MAS power struggle

Morales accused of involvement in extra-judicial killings as the government flexes its muscles.

The Bolivian newspaper El Deber recently leaked a report prepared by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (“IACHR”), an autonomous judicial institution of the Organization of American States (“OAS”), that alleged the former Bolivian government led by then president Evo Morales was involved in the extra-judicial killings of five members of an armed group operating in the country.

The events reportedly took place in April 2009 when members of the elite police unit known as Tactical Crisis Resolution Unit, under the direct control of the Ministry of the Government, killed five people at the Las Américas hotel in Santa Cruz.

The IACHR has called on Bolivian authorities to launch a judicial investigation into those responsible for the attack, which could potentially include Evo Morales. If the Bolivian government and judiciary refuse to collaborate, the IACHR will elevate the case to the International Court of Human Rights in The Hague, Netherlands.

Evo Morales has accused Iván Lima, the current Minister of Justice of Bolivia, of leaking the report to the press. Since taking office in 2020, Lima has been very critical of Morales’ presidential decisions, specifically citing his interference with the judiciary and the lack of protection of indigenous communities. Additionally, Lima confirmed that the judiciary is investigating the concession of five large infrastructure contracts to Harbour Engineering Company, a Chinese construction company, during Evo Morales’ administration. Public officials involved in the tendering process allegedly took BOB 14 million (USD 2 million) in bribes from the Chinese company.

These events confirm the tense relationship between Evo Morales and the current Bolivian government led by his fellow party member Luis Arce. Since he took office, Evo Morales has been disappointed by Arce’s decision to form his own cabinet to build bridges with the opposition while leaving former Morales aides and allies outside the government.

A Bolivian political scientist agreed with Morales’ accusations, “Fighting with the MAS party is escalating. The reality is that Evo Morales can see that he is losing influence over the party and his worst fear has become true, president Arce is thinking for himself and doing exactly what Lenin Moreno did in Ecuador [becoming the biggest opposition of Rafael Correa]. He has an agenda of his own and he is nurturing allies within the MAS party.”

“Fighting with the MAS party is escalating. The reality is that Evo Morales can see that he is losing influence over the party.”

Political scientist, Bolivia

This was echoed by a former MAS vice-minister who provided further detail, “García Linera [the former Vice-President] said as early as 2021, the MAS runs the risk of splitting into three. In addition to Morales and Arce, there is Vice-President Choquehuanca. At the moment, Choquehuanca and Arce are united in an agreement to get Evo out of the race but then the two of them may face-off against each other.”

So, this internal power struggle looks like it will continue to play out until the next Bolivian general elections in 2025. The political scientist summarised, “Evo has the most support and power within MAS but he is no longer hegemonic. Arce and Choquehuanca are serious competitors for Morales – not only do they have the resources of the state on their side, they also have increasing support from social organisations. There is even a “Choquehuanca” youth group, as opposed to the old Evo generation. There are more and more voices within MAS saying that Evo’s time has passed and that he must give way.”

“Arce and Choquehuanca are serious competitors for Morales – not only do they have the resources of the state on their side, they also have increasing support from social organisations.”

Political scientist, Bolivia

Our sources agreed that these recent accusations are not designed to put Morales in prison but instead are being used to publicly demonstrate that there are other centres of power within the MAS party. Arce & Co may wish to tread carefully though, it would not be wise to underestimate the level of support for Morales – particularly in the Congress where it is thought that he commands a two thirds majority. If provoked enough, he could make life quite difficult for the government.

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