'The struggle continues,' vows Bolivia's Morales on arrival in Mexico
Bolivia's ex-president Evo Morales arrived in Mexico Tuesday to take up political asylum, vowing "the struggle continues", two days after resigning amid mounting protests over his fraud-stained re-election to a fourth term.
A Mexican air force plane carrying the leftist leader touched down at the Mexico City international airport, where Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard -- who says Morales was the victim of a "coup" -- warmly greeted him.
Grinning, waving and raising his fist in the air as he touched his heart, Morales thanked leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, saying "he saved my life".
He vowed his flight into exile would not be the end of the story.
"As long as I am alive, I will remain in politics. The struggle goes on," he told a large crowd of journalists gathered at the airport.
Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, defended his record bettering living conditions for poor and indigenous Bolivians, and said "there will only be peace when social justice is achieved for all."
Wearing a sky-blue polo shirt and jeans, the former leader looked more well-rested than the previous day, after an overnight trek across much of Latin America -- made longer when Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia itself denied requests to use their airspace, forcing the plane to make an unscheduled refueling stop in Paraguay.
Sudden fall from grace
Morales led Bolivia for more than 13 years before mounting protests over his fraud-stained fourth re-election on October 20 forced him to resign.
Morales’ departure was a dramatic fall for the one-time llama shepherd from the Bolivian highlands and former coca growers’ union leader who as president helped lift millions out poverty, increased social rights and presided over nearly 14 years of stability and high economic growth in South America’s poorest country.
In the end, though, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto power despite a public referendum against continuous reelections.
“It pains me to leave the country for political reasons, but I’ll always be concerned,” Morales said on Twitter. “l’ll return soon, with more strength and energy.”
Barricades ablaze, street blockades
Angry supporters of the socialist leader set barricades ablaze to close some roads leading to the country’s main airport Monday, while his foes blocked most of the streets leading to the capital’s main square in front of Congress and the presidential palace. Police urged residents of La Paz to stay in their homes and authorities said the army would join in policing efforts to avoid an escalation of violence.
Local media reported that Morales supporters were marching on La Paz from the nearby city of El Alto, a Morales stronghold, to try to break the street blockades thrown up by his opponents and reach the capital’s main square.
But the tensions were defused after Gen. Williams Kaliman, the chief of the armed forces, announced a joint police-military operation in a television address. He said the hope was to “avoid bloodshed and mourning of the Bolivian family,” and he urged Bolivians to help restore peace.
“It was a night of fear. I couldn’t sleep and I just kept praying,” said Yorka López, a homemaker, who handed out warm coffee to neighbors who had stayed out throughout the night in the streets guarding homes and businesses. Defence Minister Javier Zavaleta, a veteran politician and Morales ally, resigned over the decision to deploy the military.
Some sense of normalcy was returning to some cities Tuesday, with businesses rolling up the metal sheets that had guarded them from looting in past days, but some services remained interrupted.
Ronald Arias said he had left his home in El Alto and walked for three hours to his job in downtown La Paz because the cable car connecting the cities was suspended or security reasons and the barricades blocked access to public transportation.
Like Morales, Arias is also a native Aymara, and he said he was proud of the indigenous former leader. Thanks to him, his parents, who live in the countryside gained access for the first time to running water and gas for cooking.
“I was so saddened by his resignation,” he said. “A lot of people in El Alto shed tears for the president.”
Morales’ presidency, the longest among serving leaders in the region and the longest ever in Bolivia, ended abruptly Sunday, hours after Morales had accepted calls for a new election by an Organisation of American States team. The team reported a “heap of observed irregularities” in the Oct. 20 election whose official results showed Morales getting just enough votes to avoid a runoff that analysts said he could lose against a united opposition.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe