Bolivia Can Teach Hong Kong a Lesson

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Why you should care

Bolivia’s longtime president is out — but he could provide a lesson for other embattled leaders.

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WHAT TO KNOW

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam News Conference

Carrie Lam, Hong Kongs chief executive, right, speaks during a news conference in Hong Kong on Monday. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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What happened? Bolivian President Evo Morales — the first indigenous leader of the country and until yesterday the longest currently serving leader in Latin America — resigned Sunday after weeks of public protests. The historic move also followed a report from the U.S.-backed Organization of American States (OAS) noting irregularities in the election Morales won last month, and a request from the army to step down. Some, including the governments of Mexico, Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, are agreeing with Morales that it’s a military coup. 

Why does it matter? Morales has for many years been stretching Bolivia’s Constitution to its limits to stay in power. He asked the people in 2016 to amend the country’s charter to allow him another term — and when they rejected it, took the question to the constitutional court, which allowed him to run again. While he triumphed in last month’s election, questions over the legitimacy of that vote sparked massive protests that left three dead. Canada, the U.S. and the European Union refused to recognize his government. And while Morales tried to hold on, his decision to step down before things got bloodier could serve as a lesson for other leaders faced with public outcry — such as Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who’s holding onto her position even as protests grow more violent. 

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

Bolivia's president resigns after army's suggestion

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA – NOVEMBER 10 : Thousands of people from the opposition celebrate after President of Bolivia Evo Morales announced his resignation in La Paz, Bolivia on November 10, 2019. Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned, shortly after the head of the countrys armed forces called on him to step down. (Photo by Marcelo Perez Del Carpio/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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Neighboring allies. Cuba, Venezuela and Mexico have all voiced support for Morales, with Mexico explicitly offering him asylum. Morales’ example could prove particularly salient for Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who would need to change his country’s constitution if he wants to serve a second term (which so far he denies). On the other side of the spectrum are Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua — both of whom are holding on for dear life to power and are unlikely to follow Morales’ example no matter the cost.  

Mounting pressure. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, protests are growing ever more dangerous and unpredictable. Police were caught on camera shooting a 21-year-old protester, who’s now in critical condition, and video surfaced of demonstrators setting a pro-Beijing civilian on fire during an argument. Still, Lam warned protesters that they wouldn’t achieve their goals, and last week Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated his commitment to keeping her in the top job despite the unrest.

A new pink wave. Morales was elected as part of what’s known as the “pink tide,” the late-’90s and early-2000s wave of leftest leaders who came to power across Latin America. Morales was the only one of that old guard left — but the past year has seen a new wave of left-wing governments arise in Mexico, Argentina and Panama, along with public protests against other left-wing governments in the region. 

New regime? It’s not immediately clear who’s in power in Bolivia, as the vice president and head of the Senate both stepped down shortly after Morales. Though Morales had promised new elections before his ouster, there’s no set date. Meanwhile, communities that had made great strides in Bolivia — like the indigenous groups that long saw Morales as a hero — fear the progress made in reducing inequality and protecting certain environmental causes may be reversed by whoever comes to power next. 

WHAT TO READ

Resignation of Morales, Last of ‘Pink Tide,’ Polarizes Latin America, by Angus Berwick in Reuters

“Meanwhile, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose socialist predecessor Hugo Chavez served as a sometime mentor to Morales, told allies to mobilize in support of Morales.”

Hong Kong: ‘Demonstrators Are the People’s Enemy,’ Says Carrie Lam, on Sky News

“Lam appealed to everyone in the city to ‘stay calm’ and refrain from taking part in any illegal activities.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Bolivian President Morales Resigns

“He was a towering figure for the left in the region … the government of Mexico says he was the victim of a military coup.” 

Watch on Bloomberg News on YouTube:

Police Open Fire on Protesters in Hong Kong

“The shooting was part of a wider chaos that spread across the city on Monday.”

Watch on The Straits Times on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER: 

Next chapter. While Lam has denied that she wants to step down, reports have emerged in recent weeks that Beijing is gearing up to remove her. The rumored candidates to replace her include Norman Chan, the former head of Hong Kong’s de facto central bank, and magnate Henry Tang. But to replace Lam with anyone but her current deputy, Hong Kong would have to hold fresh elections … or overturn its own constitution.

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