- 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)
Coronavirus Cases and Deaths Rise
- The new coronavirus that originated from Wuhan, China has now killed at least 81 people and more than 2,700 cases have been detected worldwide.
- Most of the cases are in China, though low numbers have been found in other nations, including the United States.
- Wuhan’s mayor has offered to resign in wake of criticism for the Chinese government’s response to the health crisis.
- The United States, France, and Japan have all announced plans to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan and bring them home on limited-capacity flights.
The coronavirus outbreak that began in the Chinese city of Wuhan significantly worsened over the weekend, bringing the death toll to at least 81 and the confirmed number of cases to over 2,700.
The majority of the cases have been found in China, but several have been detected in other nations across four continents, including the United States, Australia, Taiwan, Japan, and France.
On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed three newly-detected cases of the novel coronavirus in Southern California and Arizona, bringing the overall number of infected people in the U.S. to five. The other cases were found last week in Washington and Illinois.
“It is likely there will be more cases reported in the U.S. in the coming days and weeks, likely including person-to-person spread,” the CDC wrote.
“While this is a serious public health threat, CDC continues to believe the immediate risk to the U.S. general public is low at this time,” it added.
No deaths from the coronavirus have been reported outside of China.
Chinese Government’s Response
In efforts to control the outbreak of the novel virus, plans have been made to rapidly build a new hospital and travel bans have been imposed around the nation, affecting millions of people.
As conditions have worsened, Chinese officials are facing criticism from people saying that their response to the outbreak was too slow.
Zhou Xianwang, Wuhan’s mayor, defended himself in an interview with the state broadcaster CCTV, saying that he had to wait for authorization from Beijing officials before he could make certain critical information public.
Regardless of this point, Mayor Xianwang also offered to step down from his position and said that he and Ma Guoqiang, the city’s Communist Party secretary, will resign and take the blame if it will appease the public.
Xianwang’s comments were broadcasted the same day Premier Li Keqiang, China’s second-highest ranking official, arrived in Wuhan to inspect regulation efforts of the disease. His visit is seen as a move to prove the central government’s adequate involvement with this crisis.
In further attempts to impose the travel bans, the Chinese government extended the Lunar New Year holiday by three days. The weeklong celebration started on Friday and was supposed to end this Thursday, but the spreading virus threw a wrench in many people’s travel and celebration plans. Now employees won’t have to return to work until Feb. 3.
International Evacuation Plans
Despite China’s imposed travel bans, other nations have devised plans to evacuate their citizens from high-risk areas and bring them home.
The U.S. Department of State announced its plans to bring select consulate staff members and other American citizens from Wuhan to San Francisco on a flight on Jan. 28.
“This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus,” the Department said.
France’s government is arranging similar plans to bring French nationals back from the Wuhan area via air travel. Once these passengers return, they will be required to spend a maximum of 14 days in quarantine.
Japan also said they would be chartering at least one plane this week to bring citizens home from Wuhan.
See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CNN) (CBS)
China Rushes to Build New Hospital as Coronavirus Spreads
- Chinese authorities announced plans to build a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan by Feb. 3 to treat patients of a deadly new virus that has killed at least 26 people.
- More than 800 cases of the never-before-seen strain of the coronavirus have been detected.
- The majority of the cases are in China, though some have been found in other countries, including the United States.
- Officials hope the new hospital will help alleviate some of the pressure on China’s healthcare system, which has been overwhelmed in the wake of the outbreak.
Race to Build Hospital
In the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 26 people, China announced plans on Friday to quickly build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat patients of the epidemic.
The hospital is being constructed in Wuhan, where the deadly “2019-nCOV” virus originated and is scheduled to be completed by Feb. 3. Images and video from Chinese media show dozens of workers preparing the site.
China’s healthcare system has been strained by the outbreak. At least eight hospitals across Wuhan have called for protective medical gear donations, according to the Associated Press, citing notices online. Video footage has emerged showing health facilities packed with people desperate for help.
“I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are alarming,” an unnamed doctor told BBC. “The hospitals have been flooding with patients, there are thousands, I haven’t seen so many before.”
The expedited Wuhan hospital is reminiscent of another project that China undertook almost two decades ago. In 2003, when the nation was swept up by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that spread to 28 other countries and killed nearly 800 people, a hospital was built from scratch in Beijing in just under a week.
The Wuhan structure is modeled off the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing and is being made from prefabricated buildings that help with fast assembly.
What is the Coronavirus?
The outbreak causing all the panic is a novel coronavirus — a strain of the coronavirus that has never been seen before. According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe ailments. SARS is a member of this family.
Coronaviruses can be transmitted between people and animals. The novel coronavirus was suspected to have come from a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for disinfection. The new strain is particularly intimidating because it is not yet known how it affects people or how to treat it.
At least 12 Chinese cities near the center of the outbreak have been placed on a travel lockdown to prevent further spreading of the virus, affecting roughly 35 million residents. The lockdown comes just ahead of one of China’s most important holidays, Lunar New Year, throwing a wrench in many people’s celebration plans.
More than 800 cases of the virus have been detected and a few have been found in countries beyond China, including the United States. On Thursday, the World Health Organization said the new virus has not yet reached a level that makes it a global health emergency.
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Guardian) (The Washington Post)
Brexit Officially Becomes Law in the United Kingdom
- British Parliament passed a final Brexit withdrawal agreement on Wednesday.
- The following day, Queen Elizabeth gave the bill her royal assent, a formality that turns a bill into law.
- While the European Parliament is set to make the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union official next week, the U.K. still has a long journey ahead in laying out a new relationship with the EU and countries like the United States.
Brexit Becomes Law
After a bitter three and a half year struggle that resulted in the resignation of two prime ministers, protests, elections, and multiple delays, the United Kingdom has officially signed a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Queen Elizabeth gave her royal assent to the bill on Thursday, a formality that gave the agreement the rule of law. Her signature came after parliament passed the agreement Wednesday evening.
In December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party gained an 80 seat majority in Parliament’s elected lower house, the House of Commons. The massive win was seen as a mandate that the United Kingdom wanted to divorce itself from the European Union, and Johnson’s victory gave him the ability to pass the withdrawal agreement through the Commons with ease in early January.
The bill was then sent to the non-elected upper house, the House of Lords. On Tuesday, the Lords passed the bill back to the Commons with several amendments attached. Notably, one of those amendments included a provision that would have protected the rights of refugee children to be reunited with their parents if their parents were in the U.K. post-Brexit.
On Wednesday, the Commons used its majority to reject those amendments and tossed the bill back to the Lords. The Lords, lacking a majority to pass the amendments, passed the bill to prevent the U.K. from missing its current Jan. 31 deadline.
Before the U.K. officially leaves the EU, however, the EU’s parliament will also need to vote on a final approval of the withdrawal agreement. That vote is expected to happen Jan. 29, and like the Queen’s royal assent, this stage is also largely being viewed as a formality, with it easily expected to pass.
When it does, the U.K. will officially end its 40-year relationship with the EU.
Reaction to Brexit’s Passage
Unlike the raucous and theatrical debate normally associated with Brexit, the withdrawal agreement’s final passage was largely by the numbers and met with little resistance.
Thursday, when Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced in the Commons that the Queen had given her royal assent, only a handful of members of parliament either threw cheers or jeers. Likely, this is a consequence of December’s sweeping elections.
However, that doesn’t mean MP’s and other lawmakers haven’t stifled their strong feelings for the agreement’s passage.
Just after the royal assent announcement, Scottish MP Ian Blackford said the U.K. is facing a “constitutional crisis” because the legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland don’t support Brexit.
On Wednesday, member Alf Dubs—who had proposed the child refugee amendment—expressed his frustration on Twitter.
“It is bitterly disappointing that after a victory in the Lords, the government have voted down my amendment in the Commons,” he said. “What could be more humane than asking that unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe be able to join relatives in this country?”
To note, one of the reasons Dubs is so passionate about the amendment is because he came to the U.K. as a child to escape Nazi persecution shortly before the start of the Second World War.
On the other hand, on Wednesday, after Parliament passed the withdrawal agreement, Johnson said in a statement, “At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.”
“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country,” he added.
What Happens Once the Divorce Becomes Official?
Following next week’s expected divorce, the U.K. will begin an 11-month transition period with the EU that is currently scheduled to end on January 1, 2021.
During that time, it will continue to follow most of the EU’s rules, but it won’t actually have any decision-making power in the EU.
The U.K. and the EU will also continue to hash out details of what their relationship will look like after that transition period. For example, that includes things like an ambitious free-trade deal, agriculture, and security.
As for negotiations, those are expected to start either sometime next month or in early March, but like how Brexit saw multiple extensions, a lot of EU officials believe this transition period will also need to be extended. Many believe 11 months is too short of a time frame to completely work out all of the details. Johnson, however, has refused to agree to any extensions.
At the same time, Johnson has also been vocal about getting a free-trade deal with the U.S. While in Davos at the World Economic Forum, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also indicated the U.S.’s desire for a trade deal, saying, “It’s an absolute priority of President Trump and we expect to complete that within this year.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also said that a trade deal shouldn’t be too hard because the U.S. and the U.K. have similar economies.
But the U.S. and U.K. are also currently in a disagreement over a so-called “tech tax.” That riff stims from the U.K.’s plan to introduce a digital services tax on tech companies like Facebook and Google. Mnuchin then threatened to retaliate by potentially slapping a tariff on U.K. car exports.