On Friday, as violent protests continued in the wake of Bolivia’s disputed October election, a disturbing video of a female politician being assaulted made its way around social media. Patricia Arce, the mayor of Vinto, was kidnapped from her office, covered in red paint and made to walk barefoot through the streets before having her hair forcibly shorn off by opponents of the former president Evo Morales who believed she had organized a pro-government mob. Morales officially resigned on Monday.
In the video, Arce is surrounded by masked protestors, but remains defiant, saying “I’m not going to shut up, and if they want to kill me, may they kill me.”
Bolivia is the most recent Latin American nation to experience political crisis and unrest as the international economy slows and political polarization grows starker. Morales, who was once considered by many to be the ‘people’s president’, has sparked outrage by increasingly testing the limits of his constitutional power, with many saying the results of this October’s election that would have given him an unprecedented fourth term, were rigged.
During his time in office, Bolivia has gone from one of the poorest countries in the region to being a model of progress in many ways. Poverty levels have dropped from 38% to 17% during his time in power and illiteracy and child mortality rates plummeted. Morales was the first indigenous president of Bolivia and championed gender equality throughout his time in office – his cabinet was 50% women. These achievements make the footage Arce – an indigineous, female politician – all the more impactful.
But in recent years opponents have accused Morales of being a power-hungry dictator. When he announced his victory on October 20th the results were were quickly disputed, and right and left-wing protesters clashed in violent protests across the country. On Monday, following three confirmed deaths in the demonstrations and the attack on Arce, Morales resigned in a televised address. His supporters say he was deposed in a military coup, while his opponents (which include the US) say that under his leadership, Bolivia was teetering on the edge of a totalitarian regime.
Arce is reportedly recovering from her assault. The deputy leader of the Senate, Jeanine Áñez Chávez has said she will act as Bolivia’s interim leader until new elections are held, though no official transfer of power has yet happened.