In Mexico we’re divided over ex-Bolivian president Evo Morales - GulfToday

In Mexico we’re divided over ex-Bolivian president Evo Morales

Evo Morales

Evo Morales

Carli Pierson, The Independent

Former Bolivian president Evo Morales arrived on Tuesday in Mexico City after fleeing the country in what he called a “political coup-d’etat”. Mexico’s secretary of external relations, Marcelo Ebrard, warmly embraced what some call a former dictator as he stepped off the Mexican government plane that brought him from La Paz.

Conservative senator Jeanine Anez was unknown to many Bolivians before she stepped out beaming and waving a Bible on the balcony of the government palace.

A longtime critic of her leftist predecessor Evo Morales, she stepped into the power vacuum left when he suddenly fled the country to escape a violent crisis.

Now all eyes in the country are on Anez, a 52-year-old lawyer from the northeastern region of Beni, bordering Brazil.

As second deputy speaker of the Senate, Anez was sworn in by her allies after all the other officials in line to act as interim president had fled.

Fresh from being sworn in, she posed with a purple Bible in her hand and the green, yellow and red presidential sash across her shoulder, waving to supporters with a broad smile.

Three people have died and hundreds have been injured since Bolivians began heavily protesting on October 20th, when Morales claimed he won a fourth term as president (after nearly 14 years in office), and after an election that the Organization of American States said was manipulated. On November 7th, a mayor in a small Bolivian town and a member of the ruling Más party was dragged through the streets barefoot, her hair cut off and her body painted red. Morales announced his resignation on Sunday, November 10th.

Mexico’s socialist government announced it would offer Morales asylum after he was denied by the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru. The move divided opinions in the country: critics worried that Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) might follow in Morales’ footsteps and try to amend the constitution to allow for multiple presidential terms, while others agreed with the federal government’s choice to provide refuge for Morales and signaled Mexico’s history of offering asylum to political leaders.

Since Monday, the hashtags #AMLOtraidorMX (AMLO traitor Mexico) and #EvoMiCasaEsTuCasa (Evo my house is your house) have been duelling on Twitter.

As Mexican political commentator and prolific writer Esteban Illades explained to me, “Mexico’s political asylum offer to Evo Morales is one of [Andres Manuel] López Obrador’s few good decisions during his first year as president. Although the opposition is furious at the fact that someone who they perceive as a dictator has received asylum, in reality AMLO’s offer carries on a forgotten tradition in this country: no matter your ideology, this country will welcome you if you are persecuted for it.”

Meanwhile in Bolivia, many in the opposition celebrated Morales’s resignation and departure. Others, however, were angry that the former president escaped and, with a grant of amnesty in Mexico, will avoid facing justice in a Bolivian court for alleged election fraud, among other potential crimes.  

But it’s more complicated than a simple dichotomy of impunity versus justice. The Bolivian and Mexican governments must make a weighted consideration of the nature of Morales’s crimes and the best interests of Bolivia’s democracy going forward.

It’s true that Mexico has a tradition of offering political asylum, and political asylum for controversial political leaders is one of many transitional justice mechanisms that can serve to help a country and its people move on without a polarising figure in its midst. Offering asylum to former heads of state and high-ranking government officials is a way to avoid violence and even civil war when, by relying on traditional justice mechanisms such as incarceration and a criminal trial, a country runs the risk of remaining heavily divided and chaotic.