Following the release of the
Organization of American States (OAS) election audit on November 10, Bolivian President
Evo Morales announced his resignation in a press conference from Chimore,
Cochabamba. The audit found “clear
manipulation” of election results, including physical records with
alterations and forged signatures, and evidence of wide-scale data
manipulation. The next day, Morales tweeted that he was en route to
Mexico, thanking Mexican President Lopez Obrador for granting
him asylum and vowing to return to Bolivia with “more strength and
energy.” His resignation prompted that of Vice President Alvaro Garcia
Linera, six ministers, three Movement to Socialism (MAS) ruling party
governors, several MAS senators and mayors, and the Vice Foreign
Minister. The mass resignations were met with both jubilation from the
anti-Evo camps and protest from the pro-MAS groups.
The security and political
environment resulting from the past days’ events is chaotic and uncertain. There
are recurring demonstrations, strikes, roadblocks, and marches in major cities across
Bolivia, centered on city plazas and major thoroughfares. Roadblocks and
strikes have cut off traffic on main avenues, highways between cities, and
airport access. There are also reports of sporadic violence, and local
authorities have used crowd control measures to discourage protests.
response to the changing environment, the U.S. Embassy in La Paz has ordered
the departure of all eligible family members and authorized departure for
non-emergency Embassy personnel. The U.S. Department of State has updated the Travel Advisory for Bolivia to a Level 4, including travelers should not travel due to increased incidence of violence and civil unrest, in addition to the limited capabilities of the drawn-down Embassy. Travelers to Bolivia should remain
vigilant, avoid road barricades and large gatherings, and follow U.S. Embassy
guidance and security updates. The U.S. government has limited ability to
provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in some areas of Bolivia,
and local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to serious
criminal incidents. Emergency response, including ambulance service, is limited
or non-existent, especially during periods of significant civil unrest when
roads around the hospital may be blocked.
Evo Morales Resigns, Seeks Asylum in Mexico City,
and Leaves Power Vacuum in His Wake
In a post-audit press conference,
Morales called for new
elections and a new Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). Joined by Vice
President Garcia Linera and Minister of Health Gabriela Montano, Morales then
blamed opposition leader Carlos Mesa and Pro Santa Cruz Civic Committee leader
Luis Fernando Camacho for the ongoing protest-related violence. He then explained
that he was resigning to “stop the violence,” claiming that he was subject to what
he called a “coup.”
Vice President Garcia then provided his resignation reiterating Morales’s
rhetoric about a coup against the MAS government.
On Tuesday morning, Morales
arrived in Mexico, where the Mexican government granted him political asylum. Mexican
Foreign Minister Marcel Ebrard cited “humanitarian
reasons” as the reasoning for offering asylum. In an audio recording,
Morales suggests that his exile would be brief, and that he will “return [to
Bolivia] soon with strength.”
Bolivia now faces a power
vacuum, as lawmakers in La Paz scramble to place together an interim
government in the wake of pro-Morales resignations. The resignations happened
so quickly and in such mass, that social media became flooded with memes
regarding “resignation bingo.” In addition to resignations listed previously,
the following officials have since resigned from office: ministers of
hydrocarbons, communication, mining, planning, culture and tourism, sports;
vice ministers of foreign affairs, civilian security, culture, treasury and public
finance; governors of Cochabamba, Potosi, and Oruro; mayors of Oruro, Potosi,
and Sucre; five MAS senators and deputies as well as two new MAS senators
elected on October 20; and the president and vice president of the
TSE. The Attorney General’s office has also since instructed the La Paz
Attorney General to prosecute
the members of the TSE accused of participation in election fraud.
Who is the Acting President?
In theory, the interim presidency would fall to Second Vice President of the Senate Jeanine Añez. Añez belongs to an opposition party and has not resigned office. However, due to her political alliance in the opposition, it is unlikely that she will enjoy support from the pro-MAS population.
The resignations of the president,
vice president, and presidents of both houses of the national assembly – all
constitutionally mandated leadership positions – have left Bolivia’s leadership
undetermined. The subsequent
resignations of several other leaders have completely exhausted the country’s
chain of succession, should the MAS accept the resignations. The National
Assembly must now appoint an acting president until the country can hold new
elections. The National Assembly was to convene on Tuesday, November 12, but suspended
the session due to the inability of members to travel amid ongoing protests.
According to the constitution,
Bolivia will have 90 days to hold its next elections, which would be on or
around February 9, 2020. Bolivia is also scheduled to hold subnational
elections for all nine governors and 340 mayors in March 2020. Achieving a
quorum may prove difficult, as protest activity currently limits travel to La
Paz. Additionally, MAS lawmakers, who currently comprise a two-thirds majority
in the National Assembly, may delay proceedings.
Chaos in the Streets Indicative of Increasing
Following Evo’s resignation, major
cities throughout the country experienced significant incidents of looting
and vandalism. In the immediate aftermath of the press conference, triumphant Anti-Morales
demonstrators filled the streets, with some groups ransacking and vandalizing
MAS houses. Looters stormed President
Morales’s house in Cochabamba, vandalizing the walls and windows. In Zona
Sur, home to many U.S. expatriates, residents honked horns and set off
fireworks in support of the resignations. Many protestors gathered at Plaza
Murillo, the seat of government, to accompany Luis Fernando Camacho in
presenting Morales’s letter of resignation.
Later in the evening, the security
environment deteriorated into what local media is calling “a
night of terror.” MAS supporters took to the streets in La Paz and El Alto with
their own vandalizing
and looting. In El Alto, looters stormed and pillaged the Sofia chicken
factory; similarly, the famous El Ceibo chocolate factory burned
down. Large groups of MAS supporters from Chasquipampa looted
pharmacies, destroyed storefronts, and set fire to houses, gas stations, and a
police station in Zona
Sur. Pro-Morales protestors also burned a fleet of La Paz city buses.
Rioters targeted and burned houses of opposition activists. Some news
sources reported that pro-Morales protestors armed with sticks descended
on La Paz from nearby towns shouting, “Here we go, civil war.”
The lack of police response and
the limits of policing capabilities have concerned some citizens that security
forces will be unable to maintain control of the streets. Police officers
stationed at the presidential palace in La Paz reportedly abandoned their posts and joined
protesters on Saturday. By Sunday, both the chief of the armed forces
and the chief of police recommended
that Morales resign;
the chief of the armed forces has since himself resigned.
As resignations continue, the
police chain of command is near non-existent, causing the police to enter an alliance
with the military to control the street jointly. However, given the country’s long
history of military dictatorships and military intervention, it is likely the
military will defer to the police in the majority of security-related
incidents. As noted in the OSAC Crime
& Safety Report, even in the best of circumstances, the police have limited
resources, especially outside major cities. In many cases, officers assigned to
smaller villages/towns do not have a vehicle to respond to traffic accidents or
criminal activity. Even when resources are available, response is extremely
slow by U.S. standards. Bolivian police are generally incapable of
dispersing large crowds and, in the current environment, may lack the resources
to maintain proper order.
Ordered/Authorized Departure Status for U.S. Embassy
On November 12, the U.S.
Department of State ordered the departure of eligible family members and authorized
the voluntary departure of non-emergency
U.S. government personnel from the U.S Embassy in La Paz. The change in
posture follows an escalation in violent protests, access to the airport, and
other factors affecting the U.S. Embassy and official U.S. government personnel
in the country. The latest State
Department Travel Advisory for Bolivia assesses that travelers
should NOT travel due to civil unrest,
noting that local police may lack the resources to respond effectively to
serious criminal incidents, and emergency response, including ambulance
service, is limited or non-existent.
Authorized departure status is
voluntary for the specified individuals, and ordered departure is mandatory for
accompanying family members. The State Department reviews this temporary status
regularly for indicators that it is safe for affected individuals to return,
including signs of potential threats mitigation or security conditions improvement.
At this time, it is unclear how long the ordered and authorized departure will
remain in effect for Bolivia. For more information, see the OSAC report, “What
are Drawdowns and How do They Impact Constituents?”
What U.S. Embassy La Paz Can Do
There are no plans for a
U.S.-government assisted evacuation from Bolivia. The private sector should not
solely rely on the U.S. Government for security and emergency responses,
including during evacuations due to security concerns and restrictions on
official travel. U.S. government employees may only make essential movements
around La Paz. For more information about what services the U.S. Department of
State can and cannot provide in high-risk environments, see the Bureau of
Consular Affairs’ resource for Travel
to High-Risk Areas.
U.S. private-sector security
managers should have multiple contingency plans in place for the protection,
drawdown, and full evacuation of personnel, based on their organization’s
resources and level of risk tolerance. U.S. private-sector organizations should
review their responsibilities under duty of care and the organizational
measures they have in place to assist third-country or local staff during evacuations
and breakdowns in the security environment, particularly if they decide to
delegate more functions to these employees in the wake of personnel drawdowns.
Organizations with sizeable assets and facilities should review their facility
security and contingency plans for phased and full departure, including how to
safeguard infrastructure and drawdown and/or remove critical assets from
Departure using Commercial Aircraft
Travel to the airports in Bolivia
for departure on regional carriers may become challenging if protestors and
blockades impede access. Minimal public transportation is currently available
in Bolivia, and recent protests and road blockades have affected access to the
airports. U.S. airlines and other international carriers have canceled flights
to and from El Alto International Airport (LBP), which serves La Paz.
activity continues in La Paz and other areas of Bolivia, and the security
situation remains unpredictable. Civic leader Luis Fernando Camacho has
urged at least two more days of mobilization and blockade in order to ensure
the formation of a transitional government. Ongoing violent protests,
including looting, gunfire, vandalism, and roadblocks, present threats for
private-sector personnel and operations in Bolivia. Schools, shops, public
transportation, and private businesses remain closed in the main cities across
the country. Additional security precautions are in force for remaining U.S.
For U.S. citizens in Bolivia, the Department advises U.S. citizens to consider departing as soon as they can do so safely. U.S. citizens wishing to depart Bolivia should make their own travel arrangements. Commercial flights remain available, and flights are operating from international airports in La Paz (El Alto, LBP) and Santa Cruz (Viru Viru, VVI). Do not travel to the airport unless it is safe to do so. Do not seek shelter at the U.S. Embassy.
to Take if Operating or Traveling in Bolivia:
demonstrations and crowds; be prepared to remain at home if necessary.
local media for breaking events and be prepared to adjust your plans.
evacuation plans that do not require U.S. government assistance.
your airline or travel agency prior to travel, and make contingency plans to leave the country.
in the Smart
Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an
the Department of State on Facebook, Twitter,
and Safety Report for Bolivia.
have a contingency plan for emergencies. Review the Traveler’s
Additionally, you may inform Department of State of U.S. citizens
in Bolivia through the following ways:
Email BoliviaEmergencyUSC@state.gov and
provide as much information as possible (at a minimum, please provide their
full name, gender, and last known location within country, if known)
Call 1-888-407-4747 (from the U.S. & Canada), +1-202-501-4444
For additional information on the security environment in Bolivia or
elsewhere in the region, please contact OSAC’s Latin America team.
· OSAC Bolivia
2019 Bolivia Crime & Safety Report
Bolivia Travel Advisory
· State Department Bolivia Country Information Page