Leftists claimed a victory in Bolivia on Oct. 18 with the election of Luis Arce, the leader of the socialist Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party. This election paves the way for another five years of leftist rule and allowed for the return of Evo Morales to the country on Nov. 9 after spending 11 months in exile. The election was between centrist candidate Carlos Mesa and Arce. 

Arce will be taking the presidency from Jeanine Anez, who was acting as interim president in Morales’ absence. A rightwing senator, Anez took office after Morales was chased from the country by heavy pressure from armed forces. According to the Financial Times, after claiming to have won a fourth term in office, Morales was accused by the Organization of American States (OAS) of rigging the election in his favor, causing his exile.

This decision was highly contested by those who inhabit the country, with thousands of protesters pouring into the street to show their support for Morales and accusing the organization of fixing the results. Many protestors were shot by security officials, 30 ending up dead by the end of the protests.

Many outside of Bolivia also believe that the OAS hurt more than it helped. According to the Washington Post, since Morales’ ouster, Bolivia has languished under a right-wing authoritarian regime that kept out human rights investigators and threatened journalists and media outlets.

Morales, however, remains a controversial figure. The police mutiny against him occurred after he won a fourth term in office – even though he had lost a referendum in 2016 asking voters to approve his bid to run again – and is causing worries over a possible authoritarian turn in policy. He also may soon be facing rape allegations. However, as the country’s first Indigenous president, he also promised to bring power to marginalized groups, and followed through on that promise.

According to NPR, under Morales’ leadership, the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty was halved, dropping from 36% to 17%. The country’s GDP grew an average of 4.8% every year from 2004 to 2017. Furthermore, the World Bank changed Bolivia’s classification from “lower-income” to “lower-middle income.”

Morales also redistributed land from state or private ownership to Indigenous families, some of whose relatives had been forced to work as sharecroppers or slaves. He also started a grant that allotted funds for students to be enrolled in primary school and stay until graduation. 

According to Time, Arce, on the other hand, served as Morales’ economic minister and led the nationalization of the mining industry, which helped power the administration’s success as commodity prices rose in the 2000s. Inaugurated on Nov. 8, he has yet to actually put into place any policies. But he has espoused his belief in national unity, and hopes to rebuild ties with leftwing neighbors. According to The Guardian, Arce has also sworn to only serve one term. His rule is likely to not be another chapter in Bolivia’s history, but rather a postscript – a continuation of the legacy that Morales left behind.

Photo: Evo Morales (center) is the former president of Bolivia who has been in exile and re-entered Bolivia on Nov. 9. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Get the discussion going! Leave a comment or reply below.