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What’s next for Bolivia, after President Morales steps down

Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, is politically divided — and currently without a leader. President Evo Morales announced on state television Sunday that he was the victim of a coup and thus was resigning. But his political opponents contend he was a dictator who eventually succumbed to the powers of democracy. Nick Schifrin reports on how Bolivia is facing a government reconstruction.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump today praised the Bolivian people and that nation's military for forcing the resignation yesterday of Bolivia's longtime President Evo Morales.

    Mexico today announced that it would offer Morales asylum, but in the Andean nation, a power vacuum prevails. With Morales and the politicians in line to replace him all gone, what now for Bolivia? And what does it mean for the region?

    Nick Schifrin reports.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Today in La Paz, public buses sit torched and abandoned. Pharmacies are ransacked and looted. South America's poorest country is violently divided, and right now, leaderless.

  • Marcial Salazar (through translator):

    What we need now is control over lootings and robberies that are taking place. But all of the citizens are in agreement that a change of government needed to happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That change happened yesterday, when longtime President Evo Morales announced on state TV he was victim of a coup.

  • Evo Morales (through translator):

    I am resigning precisely so that my brother and sisters, leaders, authorities of the socialist movements don't continue to be held hostage, chased, or threatened. I am very sorry for this civic coup d'etat.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But what Morales calls a coup, his opponents call the prevailing of democracy. For three weeks, hundreds of thousands of protesters filled the streets, accusing Morales of being a dictator and violating the Constitution when he ran for a fourth term last month.

    The Organization of American States accused him of trying to steal the election. Residents who filled the streets complained of increasing corruption. The protests became increasingly violent, with demonstrators and police clashing in clouds of tear gas. And, yesterday morning, the final straw, Military Commander Williams Kaliman said Morales had to go.

  • Williams Kaliman (through translator):

    After analyzing the situation of internal conflict, we suggest the president of the state resign his presidential mandate, allowing peace and continued stability for the good of our Bolivia.

  • Robert Gelbard:

    He really misunderstood the fact that he was losing the consent of the governed to a significant degree.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Robert Gelbard is a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia. He acknowledges that Morales was popular and successfully helped lift up the poor to create a middle class.

  • Robert Gelbard:

    Evo Morales clearly made enormous progress, but what has happened is that he has, in many senses, overstayed his welcome, as they have also witnessed corruption, financial corruption, but also political corruption.

    And so people have begun to move away from him, including a significant percentage of people who had been supporters originally.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Morales was Bolivia's first leader of indigenous origin. He was from this rural poor area. And, today, his supporters say he was overthrown by a middle-class minority.

    Kathryn Ledebur is the director of a Bolivian think tank.

  • Kathryn Ledebur:

    It's interesting. The way that the conflict has evolved now, it's really splitting down much more on class lines and ethnic lines and rural-urban lines.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Morales supporters blame the military and police for acting illegally, and warn his ouster could lead to more violence.

  • Kathryn Ledebur:

    It's clear that corruption persists in the police force. The police force is an institution with deteriorated credibility. And now, at this point in time, that situation has become even worse.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    After Morales resigned, his vice president, the Senate president, and the lower House president all in line to take over also resigned. Opposition leader Carlos Mesa called the vacuum of power the end of tyranny.

  • Carlos Mesa (through translator):

    The clear and unequivocal will of the democratic opposition, of the civic opposition of the Bolivian citizenship is that a democratic government has to be built, and that means strictly respecting the political constitution of the state.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That could be led by new Senate President Jeanine Anez, whose emotion showed in La Paz today. Whether she can successfully transition away from Morales could help influence democracy across a region with a history of military coups.

  • Robert Gelbard:

    If it goes in the direction of either returning to the radical left or going further, or away from democracy toward a military dictatorship, that could give others ideas in other countries ideas, too. So this is, in many ways, a kind of laboratory.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There's still a debate if this was democracy restored or democracy denied. But both sides agree, in today's Bolivia, no one gets to stay in power, forever.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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