By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO, Associated Press
MEXICO CITY (AP) — Bolivia’s Evo Morales called for the United Nations, and possibly Pope Francis, to mediate in the Andean nation’s political crisis following his ouster as president in what he called a coup d’etat that forced him into exile in Mexico.
In an interview with The Associated Press Thursday in Mexico City, Morales said he is in fact still the president of Bolivia since the country’s Legislative Assembly has not yet accepted his resignation, which he presented Sunday at the urging of military leaders following weeks of protests against a re-election that his opponents called fraudulent.
“The assembly has to reject or approve the resignation” which it has not done, said the man who ruled Bolivia for almost 14 years as its first indigenous president. “If they don’t approve or reject it I can say that I am still president.”
Morales submitted his resignation to Congress as specified by the constitution, although he and his supporters say it was forced by the military and should have required a vote by the Senate on whether to accept it. His critics say the constitution makes no mention of such a vote.
Morales said he would return to Bolivia from Mexico, which has granted him political asylum, if that would contribute to his country’s pacification.
Political analyst Kathryn Ledebur of the nonprofit Andean Information Network in Bolivia, who has lived in the country for nearly 30 years, said Morales could have a case.
“A resignation letter has to be presented and considered, and accepted in the plenary before it goes into effect,” she said. “Do I think that Evo wants to return and be president? I don’t see that. But does he want to mess with them? Yes. He wants to keep them guessing.”
Two days after arriving in Mexico, Morales told the AP he has received information that some Bolivian army troops are planning to “rebel” against the officers who urged him to resign. But he gave no further specifics on how many were in on the plan, or how they would rebel.
Morales said he was “surprised by the betrayal of the commander in chief of the armed forces,” Williams Kaliman.
He called for calm and dialogue in Bolivia. “I want to tell them [his supporters] that we will have to recover democracy, but with a lot of patience and peaceful struggle.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday he is sending Jean Arnault, a personal envoy, to Bolivia to support efforts to find a peaceful solution to the nation’s crisis.
“I have a lot of confidence in the U.N.,” Morales said. But he noted he wants the world body “to be a mediator, not just a facilitator, perhaps accompanied by the Catholic church and if Pope Francis is needed, we should add him.”
He said the United States was the “great conspirator” behind the “coup d’etat” that forced him from Bolivia. Morales has long had a tense relationship with Washington and in 2008 expelled U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials from Bolivia.
Bolivia’s interim leader Jeanine Áñez has been recognized by some countries, but faces an uphill battle in organizing new elections.
According to the constitution, an interim president has 90 days to organize an election. The disputed accession of Áñez, who until Tuesday was second vice president of the Senate, was an example of the long list of obstacles she faces. Morales’ backers, who hold a two-thirds majority in Congress, boycotted the session she called Tuesday night to formalize her claim to the presidency, preventing a quorum.
Late Thursday, legislators with Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party, or MAS, and Áñez were working on an agreement for new elections that would help resolve the crisis. The deal would make Eva Copa Murga Senate president with the backing of legislators from Áñez’s Democratic Unity party.
“It’s a historic agreement to pacify the country,” Copa Murga said. But other legislators said a deal had not yet been reached.
Meanwhile Thursday, Morales’ backers demonstrated for his return from asylum in Mexico.
They had come overnight from Chapare, a coca-growing region where Morales became a prominent union leader before he became president. Soldiers blocked them from reaching the nearby city of Cochabamba, where Morales’ supporters and foes have clashed for weeks.
Morales’ resignation followed nationwide protests over suspected vote-rigging in an Oct. 20 election in which he claimed to have won a fourth term in office. An Organization of American States audit of the vote found widespread irregularities. Morales denies there was fraud.
Much of the opposition to Morales sprang from his refusal to accept a referendum that would have forbidden him from running for a new term.
In the wake of Morales’ resignation, it was unclear whether Bolivian election officials would have to formally bar him from running in a new election.
Áñez, who claimed the interim presidency, was moving to establish authority in the turbulent country. She announced that Morales could not participate in elections again but his MAS party could.
Morales upended politics in this nation long ruled by light-skinned descendants of Europeans by reversing deep-rooted inequality. The economy benefited from a boom in prices of commodities and he ushered through a new constitution that created a new Congress with seats reserved for Bolivia’s smaller indigenous groups while also allowing self-rule for all indigenous communities.
Although some supporters became disenchanted by his insistence on holding on to power, Morales remains popular, especially among other members of his native Aymara ethnic group.
UPDATE, November 15, 12:20 p.m. ET
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivia’s interim leader says Evo Morales would have to face justice for electoral fraud if he returns home.
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) November 15, 2019
AP journalist Luis Andrés Henao in Cochabamba, Bolivia contributed to this report.