Hopes to put Iran-Bolivia ties back on track

With a socialist politician securing a landslide election victory in Bolivia, conditions appear to be ripe for revitalizing relations between Iran and Bolivia.

After about a year of political mayhem, Bolivia appears to be on course to embark on a new path that could revive socialism in the country and boost the country’s ties with the world, including Iran. On Friday, Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal formally announced the victory of Luis Arce in the presidential election.

Arce, a candidate of former President Evo Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party has gained 55.1% of the votes while his chief rival, former centrist president Carlos Mesa, received 28.8%, according to official results.

Conservative Luis Fernando Camacho, one of the leaders of the protest movement that helped drive Morales out of the country a year ago, received only 14 percent of the vote, according to Aljazeera.

“Now our great challenge is to rebuild our homeland in peace, to regain joy, stability, and hope for a better tomorrow for all Bolivians,” Arce said on social media following the announcement of the results. “We won’t let down the trust that people have placed in us.”

His rival accepted the results and congratulated him on his landslide victory. “The election is done,” Mesa wrote on Twitter.

In addition to the presidency, the MAS party also won majorities in both houses of Congress, another sign that Bolivian people were determined to place trust in a party led by Morales.

The turnout also was remarkable. Salvador Romero, the head of Bolivia’s electoral authority, said there had been a huge turn-out despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With 88 percent participation, Bolivians set the second-highest record in our history and one of the highest in Latin America in the 21st century,” he said in a press conference.

The victory of Arce came a year after the former socialist president of Bolivia was deposed and forced to leave the country, a move that was seen as a major blow to socialism in Bolivia and the country’s relations with countries that are in the United States’ bad graces. However, Morales made a major comeback after the candidate of his party won the election.

Morales plunged into the known following his forced resignation on November 10, 2019. A general election was held in Bolivia on October 20, 2019, which was marred by allegations of election fraud that led to mass protests and counterprotests in the country from right after the election until late November. In fact, the opposition groups succeeded in forcing Morales into resigning and ultimately leaving the country.

Morales called his removal from office “forced” and a “coup” while underlining that his resignation was intended to stop the bloodshed in Bolivia. Mexico immediately granted him asylum, prompting the deposed president to leave Bolivia for Mexico and then to Argentina. But Morales did not stop his efforts to make a political comeback in his homeland. His efforts came to fruition after Arce won the election.

Arce served as minister of economy and public finance from 2006 to 2017 and in 2019 under President Evo Morales. His victory is widely seen as the comeback of Morales. This explains why some countries and leaders started to ingratiating themselves with the former president who is now poised to play the role of kingmaker.

Following the announcement of the election results, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who granted Morales asylum last year when he resigned, managed to praise the Bolivian people while also reminding them that it was he who granted Morales asylum when his life was in danger in the midst of post-election unrest.

“We have just learned the results of the election in Bolivia and we are very pleased,” Lopez Obrador said on Thursday. “We greet, embrace and congratulate the people of Bolivia because they knew how to face a serious conflict through peaceful and democratic means, and they elected a president from the same movement to which former President Evo Morales belongs, who was deposed and faced threats.”

The Mexican president added, “He was granted protection and asylum. That was a task headed by [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Marcelo Ebrard and I gave the instruction.”

The return of Morales’ party to power is expected to boost Bolivia’s relations with countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran. The three countries warmly welcomed the victory of Arce.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel have underlined that the Bolivian people had defeated the “coup d’ etat” against Morales in November 2019 when the Organization of American States (OAS) claimed in a report that the 2019 Bolivian general election was rigged.

Diaz-Canel tweeted that the MAS party “regained in the polls the power usurped by the oligarchy, in collusion with the OAS and under the guidance of the empire.”

Iran also welcomed the victory of Arce, setting the stage for deepening ties with the Andean nation. In a congratulatory message to the Bolivian president-elect, President Hassan Rouhani said the “decisive victory” of Arce “was not only a strengthening of the foundations of democracy but also a glorious demonstration of the administration of justice by the great nation of Bolivia,” according to the Iranian president’s official website.

Rouhani also expressed willingness to revive bilateral relations with Bolivia.

“In the new era of returning power to the people’s representatives, I express support for the Your Excellency’s elected government, and express the readiness of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to revive bilateral relations and expand cooperation with the friendly country of Bolivia in all fields.”

Iran expressed its “full support” for the new government of Bolivia.

In a statement on October 20, Saeed Khatibzadeh, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, congratulated Bolivia on holding its presidential election, expressing Tehran’s full support for the elected government of Luis Arce.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran sees a good omen in the restoration of democracy and power to the real representatives of (Bolivian) people after a year of tensions, congratulates the elected president of that country Mr. Luis Arce, and expresses full support for the elected government and readiness to revive cooperation and strengthen friendship bonds with that country (Bolivia),” the statement said.

Khatibzadeh offered Iran’s congratulations to the Bolivian people and winners of the polls after the South American country held a nationwide presidential election in a “calm atmosphere and with a remarkable voter turnout.”

One day later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held phone talks with Morales, the former president of Bolivia, and the leader of the party that won the country’s recent elections. Zarif congratulated Morales on his party’s victory in Bolivia’s political scene and wished success for the country’s new government. He also expressed Iran’s preparedness to promote bilateral relations with Bolivia’s new legitimate government.

Morales’ return to the “political scene” in Bolivia could mark a new era in Iran-Bolivia relations, given his long-standing inclination to counter imperialist countries and embrace those who counter these countries. Following his win in Bolivia’s 2014 presidential election, Morales said, “This win is a triumph for anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists.” He also dedicated his win to both Castro and Chávez.

Iran has welcomed the victory of Arce and expressed readiness to boost ties with Bolivia. Arce has also expressed willingness to restore relations with Iran and other countries that the outgoing government had severed ties with.

“We are going to re-establish all relations. This government has acted very ideologically, depriving the Bolivian people of access to Cuban medicine, Russian medicine, and advances in China. For a purely ideological issue, it has exposed the population in a way unnecessary and harmful,” the president-elect said.

Arce underlined that his government will open the door to all countries based on mutual respect and sovereignty, according to the Telesur, adding that he would carry out a foreign policy of restoration of relationships with Venezuela, Cuba, and Iran.

A former Bolivian diplomat also told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that Bolivia and Iran are determined to further develop friendly relations.

Elaborating on the prospect of Iran-Bolivia relations, former Ambassador of Bolivia in China Luis Fernando Rodriguez Urena pointed out that undoubtedly tangible changes will happen in international relations of Bolivia.

With the victory of an anti-imperialist president in Bolivia, Iran-Bolivia relations seem to be heading toward a new phase that could result in the two countries resuming diplomatic relations and strengthening their economic ties.

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