- 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)
100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says
- On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
- Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
- Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard.
- The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.
Some Americans Left Behind
A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.
When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.
While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.
The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.
On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”
“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.
“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.
The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.
The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.
The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.
While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.
While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.
Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.
Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition
- At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
- Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
- The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Growing Violence Across Myanmar
Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.
According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.
The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.
Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.
Sanctions May Not Work
The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.
At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.
Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”
“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”
While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.
See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
- The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
- Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
- Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.
For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.
In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.
Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy
Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.
Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,
While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.
The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.
While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.