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What's Next Now That Bolivia's President Has Resigned?


Bolivia has become the latest country in South America to erupt into chaos. President Evo Morales stepped down yesterday after the military said it would no longer stand by him in the face of protest. I'm joined now by Linda Farthing. She's a journalist and researcher who covers Bolivia. She joins us now from the country's capital of La Paz.


LINDA FARTHING: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: Now, for people who have not been following these events closely, we want to say that it's coming just a few weeks after Morales declared himself the winner in the presidential race. This is his fourth presidential race. And what happened? What followed after?

FARTHING: What happened after the race was there were clearly irregularities with the vote counting process. The Organization of American States that night came out and said that there were concerns about the vote counting process. And the government agreed at that point that a binding audit would be carried out to check the results because they had - suddenly the machines had turned off, and 24 hours later, they went back on again, giving Morales enough of a lead to be able to not have to go to a second round with his closest rival.

CORNISH: How did that turn into widespread bloodshed, essentially?

FARTHING: I think that you have to go back to the fact that Morales called a referendum in 2016 to allow him to run for a fourth term. He lost, said right after it that he would not run for a fourth term. And then a year and a half later, the electoral commission, which was appointed by the legislature that his party controlled, gave him a loophole so he was allowed to run for a fourth term. So there was a buildup of resentment, basically, since 2016 among an increasing number of people and among the population that he should not be allowed to run again. And when it looked like there was fraud - and the opposition had been pushing the line that there would be fraud, so there was a generalized perception among the population that fraud was going to occur. And when there were indications that fraud had actually occurred, that was kind of the spark that set the whole thing off.

CORNISH: What's the capital been like today? Are people on the streets? What are you hearing?

FARTHING: Where I am is fairly calm, but both in the wealthier zone further south and also in the Alto there is now starting to be reaction among Morales supporters against this process that has led to his renunciation. There's been a fair amount of vandalism. The police haven't been out very much. They've mostly been sticking to the barracks. So there has been a fair amount of looting and that sort of thing that has gone on as well.

CORNISH: Several people in the line of succession have either resigned or been pushed out. So what does that mean? Who is available, so to speak, to take power now?

FARTHING: Well, they're now unfortunately down to the vice president of the Senate. The people closely affiliated with Evo Morales, several of them in the highest levels of leadership, have been threatened. They've had their family members taken hostage and told that if they didn't resign, their houses would be burned down. In some cases, the houses were burned down. So the woman who is now in line to be the president is from the Beni (ph), which is a lowland area northeast of where we are now. And she is from an opposition party. But they haven't met yet. So we're now in a situation where the country is 24 hours without any government at all.

CORNISH: Linda Farthing is the author of "Evo's Bolivia: Continuity And Change."

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

FARTHING: You're more than welcome, Audie.

CORNISH: As for Evo Morales' next step, it appears he's off to Mexico. That country said today that it had granted him asylum, and it's asked Bolivia to guarantee his safety.

(SOUNDBITE OF SQUAREPUSHER'S "TOMMIB") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.