LA PAZ – “Pachamama will never return to the palace,” said Luis Fernando Camacho, leader of the Bolivian opposition movement that forced the Bolivian president out of office on Sunday. “Bolivia belongs to Christ.”
Pachamama is a goddess worshiped in the religion of the indigenous Andean peoples of South America. Her banishment from Bolivia’s halls of power signals a rise of an overtly pro-Christian, anti-indigenous sentiment in the country after 13 years of rule by a member of the Aymara culture.
The former president of Bolivia, Juan Evo Morales Ayma, resigned on Sunday, November 10, 2019, after members of the Bolivian police and military joined opposition protests following disputed elections on October 24th. Morales accepted political asylum in Mexico earlier today.
In a national address, both Morales and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, commented that “the coup has been consummated,” and then stepped down from office to avoid continued protests and violence while admitting no misconduct.
Morales came to power in 2006 with his election as the 80th President of Bolivia. Previously he had been a cocalero champion, part of a grassroots indigenous movement opposing U.S.-funded attempts to eradicate coca crops. Coca has been used for medicinal and religious reasons for 8,000 years by the indigenous people of the Andes, and its leaves are particularly helpful in combatting altitude sickness.
Morales was a leader in the cocalero resistance and indigenous organizing in Bolivia in the 1980s and 1990s that culminated in the formation of Movimiento al Socialismo–Instrumento Político por la Soberanía de los Pueblos, or the MAS party. The party propelled him to power in Bolivia, where he became the first president who came from an indigenous community. Morales was born to an Aymara family of subsistence farmers.
The political turmoil story is both twisted and complicated. Morales sought laws to limit the power of the presidency through constitutional reforms and later held a referendum to allow him to remain in office indefinitely. However, a 2017 decision by the Bolivian Supreme Court ruled that limiting Morales’ tenure in office violated the president’s human rights, and he was allowed to run for re-election in 2019.
Morales’ resignation has taken an unusual turn into religion, specifically a call against Paganism and indigenous beliefs.
Camacho, the leader of the opposition, announced that he would be sending the Christian Bible to Morales alongside a resignation letter he demanded the president sign. (Camacho, despite leading the current opposition movement, was not among the candidates who participated in the October elections.)
Camacho has been using his Christian faith as a rallying cry to solidify support. He has vowed to purge indigenous religious beliefs from Bolivian government and, as he says, “return God to the burned palace.”
Camacho made his pronouncement earlier on Sunday while placing a Bible on the Bolivian flag and kneeling in prayer after the ouster of Morales.
In a subsequent tweet, he added, “With the bible, the rosary and the letter of renunciation in hand, we entrust ourselves to God for a new and restructured Bolivia in democracy.”
Bolivia is a secular nation and 66% of Bolivians are of indigenous or mixed ancestry.
Morales responded to Camacho by denouncing the use of religion to justify aggression against indigenous communities and native faiths. “They use the Bible, they use Jesus Christ, to subjugate the sisters in Santa Cruz, they make men and women kneel,” said Morales. “It causes anger how they use the Bible, prayer, prayers, to discriminate against the humblest.”
Camacho insisted that there was no “coup” in Bolivia. He added that his opposition and victory was the result of a ground-swell of support from all parts of Bolivian society. He tweeted, “Women, youth, miners, indigenous people, police officers, thank you! On October 4, I asked them if they swore rebellion, the answer was blunt and we fulfilled it.”
After the removal of the government, right-wing protests erupted in support of Camacho that included the burning of the Wiphala flag in public squares. The flag is a multi-colored checkerboard square that represents the native people of the Andes.
Reporting by Reuters notes that the Aymara community appears split over Morales, citing cronyism, mismanagement, and continued lack of access to power. “Indigenous ideologies haven’t really been translated to politics,” said Yolanda Mamani, a radio presenter. “It’s like a fashion show of folklore, as if the indigenous were just clothing.”
Her colleague, Sonai Quispe, disagreed. “In these 13 years of Evo Morales government I believe the most humble people have benefited, the farmers that live off the land,” she said. “There are many problems and issues to be fixed, but I believe in him.”
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports from La Paz state that street protests have continued, with the police urging residents to remain in their homes.
Morales wrote on Twitter, “This was my first night after leaving the presidency forced by the coup of Mesa and Camacho with the help of the Police. Thus I remembered times as leader. Very grateful to my brothers from the federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba for providing security and care.”
“I want to tell you, brothers and sisters, that the fight does not end here,” Mr. Morales said on Sunday. “The poor, the social movements, will continue in this fight for equality and peace.”
Morales has urged resistance to the new Bolivian government. “It pains me to leave the country for political reasons, but I’ll always be concerned,” Morales tweeted. “I’ll return soon, with more strength and energy.”