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LATIN AMERICA | 24-10-2020 09:16

Government hails Arce’s win as Bolivia’s election returns a regional ally

Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner hail MAS candidate’s landslide victory. President welcomes Evo Morales to Olivos for dinner in wake of win.

Argentina’s government was quick to recognise Luis Arce’s victory in Bolivia’s presidential election this week, with President Alberto Fernández congratulating ousted former leader Evo Morales on his party’s win in person.

Both Arce and Morales, currently living in Buenos Aires, proclaimed victory on Sunday night ahead of any official results, as polls indicated a landslide win was in the offing. Bolivia’s caretaker president Jeanine Áñez was the first major figure to congratulate the MAS candidate on his victory. Centrist ex-president Carlos Mesa, Arce’s main rival, also recognised his defeat in the first round.

Back in Argentina, President Fernández and his vice-president, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, were among the first local leaders to congratulate the Bolivian socialist president-elect, even ahead of official confirmation of his victory in last Sunday’s general elections.

"The victory of @BOmereceMAS in Bolivia is not only good news for those of us who defend democracy in Latin America; it’s also an act of justice for the aggression suffered by the Bolivian people. Congratulations, @LuchoXBolivia!" Argentina’s president wrote in a post on Twitter.

Fernández de Kirchner likewise said: "Good Monday, everybody. Congratulations to Lucho Arce and David Choquehuanca who, together with Evo [Morales], have constructed a great popular triumph in Bolivia. The Patria Grande [“Great Fatherland”] happy."

Foreign Minister Felipe Solá also celebrated the triumph, while using his position to criticise the Mauricio Macri administration for “recognising illegitimate authorities,” a reference to the right-wing interim government that took office in the wake of Morales’ departure from Bolivia.

The strong favourable reaction to the sweeping win by the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement to Socialism, MAS) candidate is a callback to the previously strong ideological ties between the Kirchner administrations and Morales, who led Bolivia for well over a decade.

As president-elect, Fernández last year helped Morales to leave Bolivia for Mexico following his resignation upon losing the support of the Armed Forces in the midst of denunciations of electoral fraud when seeking his fourth consecutive term.

Morales has been in Argentina since December 12, when he was granted political asylum by the government, just two days after Fernández took office.

‘Eternal gratitude’

The Bolivian leader, who served as president from 2006 to 2019, said this week he intends to return to Bolivia “as soon as possible,” though no timescale has since been suggested. Many analysts expect him to return to frontline politics.

However, Morales faces arrest on terrorism charges after the interim government accused him of directing anti-government protests from exile. The indigenous leader is also being investigated over allegations of “rape and trafficking” of underage girls. He denies the accusations, saying they were “part of a dirty war” waged against him.

Speaking at a press conference at the CTA workers’ union headquarters in Buenos Aires this week, Morales paid tribute to his hosts, thanking Fernández and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for having “saved” his life in 2019 when he fled Bolivia.

Namechecking the two duo among a host of other regional political heavyweights, the indigenous leader offered his “eternal gratitude to the Argentine people and the Mexican people and to so many union organisations, politicians, personalities, intellectuals and workers around the world for their support."

Reiterating his support, Fernández in another post on social media decried that Morales had “suffered a coup d'état" in 2019. “They destroyed his house and forced him to leave the country while his family and his followers were harassed and persecuted by the de facto government,” he said.

On Monday evening, the president welcomed the Bolivian leader  to the Olivos presidential residence for dinner on Monday evening, with the duo posing for a photograph without face masks beforehand. Also in attendance were CTA workers union Secretary General Hugo Vasky and the president of the lower house's Foreign Relations Commission, Eduardo Valdés.

According to official sources, Fernández congratulated Morales, who in turn thanked his host for "the support of the president, the State and the people of Argentina." 

The MAS leader also had kind words for Fernández de Krichner and her late husband, former president Néstor Kirchner. 

Regional reaction

Arce, the new president-elect, also received messages from a host of other Latin American governments and representatives of international organisations. 

The United States congratulated Arce and pointed out that US President Donald Trump and his administration "are hoping to work with the elected Bolivian government."

"If he’s willing to work with us in the areas where we share interests and values, we’d like that," added the State Department’s senior official for Latin America, Michael Kozak. 

Bolivia and the United States have not exchanged ambassadors since 2008.

The Mexican government also hailed the victory. Relations between Mexico and Bolivia had deteriorated during the caretaker right-wing government led by Áñez.

"The most sincere congratulations from Mexico to the Bolivian people for the extraordinary democratic day electing Luis Alberto Arce, the dear comrade and friend of our country," wrote Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Twitter.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government also hailed the news, "congratulating the sister Bolivian people for the sweeping and indisputable triumph of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS)" and Arce "for the crushing victory in the presidential elections," as a Foreign Ministry communiqué highlighted.

Maduro also dedicated a personal message on Twitter, writing: "Great victory! A united and awakened Bolivian people has defeated with votes the coup d’état against our brother Evo."

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel aimed in the same direction: "MAS has recovered in the ballot-box the power usurped by the oligarchy with the complicity of #OEA (the Organisation of American States, OAS) and its imperial master."

"What this is showing up is that infamous lie [of fraud in 2019]," pointed out Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, who said that he had conversed with Arce and Morales to transmit his "joy" over the triumph.

‘Proof of solidarity’

Regional governments otherwise aligned also joined in the congratulations.

Martín Vizcarra, the president of neighbouring Peru, sent his wishes for "success" to Arce, expressing his goodwill to "continue strengthening" relations.

Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera tweeted his congratulations to Arce, expressing his assurance that the two governments will work together to "advance towards a new stage in our bilateral relationship, strengthening regional integration."

Uruguay considered the elections "proof of the solidity of the Bolivian political process," expressing confidence "that this positive resolution by the Bolivian people consolidates the path towards the institutional normalisation of the country," according to a Foreign Ministry communiqué.

The chain of events was a far cry from the situation last year, when an OAS audit found evidence of "malicious manipulation" in the presidential elections in favour of then-president Morales, leading to their annulment. 

On Monday, OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro saluted Arce’s triumph.

"The people of Bolivia have expressed themselves at the ballot-box. We congratulate Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca, wishing them success in their future work," he tweeted, adding his "recognition to the Bolivian people."

Morales, however, responded by calling for Almagro’s resignation, blaming him for the turn of events that saw him flee Bolivia seeking political asylum.

Finally, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres added his congratulations in a statement delivered by his spokesman, highlighting "the celebration of peaceful and highly participatory general elections."

He also encouraged "all political and social leaders to work together with the same commitment to democracy, respecting human rights and national reconciliation to tackle the current challenges" facing the country.

– TIMES/AFP

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