When Bolivians elected Evo Morales and his Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas) party in 2005, they may have elected the best president they have ever had. The country prospered, he instituted social programs that helped lift millions out of poverty, he included women, indigenous people and labor leaders in his cabinet, and even drafted a new constitution.

But his greatest accomplishment was giving Bolivia’s indigenous people their country back. For centuries after the conquest the country has been dominated by its European-descended people, the heirs of the conquistadors. Indeed, in a country with an indigenous majority, he is the first indigenous president.

But after a dozen years in power, signs of grandiosity began to set in. He opened of a $7-million museum in his hometown telling Bolivia’s recent history through his achievements and a $34-million presidential palace in La Paz. The civil service became politicized with its members dragooned into demonstrations of support for him, and there was suspicion of corruption in the awarding of state contracts.

Even indigenous supporters began to lose faith. Tensions first emerged in 2011 when he proposed a road through the  Isiboro Sécure Indigenous Territory, enraging native groups and environmentalists. Protesters marched for over a month before the project was suspended. Adolfo Chávez, former president of The Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia, said “When Evo took office we thought indigenous people would never have to march again.”

And eventually he succumbed to that all-to-common delusion of South American leaders, the notion that he was irreplaceable. Despite the constitution he himself had introduced setting a limit of two five-year terms, Morales asked voters in a referendum to let him run again in 2019.  When they said no, he convinced the Constitutional Court, consisting of judges nominated by his allies in Congress, to let him run anyway. Its favourable ruling fueled continuing demonstrations, and questions arose about the ensuing election. 

Mass street protests and counter-protests broke out. Ultimately Morales resigned as president and sought political refuge in Mexico. He now lives in Argentina, where he has been granted political asylum. He was replaced as president by the hard right-wing senator Jeanine Anez, infamous for her derogatory statements about the country’s indigenous people. Bolivia had veered hard to the right.

But a presidential election on Monday indicated the country is getting back on the progressive track. The Mas party candidate, Luis Arce, a former finance minister under Morales, won a convincing victory. The win represents a major political comeback for the party. The peaceful transition of presidents also bodes well for Bolivian democracy.

Arce has been accused of being a puppet of Morales, but he has publicly distanced himself from the former president. The party also appears to recognize that it must move on. According to David Apaza, a Mas leader in El Alto, “Categorically, Evo will not interfere in the government of brother Luis Arce. Comrade Evo Morales in his time was the vital element, the principal protagonist … [But] now we believe our comrade should rest, while brother Luis Arce takes the lead.” 

Plain enough—mucho thanks, Evo, but your time’s up.

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