Senator Claims Interim Bolivian Preside11/13 06:33
LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivians have new uncertainty to grapple with now
that opposition Sen. Jeanine Aez declared herself interim president of the
crisis-torn Andean country just hours after Evo Morales flew off to self-exile
Questions remained about who might rally around Aez, while Morales'
supporters angrily accused her of trying to seize power in her declaration
Tuesday, raising the prospect of more troubles following weeks of clashes over
the disputed Oct. 20 presidential election.
Some people took to the streets cheering and waving national flags Tuesday
night after Aez claimed the post of Senate leader, the position next in line
for the presidency. Furious supporters of Morales responded by trying to force
their way to the Congress building in La Paz yelling, "She must quit!"
Aez, a women's rights activist and former TV presenter, seemed in a tenuous
position. She declared herself interim president even though she lacked a
quorum in the Senate after Morales' party boycotted the session, and she wasn't
sworn in by anyone before appearing on a balcony of the old presidential palace
wearing the presidential sash.
"My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country," she
said. "They can never again steal our vote."
Morales resigned Sunday under pressure from Bolivia's military chief
following the weeks of violent protests fed by allegations of electoral fraud
in the Oct. 20 election, which he claimed to have won.
Although Aez met with Gen. Williams Kaliman, the armed forces commander, it
was uncertain how much support she could count on from other power centers.
Morales resigned shortly after an Organization of American States audit
reported widespread irregularities in the vote count. Bolivia's first
indigenous president arrived in Mexico on Tuesday under a grant of asylum. But
his resignation still needed to be approved by both houses of Congress, and
lawmakers could not assemble the numbers needed for formal sessions.
Aez forged ahead anyway, arguing that Bolivia could not wait and be left in
a power vacuum. After Morales quit, resignations by allies left vacancies in
the only posts listed by the constitution as presidential successors --- the
vice president, the head of the Senate and the leader of the lower house.
Aez was a second-tier opposition figure until Morales, Latin America's
longest serving leader resigned after nearly 14 years in power.
She immediately tried to set differences with the socialist leader. She
greeted supporters at an old palace instead of the nearby modern 26-story
presidential palace with a heliport that was built by Morales and that his foes
had criticized as one of his excesses. She also carried a Bible, which had been
banned by Morales from the presidential palace after he reformed the
constitution and recognized the Andean earth deity Pachamama instead of the
Roman Catholic Church.
Morales said on Twitter from Mexico that Aez's "self-proclamation" was an
affront to constitutional government. "Bolivia is suffering an assault on the
power of the people," he wrote.
Even before Aez acted, thousands of his supporters were in the streets of
the capital in peaceful demonstrations clamoring for his return. Military
fighter jets flew repeatedly over La Paz in a show of force that infuriated
Morales loyalists who were blocked by police and soldiers from marching to the
"We're not afraid!" shouted demonstrators, who believe Morales' departure
was a coup d'etat and an act of discrimination against Bolivia's indigenous
"Evo was like a father to me. We had a voice, we had rights," said Maria
Apasa, who like Morales is a member of the Aymara indigenous group.
Morales' detractors accused him of becoming increasingly authoritarian and
rigging the election.
Morales was met at Mexico City's airport by Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard
after a flight from Bolivia on a Mexican government plane and repeated his
allegations he had been forced to resign by a coup.
"The president of Mexico saved my life," Morales said, thanking President
Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador for granting him asylum. He vowed to "continue the
Ebrard said Mexican diplomats had to scramble to arrange a flight path for
the plane because some nations initially closed airspace to it. The plane
stopped in Paraguay to refuel.
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
stability and high economic growth in South America's poorest country.
In the end, his downfall was prompted by his insistence on holding onto
power. He ran for a fourth term after refusing to accept the results of a
referendum that upheld term limits for the president --- restrictions thrown
out by a top court that critics contend was stacked in his favor.
Gen. Kaliman, the chief of the armed forces, announced a joint
police-military operation in a television address Monday seeking to calm street
fighting. He said the hope was to "avoid bloodshed and mourning of the Bolivian
family," and he urged Bolivians to help restore peace.
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 for security reasons and barricades blocked access to public
Arias, a native Aymara, said that thanks to Morales, his parents in the
countryside gained access for the first time to running water and gas for
"I was so saddened by his resignation," he said. "A lot of people in El Alto
shed tears for the president."