LA PAZ – The inauguration of Bolivian President Luis Arce on Sunday means the return of Evo Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party to power after a year during which the country had a transition government that was harshly criticized by the new leader in his inauguration address.
Arce was sworn in at a ceremony at the Legislative Palace in La Paz before world leaders such as Spain’s King Felipe VI, the presidents of Argentina, Colombia and Paraguay – Alberto Fernandez, Ivan Duque and Mario Abdo Benitez, respectively – along with representatives from other countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.
The man who was economy minister during 12 of the almost 14 years that Morales was in power took the oath of office with his hand on his heart, while his running mate, a member of Aymara people, David Choquehuanca, took the vice-presidential oath with his left fist raised, the iconic symbol and gesture of the MAS.
Arce was elected with 55.1 percent of the votes in the Oct. 18 general election, which was held a year after the balloting that had given a fourth consecutive term to Morales was annulled amid complaints of fraud, complaints that the former leader denies.
The new president in his inauguration speech lashed out at the interim government of Jeanine Añez, whom he accused of leading a “coup government” and trampling upon democracy, sowing “death, fear, discrimination” and pursuing politicians and union leaders who supported the MAS with “paramilitary” groups.
Then-opposition Sen. Añez assumed power on Nov. 12, 2019, two days after Morales announced his resignation complaining that he was being forced from power by military and police pressure, along with that of other groups.
“This Nov. 8 we’re beginning a new phase in our history,” said Arce, who claimed that he wants to govern “on behalf of everyone” and “rebuild” the country to “live in peace” and “unity.”
The tone he used to refer to his detractors contrasted with his statements that he will govern without hatred but with justice.
Arce mentioned among his main challenges will be the recovery of the country’s economy, which he warned is experiencing a deep recession not only due to the coronavirus pandemic but also because of the outgoing government’s poor management.
Choquehuanca was more conciliatory in his own inauguration speech, in which he urged the country to recover its cultural roots, seek agreement with the opposition and see to it that there is no more “abuse of power.”
The inauguration ceremony was marked by the protest of the main opposition group in Bolivia’s Parliament, Comunidad Ciudadana (CC) of former presidential candidate and ex-president Carlos Mesa, against a change in rules within the Legislature that he claims favors the MAS and limits the activities of the opposition.
CC lawmakers demonstrated holding up signs demanding “No abuse of power! Two-thirds is democracy,” and then they left Parliament along with Mesa amid the shouts and insults of MAS legislators.
The protest came in response to the “absolutely high-handed and unacceptable attitude of the MAS, which – taking advantage of the closure of the former legislature – modified the rules of the two chambers,” Mesa said.
In the recent general election, the MAS managed to gain a parliamentary majority but it was not able to reclaim the two-thirds advantage it enjoyed during the most recent two legislative periods.
The outgoing lawmakers changed the rules so that the legislature could approve with a simple majority bills and procedural measures on matters like the promotion of military and police officers and the designation of ambassadors.
The MAS justified the measures by saying that the modifications seek to facilitate legislative work, but the opposition says that the whole thing was a maneuver to maintain control of the Assembly.
Other opposition members, like former President Jorge Quiroga and businessman Samuel Doria Medina, took to Twitter to criticize Arce’s speech.
Quiroga questioned the fact that while Choquehuanca “calls for agreement,” Arce had no answers for the economic crisis that he himself “bequeathed to us” and “only blames it on the regrettable management of the transition.”
“Contradictory memory. Vice President Choquehuanca spoke about unity and getting all Bolivians together again. He immediately contradicted the president, who raged against the transition period and only spoke to the 55 percent who voted for him, forgetting the 45 percent who did not,” Doria Medina wrote.
The other opposition party with parliamentary representation, the Creemos alliance, did not attend Arce’s inauguration in protest at the legislative rule changes, but its leader, former presidential candidate Luis Fernando Camacho said on Facebook that “Today is a bad day for democracy.”
“Those who stole the vote from us in 2019 are taking over with a government with newly questioned elections,” said Camacho, who gained national importance during the 2019 post-election crisis.
After the inauguration activities, unions of workers, indigenous peoples and peasants that support the MAS, along with the armed forces, paraded on Murillo Square, where the government and legislative headquarters are located.
Añez said on Saturday that she had withdrawn to her home in Bolivia’s Amazon region without fear about defending herself against lawsuits from those who are “harassing” her and without anyone in her cabinet attending the La Paz ceremony, where Arce was not able to hold back tears of emotion upon taking the oath of office.