Changes in Bolivia are ‘good for the Jews’

Norma Rubin is from Santa Cruz, Bolivia. She moved to the United States in 2007 and became an American citizen this year. A resident of the St. Louis area, Rubin is an attorney and currently works as a Spanish language interpreter. 

By Norma Rubin

The more recent news from my native country Bolivia, where almost all my family lives, is good for democracy and good for the Jews. 

When I was living in that central South American country in 2006, the newly elected “indigenous” socialist President Evo Morales sent the U.S. ambassador home to the United States. He had previously been posted to Kosovo, and Morales explained that “the Jew” made trouble everywhere he went. My late husband felt it was time to get out of Bolivia, so we moved back to his home in Kansas City, and that’s how I came to be in this country. 

Bolivia had always had a special relationship with Israel. When you think of Jews in Israel sitting by their radio, listening to the country-by-country U.N. vote on partition, the first country to vote in favor was Bolivia. Growing up there, no visa was required to travel to Israel. Jewish communities in Bolivia enjoyed the company of the many Israeli tourists, creating relationships with them especially when the Israelis sought them out during Jewish holidays.

All that changed with Morales, who modeled his socialist approach on Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. He cut ties with Israel and ultimately blocked all Israeli tourism. He created alliances with Cuba, and allowed the Chinese to essentially steal Bolivia’s extensive natural resources. More importantly for us as Jews, he brought in Iran and Hezbollah to engage in construction projects, such as a “milk factory” in the middle of the jungle, which cannot be honestly explained. 

For the Bolivian people, things got worse. He hobbled all the institutions intended to secure a healthy democracy. He put his own supporters in positions of influence in government and on the courts. Morales claimed to be a protector of indigenous people and their land, but as secretary general of the coca growers’ union (yes — even as he was serving as President of Bolivia), he actually took land from native tribes and environmentally sensitive areas, and he turned it over to the coca growers. A natural ally of the drug cartels, he built a large “international” airport deep in the jungle far from any customs or immigration regulators. To this day, no one knows who and what came in and out of the country at that airport.

In 2009, Morales was able to coerce a majority into allowing him to change the Bolivian constitution to get him a second term, which would expire in 2014. He promised he would not attempt to serve again. Nevertheless, he ran in 2014 and somehow claimed to have prevailed. 

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In 2016, Morales determined he would like to run still another time. He called for a referendum to give him permission. Even despite institutional election fraud, he was undeniably defeated. By now, most of the country was fed up with him. But Morales took the matter to the court he had already packed with his sycophants. He claimed that his defeat in the referendum had deprived him of his human rights – namely, his right to be elected president yet again. And his court agreed. 

The result was the recent election on Oct. 21. This time, early results showed an overwhelming defeat for Morales. Then, somehow, there was a blackout on all polling information. When “the lights came on” 24 hours later, Morales announced that had won, even though the Board of Elections had yet to announce the vote count. Morales invited the Organization of American States to make an independent determination, believing they were under his control. But, even they determined that the election was fraudulent.

This time, in a beautiful representation of what democracy is supposed to be all about, the people took to the streets peacefully  – in every major city across the country. Millions turned out, and in a collective act of nonviolent resistance, they went on strike. Ultimately, true to Bolivian values, the police and the army stood up for the people and refused to assist Morales. 

Morales fled to his stronghold in the jungle, among his coca grower supporters. Then, on Nov. 10, he announced his resignation, along with that of his vice president and all major congressional leaders.  Planeloads of cash were seen flying from the country, reportedly to Mexico. A day later, Morales announced he was being welcomed in Mexico, by its President Lopez Obrador. Bolivia had no president or congressional leadership for 50 hours. A committee of constitutional experts determined that the successor in line is the Senate Minority Leader, lawyer Jeanine Anez. She agreed to serve as Constitutional Interim President. New elections are planned for February. 

From his “exile” in Mexico, Morales claimed that he was actually the victim of a political coup. He called on his supporters, including violent coca growers, to riot in the streets, destroy the country, block the roads, and put the major cities “under siege” in order to “starve” those who opposed him. This is the unrest we are seeing now. The new government is trying to get the violence under control. 

So, what’s the good news for the Jews? Even though the interim government obviously has its hands full, late last month it still made it a priority to reestablish relations with the United States, and with the State of Israel.

These changes we are witnessing in Bolivia, which defy the classic stereotypes of Latin American dictatorships, are an inspiration for all those who love democracy. The people took back their power and overthrew a tyrant whose intent was to become a president for life. And an added bonus, these changes also turn out to be very “good for the Jews.”

I am always proud to be a Jew and an American, but during these soul stirring and inspiring days in my home country, I am also so very proud to be a Bolivian.