We can’t stand it anymore: Bolivian protesters demand quick Elections

Bolivian Protesters Demand Quick Elections

Anti-government blockades in Bolivia have entered their second week amid escalating political tensions, violent confrontations, and government allegations that protesters are causing deaths by stopping supplies from reaching COVID-19 patients.

The protests are deepening the crisis facing a nation already struggling to cope with a pandemic which officials say has so far killed more than 3,700 people and infected more than 91,600.

The highway blockades are organized by labor unions alongside rural and indigenous groups allied to the socialist party of ousted former president Evo Morales.

Last week, they launched an open-ended campaign of strikes, marches, and barricades in a bid to pressure Bolivia’s unelected interim government to bring forward presidential elections after electoral authorities twice postponed these, citing the coronavirus.

Bolivia has become increasingly polarized since November, when Morales, its first indigenous president, was pushed out after nearly 14 years in power amid mass protests and still-disputed allegations of electoral fraud.

An interim government took over, promising new elections would take place two months later, in January.

Under the constitution, the presidency fell to Jeanine Áñez, a conservative Christian senator from a minor right-wing party.

We have a government that is illegitimate because we haven’t elected it, says Heidi Motiño, 22, an accountancy student who has been taking part in protests in El Alto, the city neighboring the administrative capital La Paz.

Many of us know the risk[voting] entails because of the pandemic, she tells NPR, but we want to hold elections. We can’t stand it anymore.

Bolivia’s government has blamed protesters for causing the deaths of at least 30 coronavirus victims by blocking vehicles carrying oxygen and other urgent supplies for hospitals.

On Monday, it instructed the police and military to secure safe passage for these deliveries, although blockade organizers say they were already allowing medical supplies to pass through their barricades.

The pandemic has overwhelmed much of the country’s health system. Two weeks ago, according to Reuters, Bolivia’s police revealed that since April, they have collected more than 3,300 bodies from homes or public places in La Paz and El Alto.

They said 80% of those whose bodies they picked up was thought to have had coronavirus.

President Áñez initially said she would not run in the elections, but later changed her mind. A July opinion poll showed a narrow lead for the candidate from Morales’ socialist movement, Luis Arce, with 24 percent, followed by centrist former president Carlos Mesa at 20percent. Áñez had 16 percent.

Morales himself has taken refuge in Argentina and maintains he was the victim of a coup. The Áñez administration accuses him of sedition and treason, saying he has orchestrated anti-government demonstrations in Bolivia.

But this week, he publicly called for dialogue and suggested those behind the blockade protests consider accepting the Oct. 18 election date.

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