Bolivia News & Current Events
Constitutional Court Rules That Morales Can Seek Third Term
In the spring of 2013, Bolivia's Constitutional Court ruled that President Evo Morales could run for a third term in the 2014 elections. Even though the country's constitution only allows two consecutive terms, the court ruled that Morales's first term would not be counted because it predated Bolivia's current constitution, which was amended in 2009. The 2009 constitution limited both the president and vice-president to two consecutive terms. Opposition and critics said the ruling proved that the government controlled the court.
In May 2013, President Morales expelled the U.S. Agency of International Development (USAID). Morales had threated to expel the agency for some time, accusing it in the past of funding groups that opposed his policies such as a planned highway through a rainforest preserve. A state news agency in Bolivia reported that the USAID was "accused of alleged political interference in peasant unions and other social organizations." USAID, which had nine American employees in Bolivia, had already reduced its presence in the country. In 2007, USAID had an $89 million budget for programs in Bolivia. However, the budget had been decreased to $17 million in 2013.
Meanwhile, on May 16, 2013, hundreds of teachers, miners and other workers marched into Bolivia's capital. It was the 11th day of demonstrations for higher pensions. Protestors asked for their pensions, which ranged from $21 to $28 a month, to be doubled. Protestors attempted to take over the plaza where the government was located and miners set off dynamite. Police fought off protestors with tear gas.
Morales Embroiled in Controversy Involving NSA Leaker Snowden
Bolivia found itself involved in the international controversy surrounding the future of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who leaked top-secret information about U.S. domestic surveillance to several news organizations in June 2013. President Morales offered asylum to Snowden. Bolivia was one of about 20 countries from which Snowden sought asylum. On July 3, the plane carrying Morales from Russia back to Bolivia was diverted because several European nations, believing that Snowden was on board the plane, refused Morales access to their airspace. The move created a diplomatic furor, and Morales called the incident an "affront to all [Latin] America," and the vice president, Alvaro Garcia, said Morales was "being kidnapped by imperialism."
France apologized the day after the incident. Morales's regional allies, including presidents from Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela, met in a show of solidarity and demanded an explanation about the incident.
Morales Wins Third Consecutive Term
President Evo Morales won a third consecutive term on Oct. 12, 2014, taking 61% of the vote. His closest opponent in the election was the Democratic Unity Party's Samuel Doria Medina who received 24.5%. During his victory speech, Morales said, "This victory is the victory of the anti-colonialists and the anti-imperialists."
Morales dedicated his third term re-election to Hugo Chávez. Critics expressed fear that Morales would follow Chávez's lead and attempt to stay in office past 2020. The Constitution currently bars him from seeking a fourth term, but last year Bolivia's Constitutional Court ruled that Morales could run for a third term in the 2014 elections. Many suspect his party would seek another change to the Constitution, allowing him to run again like Chávez did in Venezuela.
Indeed, a referendum was set for Feb. 21, 2016, for voters to decide if Bolivia's Constitution should be changed to allow Morales to seek another term in 2020. The country's first indigenous president, Morales is seen as a successful leader who has reduced poverty and given a voice to Bolivia's indigenous people. However, days before the Feb. 2016 referendum, news broke that Morales had fathered a child out of wedlock with a young woman in 2007, a year before he became president. The most damaging part of the scandal was evidence that the young woman, Gabriela Zapata, had benefited financially due to her relationship with Morales. For example, the company where she works as a top executive has received government contracts worth over $500 million.
A few days after the report, Morales admitted to the affair and having fathered the child who died shortly after birth. As for relations to Zapata, Morales said, "After 2007, I cut all ties." However, a Bolivian news agency published a 2015 photo of Morales and Zapata embracing at a carnival. The scandal torpedoed Morales's hopes for run for a fourth term as voters narrowly rejected the referendum.