U.S. Media Myths About Bolivia: The Second Referendum

cropped-AIN-logo-for-stamp.jpg                      U.S. Media Myths About Morales’ Bolivia:                                                                 Part 1

 “Evo Morales is intent on running for a fourth term in 2019.”

 This remains to be seen, although mainstream U.S. media sources suggest the contrary. For example, The Washington Post affirmed on July 24th that Evo Morales “appears intent on hanging on to power when his current mandate ends in 2020”—that he will disregard the results of the February referendum (which by a two percent margin determined that the Morales government could not amend the constitution to run for a fourth term). The jury is still out on the issue, as Morales is known for making brash public and sometimes contradictory statements. However, Morales never announced a plan to hold a second referendum or run again. After the Bolivian electoral court confirmed his defeat, Morales stated that he would respect the results and that: “the MAS party and social movements are very respectful of the results of any electoral process and democratic act.”

A May 25th New York Times editorial cites a vague soccer metaphor as evidence of Morales’ intent to prolong his tenure. The editorial, based on a May 24th Pagina Siete article, claims that “Mr. Morales announced a new referendum campaign, saying that the first one had been tainted by ‘lies’ about the Zapata case. ‘During the second inning, we’ll see who is who,’ he said.”

Unlike Morales’ now infamous 2010 soccer gaffe, the meaning of this frequently cited soccer comment is not clear. Moreover, Morales repeatedly denied that it had anything to do with a second referendum.

What Morales actually said:

A quick Google search shows that the “second inning” reference (as the New York Times calls it) first appeared on March 11th at a rally. In a speech to supporters, Morales said: “I was surprised when colleagues in Santa Cruz said, ‘we lost the first half but there’s still the second half.’” He added: “I’m not sure what that means.”

Nonetheless, “analysts” and media jumped to the conclusion that this speech, combined with a statement by Morales on February 26th that “[he] has an obligation to keep fighting,” meant that the government would ignore the results of the referendum. However, immediately after, the Santa Cruz-based newspaper, and frequent Morales critic, El Deber, reported that the president clarified that he never referred to a second referendum, as some analyst suggested. He said:

The first half was the modification of the constitution. The second half will be the election of new officials, and we will keep on winning, my friends. MAS will always have candidates.

Then, on May 23rd, at an event in Chuquisaca, Morales repeated the popular quote about the “second half,” provoking a renewed media backlash again equating the “second half” with a second referendum. In response, Morales reaffirmed on June 28th that he has no interest in holding a second referendum next year. He said:

“‘Everyone thought I was talking about a second half. The second round will be, obviously 2019, when, of course, there will be elections. It is true some colleagues are thinking about a second referendum; it’s a natural urge. But, I’ll say it again—that’s not what I am doing. I am confirming again—I will end my administration.’”

He further explained that although holding a second referendum would be legal under the constitution, he is steering against it because it would likely affect his legitimacy as a leader.

While it is impossible to predict what will happen in the next election, there is no proof that a Morales 2019 re-election or power grab is inevitable. Could it happen? Sure. But current U.S. mainstream press forces the narrative.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of AIN’s “U.S. Media Myths About Morales’ Bolivia” Series