Evo Morales stood for Palestine, shunned Israel

Ramzy Baroud

On November 10, Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his resignation from office following what was accurately described as a military coup. Three days later, he arrived in Mexico where he was granted political asylum by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
Morales’ 14 years in office have been seen by many as a triumph for the indigenous people of Bolivia; in fact, for indigenous peoples everywhere. Indeed, the Bolivian leader represented the hope of an entire generation.
All of this came crashing down following the general election in Bolivia on October 20. Morales’ opponents accused the president and his camp of rigging the elections. Following the announcement of the results, which gave Morales a 10% point lead over his rival, an orchestrated campaign was launched by the opposition to overthrow the elected government.
Well-publicised and often hyped opposition protests resulted in national upheaval, political turmoil, and, finally, an army ultimatum to Morales. Fearing further violence and chaos in the country, the long-serving president announced his resignation.
On December 22, 2010, Morales followed his decision of severing ties with Israel with officially recognising the State of Palestine as an independent and sovereign State. The Bolivian move was clearly part of a coordinated South American effort to show greater solidarity with the Palestinian people, as it came at the heels of a similar decision made by Brazil and Argentina.
Bolivia, in fact, all of South America is a contested space between Israel, which seeks to further its alliances behind traditional western support, and Palestine, which is constantly vying for greater and more meaningful international solidarity. Since his advent to power in 2006, Morales slowly but firmly shifted his country’s politics closer to Palestine, and away from Israel.
Over the years, Palestinians came to see in Bolivia, although geopolitically removed from the Middle East, a true friend and a trusted ally. Expectedly, Morales’ resignation was welcomed news in Tel Aviv.
On January 14, 2009, even before Bolivia officially recognised the State of Palestine, it cut all diplomatic ties with Israel. Sucre’s decision was made in response to the destructive Israeli war on Gaza, dubbed by Israel Operation Cast Lead. At the time, Morales called for the stripping of Israeli President Shimon Peres, of his Nobel Peace Prize due to his support of the Israeli crimes in the besieged Gaza Strip.
On December 22, 2010, Morales followed his decision of severing ties with Israel with officially recognising the State of Palestine as an independent and sovereign State. The Bolivian move was clearly part of a coordinated South American effort to show greater solidarity with the Palestinian people, as it came at the heels of a similar decision made by Brazil and Argentina.
At his September 21, 2011, United Nations General Assembly speech in New York, Morales said, “not only does Bolivia support the Palestinian recognition by the United Nations, (but) our position is (also) to welcome the Palestinians to the United Nations”. Morales also denounced Israel for “bombing, attacking, killing and taking land”, from the indigenous Palestinian people. Bolivia’s support of Palestine at the United Nations remained strong and unfaltering for at least the last decade.
On July 30, 2014, Morales went further by declaring Israel a “terrorist state”, following the latter’s war on the Gaza enclave. Morales’ statement was not mere rhetoric for it was coupled with concrete steps aimed at holding Israel accountable for its crimes against occupied and besieged Palestinians. On that day, Bolivia also classified Israel as a “group 3” country, meaning that any Israeli wanting to visit Bolivia needed to obtain a visa that required the approval of the National Migration Administration in Sucre.
When Bolivia assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council in June 2017, it declared solidarity with Palestine a top priority on its political agenda. “Our priorities: conflict in the Middle East of 50 years of the occupation of Palestine, and non-proliferation of chemical and nuclear weapons,” Morales tweeted at the time.
On May 15, 2018, the Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations carried out one of the most symbolic, yet emotive gestures of solidarity towards Palestine that was ever displayed at an international institution. Sacha Llorenti started his talk at a UN emergency session by naming all 61 Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza’s Great March of Return. The Palestinian victims were all killed in popular protests that demanded an end to the Israeli siege on Gaza.
On June 22, 2019, Bolivia sealed its solidarity with the Palestinian people with the signing of the development cooperation agreement between the two countries. Although free trade and cooperation between both economies is not an easy task — if at all possible, considering that Palestine is under total Israeli control — the agreement was a natural and organic evolution of the political support and the grass roots solidarity with Palestine that has been in the making for many years.
It would be untenable to discount the power of the indigenous movement of Bolivia despite Morales’ abrupt resignation. It would be equally hasty to conclude that the absence of Morales from the political scene in his country would automatically sever the strong rapport predicated on people’s solidarity and common struggle between Palestine and Bolivia.-GN

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