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Bolivia’s President Resigns After Report Finds “Clear Manipulation” of Votes

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  • Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned Sunday after the Organization of American States released an audit saying it had found “clear manipulation” of election results that secured him a fourth term.
  • Morales has called the situation in Bolivia a “coup” orchestrated by his rival, Carlos Mesa.
  • A slew of Morales’ senior officials also resigned, with Second Vice President of the Senate Jeanine Añez saying she will assume the role as transitional president while new elections are held.

Morales Resigns

Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned Sunday following the release of an audit by the Organization of American States, which said it had found evidence of the “clear manipulation” of electoral votes.

Morales had faced strong opposition since he was elected for his fourth term on Oct. 20. That opposition came to a blistering head on Sunday after the OAS’s report led to the national police and heads of Bolivia’s armed forces calling on Morales to step down.

In the report, auditors said the voting transmission system had not been “100% monitored” and that at one point, information was redirected. Because of this, auditors couldn’t have certainty over the results. 

Auditors also said that “good practices” were not used when conducting the official vote count because the voting system allowed someone to take control of parts of the process that were intended to be secure. Auditors even said that at one point, the system was frozen and fixed in a way that violated “essential principles of security.” 

The OAS then concluded that 78 of the total 333 evaluated vote counts from polling stations showed irregularities, noting that the last 5% of votes were especially odd because they showed an increase for Morales while his opponent, Carlos Mesa, dropped significantly.

Still, prior to the report’s publication, Morales had promised to stand by it and hold new elections if it found evidence of fraud.

In his resignation, Morales claimed he was leaving to ease the violence that has plagued Bolivia since the election last month. 

“We resign because I don’t want to see any more families attacked by instruction of Mesa and [opposition leader Luis Fernando] Camacho,” he said Sunday. “This is not a betrayal to social movements. The fight continues. We are the people, and thanks to this political union, we have freed Bolivia. We leave this homeland freed.”

“Mesa and Camacho have achieved their objective,” he added. “Now stop burning the houses of my brothers and sisters.”

On Twitter, Morales also threw a shot at a police officer who he said was attempting to “illegally” arrest him; however, the head of the national police denied that any warrants had been issued for Morales. 

“The coup mongers are destroying the rule of law,” Morales also said on Twitter.

Mesa, on the other hand, celebrated the news of the audit and Morales’ resignation. 

“To Bolivia, its people, the young, the women, to the heroism of peaceful resistance. I will never forget this unique day. The end of tyranny. I’m grateful to the Bolivian people for this historic lesson. Long live Bolivia!”

“We shall not permit the ex-president to use the excuse of a coup,” Mesa told reporters. “This was not a coup.”

Protesters Ransack Government Officials’ Homes

While some media outlets in Bolivia reported celebrations in certain areas, there were also widespread reports of violence against senior members of Morales’ Movement for Socialism party.

According to Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, the Mexican embassy in the city of La Paz sheltered 20 of Morales’ senior officials on Sunday as protesters ransacked and burned their homes.

Video posted to Twitter also shows people walking through Morales’ home after it had been ransacked. Mexico has now offered him political asylum.

Some protesters even went so far as to reportedly kidnap the brother of Victor Borda, the President of the Chamber of Deputies.

In the city streets, police withdrew from La Paz following Morales’ resignation. While some people celebrated by chanting “Yes, we could!” and by setting off fireworks, others looted stores. Other people started what appeared to be politically-motivated fires.

Other Countries React

Morales’ resignation has ignited a firestorm of reactions from other countries.

In addition to offering Morales political asylum, the Mexican president called the situation regrettable, while Foreign Secretary Ebrard echoed Morales’ calls of a “coup.”

Like Mexico, Nicaragua came to Morales’ defense, with President Daniel Ortega saying, “The government of Nicaragua … denounces and strongly condemns the coup d’etat that was realised today.” 

Similarly, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro took to Twitter to call the situation a “coup,” also saying that rallies would be held to defend “the life of the Bolivian native people, victims of racism.”

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, described Morales as the leader of a powerful movement and said that he “has brought so much social progress.”

I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people and stand with them for democracy, social justice and independence,” Corbyn said.

In the U.S., the reaction has been mixed. 

Along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) denounced the situation as a coup.

We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections,” Omar said.

On the other hand, President Donald Trump celebrated Morales’ resignation, calling it a “significant moment for democracy.”

“After nearly 14 years and his recent attempt to override the Bolivian constitution and the will of the people, Morales’s departure preserves democracy and paves the way for the Bolivian people to have their voices heard,” Trump said in a statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also commended the OAS in supporting a new election.

Additionally, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro lent his support to holding new elections. 

Who Will Lead Bolivia?

Following Morales’ resignation, his vice president, the Senate president, the president of the Chamber of Deputies, and the first vice president of the Senate also resigned. Respectively, those resignations eliminate the first through the fourth people in line to succeed Morales. 

In terms of succession, the next in line is Second Vice President of the Senate Jeanine Añez, who said she would step up as a transitional president, but she also needs quorum from the national assembly. Currently, the Movement for Socialism Party controls both houses and Añez has been described as strongly anti-Morales.

As for a new election, under the Bolivian constitution, elections must be held within 90 days of a constitutional crisis. Should she get transfer of power, Añez has said she’ll work to hold that election.

At the same time, Morales is reportedly hiding out, but that has not stopped him from reaching out to his supporters on social media and urging to resist forming a transitional government

“You never abandoned me and I will never abandon you,” he said Monday morning. 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (Reuters) (Aljazeera)

International

New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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