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Bolivia Must Decide On New Leader After President Flees To Mexico For Asylum


Bolivia's former President Evo Morales arrived in Mexico today to live in exile. He resigned Sunday amid protests that began after serious flaws were found in last month's election. Now the senator next in the Bolivian line of succession has announced she will assume the presidency.

NPR's Philip Reeves is in the capital city of La Paz. And before we begin, Philip, here's what we know. Morales resigned. His government collapsed. Anyone constitutionally designated to replace him stepped down. So what have you learned about this senator who's announced her intention to lead the country?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: She's called Jeanine Anez. She's 52. She's the second vice president. She's a lawyer with a media background, and she's a fierce critic of Morales. She had earlier announced that Bolivia's Congress was going to convene this afternoon to formally decide who would stand in as interim president.

And here's the thing. Allies of Morales hold a majority in Congress, and they don't necessarily want her. A lot of them didn't show up today, so there was a problem forming a quorum. Yet despite this, she went ahead and took control of the Senate and assumed the mantle of interim president, saying she wants elections as soon as possible.

Now, members of Morales' party, the Movement for Socialism, weren't there when she made that announcement. It's not clear to me at this point whether her move will stick or whether Congress will accept this, given the absence of a quorum. There's certainly been an angry reaction from Morales' supporters, some of whom tried to reach the Congress building after the announcement was made, and they were met by police and soldiers firing tear gas at them.

CORNISH: You've underscored the challenges that she'll have with all of the Morales support still in Bolivia's Congress. What do we know about Bolivians more generally?

REEVES: Well, this is a very unstable, volatile point in the history of this country. You just have to travel around this city to see that. A lot of roads are blocked off by makeshift barricades. The city is pretty much shut down. In the city today, there were very large numbers of police on the streets in full riot gear. The army is also on the streets.

Those people who've been protesting for several weeks against Morales after the election that was held last month are celebrating because he's gone, but others are angry. Many of the people at the demonstration that was held today by supporters of Morales in the city are Indigenous Bolivians like Morales himself. They revere him because he did much to lift Indigenous people out of poverty during his 14 years, nearly, in power.

But one particularly disturbing thing happened during that protest. Military jets flew very low and very fast over the crowd on multiple occasions while I was there. And this was evidently meant as a show of force, but it didn't seem to unsettle them. One of their chants was that, you know, we are not afraid.

CORNISH: Given what you've described, even with this interim presidency, has the danger passed?

REEVES: No, by no means. I mean, this is a very unstable situation. People here are worried about that. I spoke to one woman today who didn't - or doesn't align herself with Morales or with the opposition. She says she's no faith that civilian politicians can resolve this situation ultimately and settle on a leader that can really manage a peaceful transition to new elections. She says she's worried. She says she's afraid. And from the scenes today, I think she might be right to feel that way.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Philip Reeves reporting from La Paz, Bolivia.

Thank you.

REEVES: Welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.