Former Bolivian President Evo Morales waves upon arrival to Mexico City, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Mexico granted asylum to Morales, who resigned on Nov. 10 under mounting pressure from the military and the public after his re-election victory triggered weeks of fraud allegations and deadly protests. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Evo Morales reaches Mexico as supporters march in Bolivia

November 12, 2019 - 3:46 pm

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Evo Morales, who sought to transform Bolivia as its first indigenous president, flew to exile in Mexico on Tuesday as thousands of his supporters clamored for his return in the streets of the Bolivian capital.

Military fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated Morales loyalists who were blocked by security forces from marching to the main square.

"We're not afraid!" shouted demonstrators, who believe the ouster of Morales following massive protests was a coup d'etat as well as an act of discrimination against Bolivia's indigenous communities.

"Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights," said 35-year-old Maria Apasa. Like Morales, she is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.

Despite their anger, the demonstrators were peaceful. The march followed weeks of clashes and protests against Morales, who was accused by his many detractors of becoming increasingly authoritarian and rigging an election. His resignation Sunday led to a power vacuum in the Andean nation.

Morales was met at Mexico City's airport by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard after a flight from Bolivia on a Mexican government plane and repeated his allegations he had been forced to resign by a coup.

"The president of Mexico saved my life," Morales said, thanking President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for granting him asylum. He vowed to "continue the struggle."

Ebrard said Mexican diplomats had to scramble to arrange a flight path for the plane because some nations initially closed airspace to it. The plane stopped in Paraguay to refuel.

Urged to resign by the military, Morales had stepped down following widespread outrage fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the Oct. 20 presidential election that he claimed to have won.

Resignations by all other constitutionally designated successors left unclear who would take his place and how.

The Senate's second vice president, opposition politician Jeanine Añez, is positioning herself to become interim president.

Under the plan, she would take temporary control of the Senate, making her next in line for the presidency.

"The country is experiencing dramatic moments and all parliamentarians have the obligation to give certainty to the country," she said.

But it wasn't clear when an assembly session to discuss Añez's proposal, originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, would occur or if a majority of senators would cooperate. Morales backers still have a majority in the body.

Several said roadblocks set up by Morales' opponents were complicating efforts to reach the session.

Morales' departure was a dramatic fall for the one-time llama shepherd from the Bolivian highlands and former coca growers' union leader who as president helped lift millions out poverty, increased social rights and presided over nearly 14 years of stability and high economic growth in South America's poorest country.

In the end, though, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto power.

He ran for a fourth term after refusing to accept the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president — restrictions thrown out by a top court that critics contend was stacked in his favor.

Morales had also promised to remain austere when he became president in 2006. But shortly after, he bought a new airplane and built a 26-story presidential palace with a heliport.

Morales' stepped aside shortly after accepting calls for a new election by an Organization of American States team. The team reported irregularities in the election whose official results showed Morales getting just enough votes to avoid a runoff that analysts said he could lose against a united opposition.

After Morales resigned, angry supporters set barricades ablaze to close some roads leading to the country's main airport Monday, while his foes blocked most of the streets leading to the capital's main square in front of Congress and the presidential palace.

Street tensions ebbed after Gen. Williams Kaliman, chief of the armed forces, announced a joint police-military operation in a television address. He said the hope was to "avoid bloodshed and mourning of the Bolivian family," and he urged Bolivians to help restore peace.

Ronald Arias said he had left his home in El Alto and walked for three hours to his job in downtown La Paz because the cable car connecting the cities was suspended for security reasons and barricades blocked access to public transportation.

Arias, a native Aymara, said that thanks to Morales, his parents in the countryside gained access for the first time to running water and gas for cooking.

"I was so saddened by his resignation," he said. "A lot of people in El Alto shed tears for the president."

___

Associated Press writers Paola Flores in La Paz, Franklin Briceno in Lima, Peru, and Christine Armario in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

AP Editorial Categories: 
Comments ()