Resignation of Morales, last of ‘pink tide,’ polarizes Latin America

CARACAS (Reuters) – The resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales, the last serving member of the ‘pink tide’ of leftist leaders that swept Latin America two decades ago, polarized governments across the region on Sunday, with presidents from Venezuela to Argentina denouncing a ‘coup’.

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales annouces his resignation in Lauca N, Cochabamba, Bolivia November 10, 2019 in this still image taken from Bolivian Government TV. Bolivian Government TV via REUTERS TV

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, ended his 14-year rule after allies deserted him following weeks of protests over a disputed Oct. 20 election that has roiled the Andean nation.

On Sunday, the Bolivian military and key political backers called on him to step down.

Right-leaning governments in Latin America, among them Colombia and Peru, called on the Bolivian state to ensure new elections would be lawful.

Meanwhile, embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose socialist predecessor Hugo Chavez served as a sometime mentor to Morales, told allies to mobilize “to preserve the life of the original Bolivian peoples, victims of racism.”

“We categorically condemn the coup realized against our brother,” Maduro said on Twitter.

While Maduro’s position has been bolstered by the return of left-leaning leaders in Mexico and Argentina, Morales’ ouster could unnerve Maduro, who has clung to power this year despite an opposition campaign to convince the armed forces to rebel.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, another longtime Morales ally, tweeted his “solidarity” and said: “The world must be mobilized for the life and freedom of Evo.”

Mexico’s foreign minister said his country rejected what he called a military operation under way in Bolivia, adding that there must be “no coup.”

And Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez, who won elections last month by a landslide in Latin America’s third-largest economy, said “the institutional breakdown in Bolivia is unacceptable.”

Morales agreed on Sunday to hold new elections after a report from the Organization of American States (OAS), which conducted an audit of the Oct. 20 vote, revealed serious irregularities in the ballot.

The OAS report said the October vote should be annulled after it had found “clear manipulations” of the voting system that called into question Morales’ win, with a lead of just over 10 points over main rival Carlos Mesa.

The Colombian Foreign Ministry called on Bolivian state institutions and political parties to work together to “guarantee a process of political transition.”

In a statement, the Colombian foreign ministry said this would “ensure that Bolivian citizens can express themselves freely at the polls and choose a new government with full guarantees of their participation.” It requested a meeting of the OAS’ permanent council to discuss the situation.

Peru also called for the restoration of a “peaceful existence” in Bolivia.

Morales became president in 2006, joining Chavez, Argentina’s Nestor Kirchner and Brazil’s Lula da Silva in a left-wing surge across the continent that refashioned state institutions and polarized domestic politics.

The end of a long commodities boom in Latin America saw some left-leaning governments replaced by conservative administrations.

However, since last year, anger at corruption, inequality and poverty have pushed conservatives out in Mexico and Argentina, while fueling protests in recent weeks that forced Ecuador and Chile to water down liberal economic policies.

Reporting by Angus Berwick in Caracas, Adam Jourdan in Buenos Aires, Marco Aquino in Lima, Sharay Angulo in Mexico City and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; writing by Angus Berwick; editing by Paul Simao, Daniel Wallis, Richard Pullin

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