‘Everything is a mess’: Morales exit rocks Bolivia, splits region

‘Everything is a mess’: Morales exit rocks Bolivia, splits region
By Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Looting, fighting and roadblocks convulsed Bolivia on Monday after President Evo Morales’ resignation ended his 14-year rule and created a power vacuum following weeks of violent protests.

The departure of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, who was the last survivor of a wave of leftist leaders in Latin America from two decades ago, came on Sunday when the military abandoned him amid unrest over his disputed Oct. 20 re-election.

The Organization of American States (OAS), which had denounced “manipulations” of that vote, exhorted Bolivian lawmakers to meet urgently to resolve the crisis.

With Morales’ deputy and many allies in government and parliament gone with him, opposition politician and Senate second vice-president Jeanine Añez flew into the capital saying she was willing to take temporary control until a new vote.

“I am afraid of what will happen, everything is a mess in the city. There are fights between neighbours,” said Patricia Paredes, a 25-year-old secretary in La Paz.

Overnight, gangs roamed the highland capital and other cities, businesses were attacked, rival political supporters clashed and properties were set on fire.

Schools and shops were largely closed, while public transport halted and roads were blocked.

Morales, 60, flew out of La Paz and was believed to still be in Bolivia – but his exact whereabouts were unclear.

He said he stepped down to ease the violence, but repeated on Monday accusations he was the victim of a conspiracy by political enemies including election rival Carlos Mesa and protest leader Luis Fernando Camacho.

“The world and our Bolivian patriots repudiate the coup,” he tweeted. “They moved me to tears. They never abandoned me. I will never abandon them.”


Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez echoed Morales’ denunciations of a coup, as did Mexico which has offered him asylum. “It’s a coup because the army requested the resignation of the president, and that violates the constitutional order of that country,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

In a redrawing of Latin America’s political landscape, the left has regained power in both Mexico and Argentina, though powerhouse Brazil still retains a right-wing government.

“A great day,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted, in apparent reference to events in Bolivia.

In Venezuela, opponents of Morales ally Nicolas Maduro also hailed the fall of the Bolivian leader whom they call a “dictator”, saying they hoped Maduro would be next.

Further afield, the United States urged civilian leaders to keep control. Russia backed Morales, accusing the opposition of violence and quashing dialogue.

Amid the chaos, prominent Bolivian opposition figure and academic Waldo Albarracin tweeted that his house had been set on fire by Morales supporters.

Another widely-shared video appeared to show people inside Morales’ own property with graffiti daubed on the walls.

“People are trying to cause chaos,” fretted Edgar Torrez, a 40-year-old business administrator in La Paz, saying politicians and criminals were all taking advantage of the situation.


Under Bolivian law, the head of the Senate would normally take over provisionally. However, Senate President Adriana Salvatierra also stepped down on Sunday.

Legislators were expected to meet on Monday to agree on an interim commission or legislator who would take temporary control, according to a constitutional lawyer.

“If I have the support of those who carried out this movement for freedom and democracy, I will take on the challenge, only to do what’s necessary to call transparent elections,” said senator Añez, who is constitutionally next in line to assume the presidency.

Añez flew into El Alto airport near La Paz on Monday, where another senator Arturo Murillo told reporters she was taken by an Air Force helicopter to a military academy, from where she was expected to travel to Congress.

“The military were waiting on the tarmac and they said it was safer to take them by helicopter,” he said. “I want to trust the military. I have my faith in the police.”

At a press conference, Mesa asked the police and mobilized civilian groups to guarantee the arrival of legislators across the political spectrum to the central Plaza Murillo to formalize Morales’ resignation and push forward new elections.

“Upon them (the lawmakers) rests the democracy and stability of the country,” he said.

Bolivia under Morales had one of the region’s strongest economic growth rates and its poverty rate was cut in half, but his determination to cling to power and seek a fourth term alienated many allies, even among indigenous communities.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos, Gram Slattery, Monica Machicao in La Paz, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Dave Graham and Miguel Gutierrez in Mexico City, Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne)

OAS nations wind up empty handed on Venezuela condemnation

A banner is seen with a small group of Venezuelan protesters outside the site where the Organization of American States (OAS) 47th General Assembly is taking place in Cancun, Mexico June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Anthony Esposito

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) – The Organization of American States failed on Wednesday to issue a formal declaration condemning Venezuela’s government for its handling of the political and economic crisis in the South American country, despite a last-minute push by Mexico and the United States.

But member nations, including Mexico, committed to keep pressing the issue until the crisis in Venezuela, where at least 75 people have been killed in more than two months of protests, is peacefully resolved.

“Mexico’s position on Venezuela is a position that will not waver, it’s a position that says representative democracy is the only form of government acceptable in the Western Hemisphere,” Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told reporters.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is accused by opponents of leading the OPEC member toward dictatorship by delaying elections, jailing opposition activists and pressing to overhaul the constitution.

Videgaray and OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro repeated calls for Venezuela to establish an election timetable, respect for human rights, political prisoners to be freed, an independent judiciary and respect for the autonomy of the legislature.

Foreign ministers from the 34-nation OAS bloc failed to agree on a resolution formally rebuking Venezuela after the issue of the crisis-racked nations consumed most of the three-day general assembly in Cancun, Mexico.

An effort by a group of nations, led by the United States, Mexico and regional allies, to include a declaration on Venezuela by tucking it into a more general resolution on human rights also failed.

Throughout the OAS sessions, Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez fought back at attempts to chastise her nation, accusing U.S. allies of being “lapdogs of imperialism.”

Rodriguez left her post as foreign minister on Wednesday to run for a seat in a controversial new congress, drawing praise from Maduro as a “tiger” for her feisty defense of the socialist government.

Twenty states voted to pass the draft resolution censuring Venezuela on Monday, falling short of the 23 votes, or two-thirds majority, needed.

Maduro accuses opponents of seeking his violent overthrow with U.S. support. He has called for the creation of a super-body, or constituent assembly, with powers to overhaul the constitution, in voting set for the end of July.

Four years of recession caused by failing socialist economic policies plus the decline in global oil prices have battered Venezuela’s 30 million people and made Maduro deeply unpopular.

Opposition leaders accuse Maduro of leading Venezuela toward dictatorship by delaying elections and jailing opposition activists, while food and medicine run short and inflation is believed to be in the triple digits.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)

‘You want war?’ Venezuela spars with rivals at OAS meeting

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the OAS 47th General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

By Anthony Esposito

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) – Governments from across the Americas chastised Venezuela’s socialist leadership on Tuesday for its handling of a political and economic crisis, prompting the OPEC nation’s foreign minister to call the critics “lapdogs of imperialism.”

The United States, Brazil and 10 other members of the 34-nation Organization of American States (OAS) issued a letter accusing Venezuela of undermining democracy, failing to feed its people and violating rights.

“Considering the interruption of the democratic process in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, we believe that there should be a settled solution that includes all Venezuelan parties for the benefit of the people of that nation,” said the letter issued at the OAS general assembly in Cancun, Mexico.

It called for the release of political prisoners, respect for rights, an election timetable, a “humanitarian channel” to ship food and medicine, and the creation of a group or mechanism to help “effective dialogue among Venezuelans.”

The 12 nations also called on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to abandon a July 30 vote for a super-body with powers to rewrite the country’s constitution. Critics see Maduro’s move as a ploy to hold on to power.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez fired back, criticizing Mexico’s rights record and highlighting poverty, violence and migration in Honduras and other nations.

Rodriguez said the country’s planned constituent assembly was the only way to overcome the current crisis peacefully and called her critics “lapdogs of imperialism.”

“Do you want war? Is that what you want for Venezuela?” the minister said, wearing a red dress, the color identified with Venezuela’s Socialist Party. She accused OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro of trying to stir up a civil war in Venezuela.

“Great, we’ve reached the boss,” she said as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan began a speech, repeating her jibe that the OAS is an arm of U.S. diplomacy.

Sullivan asked members of the OAS “to do right by the people of Venezuela” through the creation of a group to help facilitate a resolution.

Rodriguez said: “The only way you could impose this on us is with your Marines, which would meet a strong response in Venezuela.”

She said Venezuela would never go back to the OAS.

But she left the door open to participating in further meetings, saying that although Venezuela left the organization there was a two-year administrative period to finalize the departure in which it could still participate.

Honduran Foreign Minister Maria Dolores Aguero asked Rodriguez to explain how her government was going to alleviate Venezuela’s problems.

“Instead of responding to all of us who want peace for your people, why not tell us how you are going to resolve the crisis they are living?” Aguero said.

A meeting on the sidelines failed on Monday to agree on a resolution formally rebuking Venezuela, where 75 people have been killed in protests in recent weeks.

“A resolution, a strong declaration from this organization, is probably the only realistic way of avoiding a blood bath in Venezuela,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the executive director Americas for Human Rights Watch.

Some of the meeting’s participants remained optimistic they could reach a resolution and that Venezuela could avoid spiraling further into violence.

The foreign minister of Guatemala, a nation that faced a 36-year internal armed conflict that left some 200,000 people dead, voiced that sentiment.

“We don’t wish that on anybody, least of all Venezuela, and if we were able to sit down and negotiate, Venezuela needs to be able to do that too,” Foreign Minister Carlos Morales said.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Leslie Adler)