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Bolivian President Luis Arce and dozens of others recently attended a ritual at the Tiwanaku pre-Inca religious complex near La Paz, one of the South American country’s two capitals. Dressed in the traditional, alpaca-and-llama-wool multicolored ponchos of the indigenous Aymara people, as a Euronews video showed, they raised their hands to celebrate a new year, salute the sunrise and pray for a good harvest.
The move contained potent political symbolism. Two weeks before, the New York Times reported, a court sentenced Arce’s predecessor, former President Jeanine Añez, to jail for 10 years after finding that she illegally became the country’s head of state after her predecessor, Evo Morales, resigned following pressure on prosecutors by Añez to charge him with terrorism, sedition and other crimes.
The Tiwanaku event and the verdict are like bookends on recent domestic Bolivian politics. After she took power, Añez famously walked outside the presidential palace holding the Bible, a clear rebuke to Morales, the country’s first indigenous president who allowed non-Christian religious beliefs to play a larger public role in Bolivian politics, including events at Tiwanaku.
Arce and Morales are not angels. For example, the British government has raised questions about whether Bolivian officials followed due process in the Añez case, TeleSur, a Venezuelan state-supported news site wrote. That said, Washington University Anthropology Professor Bret Gustafson and human rights activist Kathryn Ledebur argued in the North American Congress on Latin America that the US could do more to help Bolivia bring more of Añez’s enablers to justice.
Morales left office amid mass protests against his controversial fourth consecutive term in office that followed a decision by the country’s constitutional court rescinding term limits for the presidency, the Guardian noted. He fled Bolivia to escape facing charges and returned from a year in exile in 2020 after Arce, his former economy minister and fellow member of the Movement Toward Socialism party, won office, the Associated Press wrote. Arce is among a handful of recent leftwing presidential candidates who have won office in the so-called “pink tide” hitting Latin America in recent years, as the British news magazine the Week explained.
Today, the Movement Toward Socialism is in a weakened state due to the controversies surrounding Morales and discontent over how Arce handled the country’s crippling coronavirus crisis, Americas Quarterly reported. Arce is moving to improve the situation by expanding mining for vital and expensive elements like lithium, as Voice of America described, though his progress in this regard has been mixed.
Leaving the past behind could be Arce’s best chance to bring stability to his country. But with a turbulent recent past, that’s a tall order.