Evo Morales arrest governor, Leopoldo Fernandez
Juan Karita/AP
Evo Morales

Bolivia’s Morales Eyes Accord with Opponents Following Violence

September 17, 2008 12:58 PM
by Josh Katz
Bolivian President Evo Morales has arrested a rightist governor, but appears to be forging an agreement with his opponents after a week of bloodshed.

Authorities Arrest Governor Amid National Violence

On Tuesday, Sept. 16, Bolivian President Evo Morales had Leopoldo Fernandez arrested. The government charged the rightist governor of the northern Pando province with ordering the killing last Thursday of peasants who support Morales.

Following the arrest, Morales reached a temporary accord with opposition governors on Tuesday, according to Radio Netherlands. “As part of the accord, the provinces agree to end their protests and the roadblocks of government vehicles. For his part, Mr. Morales promises to discuss the wishes of the northern provinces about their future."

Violence has recently gripped the oil-rich but poorest country in South America, as the opposition governors and their supporters have clashed with those who back Morales and his socialist plans for reform. The home of the arrested governor, Pando province, has seen the most bloodshed, where 16 to 30 people are believed dead, Reuters writes. On Friday, the government declared martial law in the province and sent in troops. 

On Monday, Sept. 15, South American leaders met in Chile for an emergency summit, “to call for an end to violent protests in Bolivia and condemn any coup attempts against the country's first indigenous leader.”

On Aug. 10, Bolivia overwhelmingly voted to keep President Evo Morales in power, with unofficial results giving him the support of 60 percent of the population. That number tops the 54 percent Morales won in the December 2005 election. However, “the governors in eastern Bolivia, who form the powerful opposition to Morales, also held their seats by wide margins,” The Washington Post reported.

The referendum pitted the socialist president Morales against the four governors from affluent eastern states who have resisted Morales’s attempts to nationalize the country’s industries and redistribute resources to the poorer population, favoring instead more regional autonomy. Morales garners most of his support from the indigenous Amerindian population of the country’s western high planes, The Economist explains.

Background: Evo Morales and Bolivia’s economic divisions

Morales has been a controversial figure since handily winning national elections in December 2005, becoming the first native Bolivian president. According to the BBC, “Wealthy urban elites, who are mostly of Spanish ancestry, have traditionally dominated political and economic life, whereas most Bolivians are low-income subsistence farmers, miners, small traders or artisans.” Indigenous people comprise two-thirds of the country’s population, the largest such percentage in South America. Some charge Morales with dividing the country “along racial lines,” The Economist writes.

Bolivia boasts the second-largest natural gas reserves on the continent, and Morales put most of the energy industry in state hands in May 2006. Congress initially approved his measure to redistribute “illegally owned” land in eastern provinces to the poor, but governors halted the plan. Reuters writes that Morales has also “nationalized the country’s largest telecommunications company, Entel,” and, among other economic initiatives, “is trying to increase state revenue from energy and mining.” 

Related Topic: Russia and Iran improve relations with Latin American nations

Russia and Iran have been solidifying their ties with Latin American nations. Recently, Russia sent bomber planes to Venezuela to patrol the waters in a move considered to be an affront to the United States. The two countries have also pledged to exchange military technology and knowledge. Evo Morales of Bolivia has also met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on numerous occasions and Iran is going to funnel more than $1 billion into Bolivia’s natural gas industry.

Bolivia also recently expelled the U.S. ambassador to the country, alleging that he supported the opposition movement against him. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, in a gesture of solidarity, told the U.S. ambassador to his country to leave. Chavez also accused the ambassador of assisting presidential assassins. Both ambassadors have denied the charges leveled against them. 

Reference: Bolivia past and present


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