President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of Mexico recently welcomed President Evo Morales of Bolivia as a political refugee.
Evo had won re-election on 20 October 19, but was deposed by the military. He will now reside in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato state, Mexico, guest of Mexico.
Evo was the first Indigenous President of Bolivia, formerly a “llama shepherd,” and then leader of coca workers. Their slogan: “Coca, Sí, Cocaína, No!” (Luis Andrés Henao and Carlos Valdez, Associated Press, 12 Nov 19).
Mexico has long had a history of such a welcoming policy: Cuban poet and liberation leader, José Martí; Leon Trotsky, fleeing Stalin’s murderous threats; Luis Buñuel, artist and film director, and other refugees from Franco’s fascism in Spain; Jews from Nazi Germany; family and supporters of Salvador Allende, deposed by the CIA and U.S.-backed, right-wing military dictator, Gen. Pinochet in Chile; Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Prize Winner and Indigenous leader, escaping U.S.-supported death squads in Guatemala; even, for a while, the U.S.-supported Shah of Iran.
That is, Mexico has welcomed refugees from the right as well as the left. Nevertheless, AMLO’s decision will be controversial (the Mexican government will offer a “monthly tuition” to Evo). AMLO, too, is beleaguered by opponents in Mexico. The cases are similar. Both presidents are Indigenous and/or Mestizo; opponents quite often are not. Jeanine Añez Chávez, together with her all-White cabinet, declared herself “Acting President” of Bolivia on an over-sized Bible, an aide holding an over-sized cross. She is blonde, of European extraction.
Indeed, much of the tension in Bolivia is ethnic-fueled. Añez had tweeted epithets of Evo (“poor Indian!”) and had mocked Indigenous religious rites as “satanic” (Anatoly Kurmanaev and Clifford Krause, New York Times, 15 Nov 19). Dr. Diego von Vacano, Bolivian political scientist at Texas A&M University likens traditional race relations in Bolivia to the previous “apartheid system of South Africa, Indigenous people being the second-class citizens” (NYT).
Even as we speak, opponents of Morales burn the multi-colored Indigenous flag, insulting Quechuas, Aymara peoples. Herlinda Cruz, a coca grower, dressed in a full polleraskirt and traditional bowler hat, lamented: “They will take away my pollera. They will take away my voice. They’ve [the Whites] been giving orders for 500 years and now they want to take away our 13 years” (NYT).
Not that he needed to, nor does he know much about the ethnic history of Bolivia, but President Trump tweeted, ironically, regarding the coup:” this is a significant day for democracy in Latin America.” If he had known the facts, he would have learned Evo helped pull millions out of poverty in Bolivia (a relatively poor, land-locked country). Evo presided over an economic boom and curbed inflation. He helped spread the natural gas-based wealth, and “led a renaissance of traditional cuisine, music, and dress” (NYT).
A reading of history would have helped Trump learn how the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in previous years, worked to aid separatist groups in Bolivia, how it was intent on plundering Bolivia’s natural resources, how the U.S. itself gave refuge (a posh residence in Maryland) to right-wing Bolivian President “Goni” Sánchez, among other cases of U.S. meddling in Latin American affairs.
So, to help explain the current situation, of course “Indigenous Bolivians fear the loss of their hard-won political gains” (NYT). But, amid the ethnic and political conflicts, Evo was not blameless. Elected in 2006, he was widely popular; but—not resisting the temptation that often faces Presidents or other leaders – ran for a fourth term and tried to hold on to his office; he even lost some support from those on his side, be they Indigenous or not.
Yet, in the end, as AMLO observed, Evo did the right thing; “We recognize the responsible attitude of the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who preferred to resign rather than expose his people to violence” (Kirk Semple and Elisabeth Malkin, “New York Times,” 12 Nov 19). AMLO echoed the diplomatic history and vision of Mexico: “Mexico has shown itself as an inclusive and supportive state whose doors have always been open.”
For his part, Evo Morales has vowed to return one day to his homeland he has helped so much. We are watching a great saga of history of debate and (possible?) reconciliation play out in front of our eyes. We would hope the US also “does the right thing.” May we support true democracy and social justice (to include ethnic justice) for our land and for Latin America, so close and yet so far from us. Bravo Evo and AMLO! VIVA la democrácia!