Bolivian President Evo Morales Resigns
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has resigned. Morales has been president of Bolivia since 2006. He's been under fire since elections were held in October in which he was running for a fourth term. The Organization of American States found that there were serious irregularities with the voting. And earlier today, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed those sentiments, stating, quote, "all government officials and officials of any political organizations implicated in the flawed October 20 elections should step aside from the electoral process" - unquote. Here to tell us more is NPR's South America correspondent Philip Reeves, who's been following these developments closely.
Philip, thanks so much for joining us.
PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.
MARTIN: This all seemed to happen very quickly today. Can you just talk us through how President Morales' resignation came about?
REEVES: Yes. It was a day of very rapidly moving developments. Protests in Bolivia have been going on for weeks after last month's election, where Morales declared victory in the first round. The opposition said from the get-go that this was a fraud. Tens of thousands of people took part in those protests. They've been paralyzing parts of the country. There've been violent clashes with the police. A lot of people have got injured and several people killed.
Then this weekend, Morales, you know, who's a socialist, who's been in office for nearly 14 years, really began to lose his grip on power. It started with police mutinies in parts of the country. Even the guards in the square by the presidential palace deserted their posts. The army declared it wasn't going to engage because it wouldn't confront the people.
Then that audit that you mentioned into the October election by the Organization of American States came out saying there'd been loads of irregularities. Several of Morales' allies resigned in response to that. Morales tried a final move by going on TV, promising new elections. But the final nail in the coffin came when the head of the army appeared on TV and said Morales had to go.
MARTIN: Do we know whether Morales has, in fact, already stepped down? Or is that still to come?
REEVES: Well, when he made his announcement, he said he was sending a letter of resignation to the Legislative Assembly of Bolivia. He also appealed, by the way, for an end to the violence that's been happening in that country for some weeks. And the truth is, we don't exactly know what happens next. These are fast-moving developments, so it's not entirely clear what the procedure will be.
MARTIN: Do we know who will run the Bolivian government going forward?
REEVES: No. That's not clear, either. But the opposition leadership, we can be sure, will be pressing for new elections as soon as possible.
MARTIN: And how is this announcement being seen by the people of Bolivia? I mean, I think many people may remember that Morales was celebrated. He was the first indigenous president. I mean, it was seen as a great thing when he was first elected. But how is this resignation being viewed now?
REEVES: Well, people are celebrating on the streets of the capital, La Paz. In fact, they began celebrating even before Morales stopped reading his statement on TV. Cars were honking horns, people setting off fireworks.
The country is divided, though. I mean, he has supporters who will remember those good years when he arrived in office as, you know, a working-class leader from the union movement, the first indigenous president, as you mentioned. He presided over a commodities boom in South America and in Bolivia. And his first year in office ended with no fiscal deficit, which was the first time that's happened in Bolivia for 30 years. He invested in infrastructure, water, gas and so on and expanded the welfare state and even sent Bolivia's first satellite into space.
So people who support him will remember those. He says he was the victim of a coup, and that's why he's been forced out of office. And I'm sure we'll hear from them, from his supporters, similar views - and also from supporters in the region, including Venezuela, of course.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Philip Reeves.
Philip, thank you so much.
REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.