- Massive protests have broken out in Bolivia over accusations that President Evo Morales committed election fraud.
- When polls closed on Oct. 20, results showed the race was headed for a runoff, but then there was an unexplained gap in reports of the election results for nearly 24 hours.
- When new results were posted the next day, it showed that Morales was beating his opponent by a razor-thin margin, and he was later declared president.
- The U.S. and other countries have refused to recognize Morales as the president until after an audit, and many have compared Morales’ tactics to those of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Protests all over Bolivia have continued for over a week now following allegations that President Evo Morales committed election fraud.
On Oct. 20, voters in Bolivia headed to the polls to cast their votes for either President Evo Morales or his opponents, the strongest of which was Carlos Mesa, who himself had served as president from 2003 until he resigned in 2005.
When the polls closed that night, the results from Bolivia’s election tribunal indicated the race was headed for a runoff that analysts said Morales had a strong chance of losing.
But then the tribunal mysteriously stopped updating the election results for nearly 24 hours, and when reporting finally resumed after the unexplained gap, it showed that Morales was beating Mesa by a razor-thin margin needed to avoid a runoff.
In order for Morales to prevent a second round of voting, he needed to win by over 10%. A few days later, the tribunal declared that Morales had secured that margin by less than a percentage point, with Morales receiving 47.07% of the vote to Mesa’s 36.5%.
Protests Over Alleged Fraud
Mesa and other opposition leaders accused Morales of election fraud, and called for people to hold demonstrations.
“What is happening in Bolivia is a gigantic fraud to rob us of our right to go to a second round, where we have a chance of winning,” Mesa said speaking to CNN following the election. “We are talking about a clearly established fraud by a government that has the electoral council at its service.”
Meanwhile, people took to the streets all over the country to protest against the election outcome. While some of the demonstrations have remained peaceful, other protestors have set fire to government buildings and knocked over statues.
These demonstrations have continued since the election, with protestors building barricades and blocking highways and buildings, causing many shops and schools to close down.
Police have reportedly responded by firing tear gas at protestors, and numerous injuries have been reported all over the country.
However, the people demonstrating are not all protesting against Morales. In fact, a lot of the clashes and violence that have been seen at these protests are actually between Mesa’s supporters and Morales’ supporters.
On Monday, both Mesa and Morales held rallies, where they each accused the other’s supporters of inciting violence.
At his rally, Mesa doubled down on the fraud accusations. Earlier in the day, he told Reuters that his protestors would not stop or accept negotiation, and added that the crisis was caused entirely because Morales wanted to stay in power for his lifetime.
“I have no doubt that his intention is to stay in government indefinitely, illegitimately,” Mesa said. “This is a political process that is debasing, deteriorating and corrupting – that is expressed by the desire for power for power’s sake.”
Morales for his part has continued to affirm his victory and deny accusations that any fraud occurred or that he is simply trying to keep himself in power, arguing that his continued elections are the will of the Bolivian people.
He has also claimed that there is a coup attempt underway led by right-wing groups and foreign powers. But at the same time, he has invited the Organization of American States (OAS) to audit the vote, and he said that if the OAS finds evidence of fraud, he will agree to a second round of voting.
In the meantime, the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia have refused to formally recognize Morales as the rightful president of Bolivia following the election. In a joint statement, the four countries said they will not recognize him if the OAS “is not able to verify results of the first round.”
Bolivia’s Foreign Minister announced Wednesday that the OAS audit was set to start the following day and that the results will be binding.
The OAS has called the 24-hour gap in election reporting “surprising” and “worrying,” also saying Bolivian authorities did not have a legitimate explanation for it. The OAS director of electoral observation and cooperation has also said the election should still go to a second round regardless of the audit’s findings.
Meanwhile, Mesa stated on Tuesday that “new elections would be ideal” but that the opposition is “open to all options.”
Morales and Maduro
With the recent allegations against Morales, many have drawn parallels between the Bolivian leader and his close ally and counterpart, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
Maduro similarly declared himself victorious in elections last year that were widely considered fraudulent. Like with Bolivia, the U.S. and many other countries refused to recognize Maduro as the rightful president, instead supporting opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
Maduro himself has also spoken out, condemning the protestors and supporting Maduro.
“The Bolivian people will overcome the violence of this attempt by sectors of the right, which want to destroy Bolivian democracy, destroy President Evo Morales and violate the reality of the constitution and laws,” he said in a televised statement last week.
Many of the thousands of protestors who have taken to the streets in Bolivia over the last week or so have reportedly been heard chanting slogans such as “No, and no, I don’t want to live in a dictatorship like the one in Venezuela.”
But the difference between Maduro and Morales is that Morales is still quite popular.
While Maduro is widely blamed for Venezuela’s economic crisis, Morales is credited with bringing massive economic growth to Bolivia, and significantly reducing poverty and inequality in one of the region’s poorest countries.
At the same time, Morales’ once very strong popularity has slipped recently, as more people have accused him of weakening democracy and concentrating power.
Morales had served as the president of Bolivia for more than 13 years since 2006, making him one of the longest-serving leaders in Latin America. But that long tenure has essentially been defined by controversy.
In 2013, Bolivia’s highest court ruled that he could run for a third term, even though the constitution limited the president to two five-year terms.
Then in 2016, Morales proposed a change to the constitution that would end term limits altogether. However, in a national referendum, a majority of Bolivian voters voted against his plan to scrap the term limits, thus preventing him from running again in 2019.
Morales originally said he would accept that outcome, but then in 2017, his party asked the highest court to overrule the referendum.
They argued that preventing elected officials from running indefinitely violated human rights and that the referendum only passed in the first place because of a smear campaign led by the U.S.
Again the court gave Morales a huge win by scrapping the limits entirely, officially allowing him to run for a fourth term. That decision upset a lot of people, who argued that this was a clear tactic for Morales to solidify his hold on power and again compared him to Maduro. Now, those allegations have resurfaced.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily Raided, Top Editors and Execs Arrested
Police claim the paper violated a controversial National Security law by publishing articles that asked foreign countries to sanction the Hong Kong and Chinese government.
Apple Daily Raid
Nearly 500 Chinese police officers carried out a raid on Thursday at the headquarters of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, a tabloid-style paper and one of the largest publications in the city.
During the aid, which was live-streamed by the outlet, police arrested top executives and editors while also seizing journalistic materials over violations of the city’s controversial National Security law. Apple Daily said CEO Cheung Kim Hung, COO Chow Tat Kuen, Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Pui-man, and Online Editor Cheung Chi-wai were arrested and accused of “colluding with foreign forces and external elements to endanger national security.”
Police also froze $1.8 million in Apple Daily assets.
John Lee, Hong Kong’s Security Secretary, told reporters that “this case involves a conspiracy” and added that the police were targeting those who use journalism as a “tool to endanger national security.”
Police claim that since 2019, Apple Daily has published articles calling on foreign countries to sanction the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Many of those articles were published before the National Security law went into effect, meaning the law is being applied retroactively.
However, China’s Deputy Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office said the law wouldn’t be retroactive, so it’s unclear if there’s been a shift in policy and if authorities are seeking to change how they approach violations that occurred before the law was enacted.
Not Meant to Restrict Freedom of the Press
Thursday’s raid could also have repercussions for other Hong Kongers. The city’s Senior Superintendent of the Police’s National Security Department warned citizens not to repost certain Apple Daily articles by saying, “If you have no real reason to share these types of articles, I would advise everyone not to.”
He claimed that this raid wasn’t targeting the press but rather one individual organization that violated the law. He also said Hong Kong’s government values the freedom of the press, a right that is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Lee concurred with the Senior Superintendent, adding, “Please understand that our actions are not targeting journalistic work. We target perpetrators who use journalistic work as a tool to endanger acts of national security.”
Apple Daily has vowed to carry on with its work while also acknowledging that its fate was out of its hands. In a letter to its readers, the paper wrote, “In today’s Hong Kong, we are unfamiliar and speechless.”
“It seems that we are powerless to deal with it, and it is difficult to prevent the regime from doing whatever it wants.”
See what others are saying: (AP) (The New York Times) (NBC News)
Hamas Launches Incendiary Balloons Into Israel Over Right-Wing March, Israel Responds With Airstrikes
No casualties were reported and the tentative ceasefire that ended last month’s hostilities largely remains in place.
10 Minutes of Airstrikes
Alleged Hamas training facilities were hit by Israeli airstrikes early Wednesday morning as a response to the group sending incendiary balloons into Israeli territory late Tuesday night.
The airstrikes, which lasted for 10 minutes, destroyed two compounds while the balloons started about 20 fires across southern Israel. There were no casualties on either side and damage was kept to a relative minimum. By Wednesday morning, calm had returned and neither group pursued further hostilities.
Hamas risked breaking a tenuous ceasefire in order to respond to right-wing Israeli demonstrators that marched through Palestinian neighborhoods to commemorate a holiday that is seen as highly provocative. The ceasefire has gone on to its eleventh day, stopping widespread rocket and airstrike campaigns that left hundreds of buildings in Gaza destroyed and dozens in Israel damaged.
The marchers were celebrating Jerusalem Flag Day, a day to mark Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and its holy sites during the 1967 Middle East War. It was originally supposed to occur on May 10 but was delayed as fighting between Hamas and Israel began last month. Hamas actually listed the celebrations as one of its primary causes for starting hostilities and warned that any further Jerusalem Flag Day events in East Jerusalem would be met with violence.
Tuesday’s march proved to be one of the first big tests faced by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who only just started the job this week. As a right-wing figure himself, he supported the marchers and saw rerouting or canceling the event as giving into Hamas’ demands. However, his center and left-wing allies pushed for the event to be canceled. In the end, security forces slightly amended the route to avoid passing through the Damascus Gate and into the Muslim Quarter.
Those same security forces have been accused by Palestinian protesters of violence as they moved to disperse anti-Israel demonstrations and make way for Flag Day marchers. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, at least 33 Palestinians were injured by police in those clashes.
Chants of “Death to Arabs!”
The celebrations by Israelis were largely peaceful, if not extremely provocative. The entire holiday itself is seen as a celebration of what many Arabs lost in the 1967 Middle East War, and hosting events in what is considered occupied territory puts salt in the wound. However, a large group of young Israelis inflamed the situation after video surfaced of them chanting “Death to Arabs!“
Their actions were widely condemned, including by Defense Minister Yair Lapid, who said, “The fact that there are extremists for whom the Israeli flag represents hate and racism is abominable and intolerable.” He added, “It is incomprehensible how one can hold an Israeli flag in one’s hand and shout ‘Death to Arabs’ at the same time.”
The Palestinian Authority, the government of the West Bank, said that there could be ‘dangerous repercussions” because of Tuesday’s right-wing march.
Despite the small rise in hostilities posed by Tuesday’s march and subsequent responses by Hamas and Israel, their ceasefire remains.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Wall Street Journal) (BBC)
India Is Investigating Fake COVID-19 Tests That May Have Fueled Outbreaks
Private facilities testing at a religious festival in April faked at least 100,000 negative tests, leading the public to believe the event wasn’t a super spreader.
Kumbh Mela Super Spreader Event
Authorities in India said Tuesday that they are investigating COVID-19 testing efforts carried out by private facilities during a major religious festival in Uttarakhand state this past April, which led to hundreds of thousands of fake negative test results.
The religious festival, Kumbh Mela, is among the most widely attended events in the world and millions arrived for the celebrations despite health authorities warning that it could become a super spreader event. Pilgrims weren’t deterred as local politicians praised the safety of the event and encouraged people to come without masks. In the end, the return home by festival goers is believed to have led to the largest outbreak of COVID-19 in the world, with new daily cases rising above 400,000 through April and May.
At the time, however, reported positive cases from those at the festival were shockingly low. One district in Haridwar, where part of the festival takes place, reported that out of 251,000 tests carried out locally during Kumbh Mela, only 2,273 were positive. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the state and across India, infections were upwards of 10% of those tested, leading experts to doubt the festival’s results
The narrative that India’s large outbreak wasn’t fueled by Kumbh Mela began to fall apart after a man from neighboring Punjab received a negative COVID-19 test from a private testing facility in Uttarakhand. The private test showed that during his time at the Kumbh Mela festival, he was negative despite never actually attended the festival.
Last week, he complained to the Indian Council of Medical Research, who took the situation seriously and asked local authorities to open an investigation into the matter. Preliminary findings from the investigation show that the situation is possibly worse than predicted. Authorities found that one company testing at the festival forged about a fourth of their results, meaning at least 100,000 tests were faked.
As investigators search the books, they’re finding that private clinics filled testing logs up by putting down random names, numbers, and addresses and sending those people negative test results. The clinics would then use the inflated numbers to charge local authorities more for their services.
Clinics also engaged in other scams, such as using the same unique ID code from a negative antigen test, meant for a single individual, for multiple “recipients.” In one instance, according to Times of India, a single test ID number was used for 700 people.
Because of these findings, Uttarakhand has stopped paying dozens of private testing facilities as it investigates further.
COVID-19 cases in India have fallen drastically in the last month after spiking to over 400,000 new cases every day partially because of Kumbh Mela. More than 377,000 people have died due to COVID-10 in India to date, though many believe authorities are underreporting deaths.