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Socialists Make A Strong Comeback In Bolivia


Socialists appear to have made a strong comeback yesterday in Bolivia's presidential election. All of the votes have yet to be counted, but the hand-picked candidate of ousted President Evo Morales seems to have taken a big lead in the first round.


UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).

MOSLEY: Those are supporters of socialist Luis Arce celebrating in downtown La Paz. NPR's Philip Reeves has been following this from his base in Rio de Janeiro and joins me now. Hi, Phil.


MOSLEY: Remind us what set the stage for this election. For the past year, Bolivia has been ruled by an interim president from the political right.

REEVES: Yeah. This goes back to late last year, when Morales was pushed out and went into exile. His opponents said he tried to rig an election. They cited an audit of that election by the Organization of American States that showed numerous irregularities. Others dispute those allegations and say Morales was the victim of a coup.

An unelected interim government took over, headed by a right-winger called Jeanine Anez. It's had a rough ride. Anez cracked down on the opposition, and several dozen of Morales's Indigenous supporters were killed by security forces during protests, which polarized the country even more. Then the pandemic arrived, and the electoral authorities postponed the election twice. And that triggered mass protests and a nationwide blockade. And people were worried that yesterday's election would bring more unrest, but that didn't happen, happily.

MOSLEY: So with all of this, how certain are we that the socialist Luis Arce has actually won?

REEVES: Yeah. I mean, it does appear that he's run out - won the first round outright. His main rival Carlos Mesa today conceded, saying that people have to recognize there's been a winner. The interim president Jeanine Anez tweeted congratulations to Arce and his running mate very early on. Mexico and Argentina - you know, two big regional players politically on the left - have publicly congratulated him, and so, by the way, has the U.S.

Polls before the election did show Arce was well ahead in the lead - you know, was well in the lead. But his chances of winning outright in the first round weren't seen as all that great. Unofficial vote counts indicate he's actually done that, but this hasn't been officially confirmed by the electoral authorities. They say the official count could take several days to complete.

MOSLEY: Can you say more about the U.S. in support of Arce? The U.S. did concur with the allegations of voter fraud committed by Morales.

REEVES: Yeah. When Morales was pushed out, the Trump administration was frankly delighted. He's a huge figure on the Latin American left. He was Bolivia's first Indigenous president. He ruled for nearly 14 years. He's credited with growing the economy a lot, not least through nationalization and lifting millions out of poverty with the help of Arce, who was his economy minister. So the prospect of a socialist comeback in Bolivia isn't likely to go down well in Washington. The right wing tends to bracket Morales with Venezuela and Cuba, and, you know, they saw his fall as a defeat for international socialism. But the State Department certainly saw the writing on the wall and has recently been saying it'll work with whoever is legitimately elected.

MOSLEY: That's NPR's Philip Reeves. Thank you so much.

REEVES: You're 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.