Thousands of Bolivians took to the streets this week in mass demonstrations and marches against the coup government's decision to postpone the country's presidential election until October, further extending the brutal reign of unelected right-wing President Jeanine Añez as the coronavirus continues to ravage the Latin American nation.
The presidential contest was originally scheduled to take place Sept. 6, but Bolivia's Supreme Electoral Tribunal—headed by Añez appointee Salvador Romero—opted last week to push the election back to Oct. 18, citing Covid-19 fears. Recent polling shows Añez trailing both Movement for Socialism (MAS) candidate Luis Arce and conservative Carlos Mesa.
The decision to delay the election sparked immediate backlash from the Bolivian left. Former President Evo Morales, who was ousted in a military coup last November, accused the Añez government of botching its response to the coronavirus pandemic and warned that "postponement of the election date will only cause more suffering for the Bolivian people."
On Tuesday, at least 5,000 Bolivians took part in a massive demonstration in El Alto organized by the Bolivian Workers' Center (COB), the country's largest trade union federation.
Thousands of Bolivians have taken to the streets to protest against the postponement of elections and against the regime that came to power last year after a US-backed military coup that ousted Bolivia's first Indigenous president, Evo Morales. pic.twitter.com/snDP0iuDHC
— redfish (@redfishstream) July 29, 2020
"The election date of September 6 must be respected," mining leader Lucio Padilla told AFP. "Our obligation is to defend democracy."
Bolivian unions are threatening to launch a general strike if the tribunal refuses to allow the presidential election to take place on Sept. 6 as originally scheduled.
"If this council is not heard," said COB executive secretary Juan Carlos Huarachi, "the indefinite general strike begins."
BREAKING: Bolivia's COB workers' federation announces a 72-hour deadline to retract decision to postpone elections. A general strike and road blockades begin Monday in all nine departments if the deadline isn’t met.
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COB labour leader Juan Carlos Huarachi: pic.twitter.com/wFB7l3q142
— Kawsachun News (@KawsachunNews) July 28, 2020
Bolivian journalist Oliver Vargas wrote in the socialist magazine Tribune on Tuesday that while "October 18th is the new date" for Bolivia's presidential contest, "civil society has lost faith that it will be respected."
"Bolivia shows how the ideologues of the free market are more than happy to toss out any semblance of democratic rule if they feel threatened," Vargas added. "It also exposes the true character of interventions by governments like the U.S. and U.K. in international affairs to 'promote democracy.' If the rest of us want to ensure that their coup in Bolivia doesn't result in the end of democracy for good, those demanding free, fair, and immediate elections will need all of our solidarity."
"If behind in the polls," Vargas tweeted, "cancel the election on the basis of the pandemic you've done nothing to tackle."