Strikes, blockades and political crisis
Updated: May 14, 2020
On September 21st, we had our presidential elections and it didn't go well. According to Bolivian law, a candidate must have more than 10% over the next candidate below him, in order to win.
Otherwise it goes to a second vote with only the top two candidates.
When it became clear that Evo (our president) wasn't going to receive that 10%, suddenly the computer system that keeps everyone updated on the current count "went down" for 24 hours. When it came up again, Evo was suddenly over the 10%. International groups who were watching the vote all made statements that they were suspicious of what happened and that they thought that there was fraud involved. Since then, more evidence has come up to support that claim.
Along with all of that, Bolivia's constitution limits presidential terms to two. The constitution was rewritten during Evo's first term, so he decided that term didn't count and has run twice more
(almost fifteen years in total). After telling everyone he wouldn't run again, last year he held a referendum to change the constitution to allow him a fourth term. He narrowly lost that referendum, so he turned to the Bolivian Supreme Court (which for the most part is in his back pocket). They ruled that it was a violation of his human rights to not be allowed to run again (yea...exactly). So...here we are.
On Wednesday civic strikes went into effect in all the capital cities across Bolivia. That means everything is shut down and there are blockades everywhere so that no one can drive. It's actually been really well organized here in Santa Cruz (less organized in other parts of the country) with pharmacy's staying open and food trucks being aloud to enter the city. Markets and grocery stores have only been open for a few, sporadic hours here and there though.
We're now going into our sixth day of the strike. It's been relatively peaceful until today. The supporters of the government got more organized and there was fighting across the country in different areas. Our area has remained mostly calm (although with a lot of fear and tension) and we've been safe. It actually has the feel of a block party, with families on their bikes and people playing cards and music. Obviously that's not the case everywhere.
Today the civic leaders on both sides doubled down and I'm not really sure what's going to happen next. We've heard that Evo and his government are actually in quite a bit of disarray and that Evo is nervous. I hope that's true. It might mean that he'll back down and allow a second election. If the second vote happens though, he'll almost certainly lose. The problem has always been that the opposition vote is split four or five different ways. But in a second vote, it will only be the top two candidates (as I said) so that isn't good news for Evo. He tends to be very arrogant and he does whatever he wants, but this time I think he misjudged what was going to happen. There always tends to be a lot of talk here but not a lot of action. Now there's definitely action as well. Even in La Paz and Cochabamba which tend to be his strongholds.
So....that's where things are currently at. We would appreciate your prayers. Of course this will eventually work itself out, but in the meantime, it does mean that life is a little complicated. Classes have been suspended for the guys and trying to keep them all fed and content is a bit more of a challenge. =) We met at our apartment on Sunday for "church" and lunch and I talked about how we should respond as Christians in situations like this. We had a good discussion about it and I think it was a teachable moment.
Thanks for thinking of us and praying! We appreciate it!
UPDATE: It's now day eight I think. There is still fighting in different areas of the country, but Santa Cruz has stayed relatively calm. A big concern coming into this week was that people were running out of money and food. Today the civic government began distributing meals to the people. Imagine that...in a city of over two million people, the government is provided cooked meals. Meat, vegetables and dairy trucks are still arriving into the city. Honestly, everything has been incredibly well organized here. I told Isabel tonight that when the zombie apocalypse eventually arrives, I'm staying here. The president of the civil authority here in Santa Cruz is like a rock star. He drove past us the other night and everyone was cheering and clapping for him.
So...that's where we're currently at. Thanks for praying.