Thanks for your prayers and concerns for Bolivia at this critical time for our history, our people and myself!
As you know, the protests have accomplished their main objective, the resignation of now ex president Evo Morales, and the rest of his government. He is presently in Mexico, where he has been granted political asylum. He continues to call what happened a “golpe de estado”, or “coup d’état”, which is as fraudulent as the elections that were held on October 20th.
The roadblocks and other measures to pressure his resignation, including the shutdown of government offices continue, though today is likely the last day, as they will be lifted once we have a constitutional government in place. Here in San Ignacio we rent an office in the complex of the Diocesan center to the Bolivian National Tax Service, and that has been surrounded by citizens for the last couple of weeks, and similar measures at nearly all government banks and other offices.
All of these measures have been totally disciplined and peaceful, and have included moments of prayer and sometimes a Mass celebrated on the spot by the priests. When these protests began, I sent a message from Rome to my priests via WhatsApp, and asked them to accompany the protests, and they did. This was both to support the protest movement and to avoid violence. As the days stretched into weeks, the people would chant in their places of vigil and protest: “Who is wearing out?” – “No one” “Who is praying?” – “We are.” “Who is listening?” “God is listening”. And so He was. There was absolutely no violence on the part of these protests.
On the other side of the things, Evo called upon his supporters to surround the cities and cut off supplies of food, and even water, and called for his bases to dismantle road blocks. The worst happened on Saturday and Sunday when groups traveling to La Paz were ambushed by government supporters, resulting in many injuries. All this time the president claiming that a coup d’état was in progress.
The police had been quartered in their stations, without sufficient food, sleeping quarters or guns, just anti riot gear, and given a 3 thousand boliviano bonus (About $337) for their troubles; this was immediately denounced as an attempt to buy their conscience, and the protests came above all from their wives (Military personal were given 8000 bs.). When the ambushes occurred between Potosí and La Paz and Oruro and La Paz, the Police in Cochabamba decided to rebel against the government. To prevent a military action against them, their families, followed by much of the civilian population surrounded the police station. Within hours the “mutiny” spread throughout the whole country. It’s ironic: the mission of the police is to protect the population, but for a few days it was the population that protected “our police brothers and sisters”.
Sunday morning the Organization of American States published a preliminary report on its election audit, finding all kinds of evidence of fraud, including that the counting system was redirected to another computer server outside the control of election officials. They have yet to publish their full report, but said then that they could not validate the elections and that new elections should be held. They had yet to examine about 250 reports of vote manipulation sent by various institutions in the country.
Later that day the Bishop of Potosí, who is also president of the Episcopal Conference, tired of the double talk of the president, and due to the violence and fraud, publicly called for his resignation. The Episcopal Conference had made several statements, always calling for an avoidance of violence, and for dialogue, to no avail. Previously the archbishop of Sucre had said that calling for resignation was too radical, which I think kept the Conference and individual bishops like myself from saying publicly what we really wanted. Most of us immediately voiced our support for the Bishop of Potosí, and Evo´s resignation. As it was events evolved so quickly that the Church´s pronouncements were usually issued somewhat too late to make much difference.
On Sunday afternoon, the Armed Forces finally “suggested” that Evo resign to pacify the country. and an hour later he announced his resignation, having flown from La Paz to the Chapare region, which is the heart of the coca – cocaine industry in Bolivia. He had been denied passage into the airspace of neighboring countries. The Chapare is practically a country within a country, and outsiders need to be very careful in this region. I visited regularly as Auxiliary Bishop of Cochabamba, and never had any personal difficulties. We pray that it doesn´t become a hive of armed conflict, but it´s the region with the most to lose with the return to democracy and the rule of law in Bolivia. There have been calls there for civil war. Don´t forget that Evo was (and still is) president of the 6 coca growing federations in the region.
“Hordes” is the word that has been used to describe the Masista Mobs that have provoked destruction in El Alto, La Paz, Cochabamba, Sucre and Yapacaní, burning police stations, radio stations, buses, and so forth, as well as looting and attempts at looting. Some is anger for Evo´s fall, some is just delinquents taking advantage of the general chaos and momentary absence of police. Last night, at the request of the police, the Armed Forces teamed up with the police to patrol and pacify these areas. Many residential areas barricaded their streets and mounted vigils to prevent attacks on their neighborhoods. There was a rumor last night that Masists here in San Ignacio were going to burn the bus station, and some buses were actually moved to the mail plaza, but nothing happened. San Ignacio has been totally peaceful throughout this process. Sunday afternoon we had a special Mass in the Cathedral, originally planned as a prayer for peace, it became a thanksgiving Mass, as Evo´s resignation had been announced moments before. The cathedral was packed in spite of the other Masses celebrated at their normal times.
Today what is left of congress will appoint a new president, a Senator from the Beni Department, Jeanine Añez. And from what I understand, if not appointed, will succeed automatically, being until recently the second vice president of the Senate, as all higher ranking officials have resigned.
People exiled for years are returning to Bolivia. Many of the political prisoners of this Evo´s government are hoping for charges to be dropped and to be freed. Most of those associated with the election fraude has been arrested, as well as some Masista politicians accused of corruption, etc. The Episcopal Conference last night called for arrests to stop, to help pacify the country.
This process has shown that the power of prayer is not just for personal needs before God, but can also be the strength of a nation:
“Open up the gates that a righteous nation may enter, one that keeps faith. With firm purpose you maintain peace; in peace, because of our trust in you. Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock. ” (Isaiah 26,3).
God Bless you and God Bless Bolivia.
+ Robert Flock
Bishop of the Diocese of San Ignacio de Velasco.