with tears flooding my eyes, watching helplessly as the people of my country remained apathetic towards our democracy fading away. A year ago, I had written an article intended as a wakeup call for the Bolivian people, aiming to put an end to their political indifference.
Today, I see a very different society: one that defends democracy instead of a single political party. Our allegiance is to our flag and country - nothing else. Today, there are no differences in race or color, no differences in social or economic backgrounds. Today, we are all simply Bolivians defending our freedom and our future. Today, Bolivia wears only the colors of its flag, screaming only “Democracy? Yes! Dictatorship? No!”.
The people don’t just want a re-election or a second round. We want Morales and his dictatorial regime gone.
¡Morir antes que esclavos vivir! ¡Que viva Bolivia carajo!
Matilde Handbal Rabaj is a contributing writer. Email her at
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