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What do Bolivians think of the United Nations Emergency Peace Service?

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The temptation for many of us, especially when it comes to foreign governance, is to assume that citizens of a given country act in a monolithic way. We often believe there are generally two sides that oppose one another, and that residents choose one side or the other. The truth is that, like all people, the Bolivians have a wide degree of reaction to the troubles that currently beset them.

At issue is the controversial election of President Evo Morales to a fourth term in office amid widespread evidence of fraud in the voting process. The election triggered intense opposition by the supporters of the losing candidate. This resulted in incidents of extreme violence and the use of military and police power against protesters.

Morales eventually took refuge in Mexico amid legitimate fears for his safety and, some suggest, a desire to quell the violence.

The UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) was created as a rapid-response force designed to prevent mass upheaval and genocide. It wanted to prevent issues like those which arose in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, among others. Its mission seems legitimate given the amount of bloodshed that often accompanies transfer of power.

Bolivians's reactions to the use of the UNEPS was varied. Both "sides" argued that the UN was being used to repress the right of freedom of assembly and the right to protest government actions. Given the heightened emotion of the situation, it seems that Bolivians may simply be expressing one of the enduring criticisms of the UN: that it represents outside interference in the affairs of a sovereign representative democracy. At issue, of course, is the degree to which Morales and his supporters were genuinely interested in democracy as opposed to autocracy.

The reality, though, is complicated. Bolivia has a long history of political repression. Morales's election was celebrated as the ascension of the first indigenous politician to the Presidency. The issue runs deeper than "simply" political disagreement. The issue triggered a sense that by rigging elections, Morales had become exactly like the imperial powers that colonized and dominated Bolivia for decades.

It is very difficult, therefore, to express one unified opinion of Bolivians regarding the UNEPS. Many were welcoming of outside force to prevent the country's fall into societal chaos. Others resented the outside interference. Still others believed that the UN was going to be used as a military solution to choose one of the opposing "sides" and elevate that faction to power. Obviously, truth is almost always in between extreme positions, and it is erroneous to assume that lines of opinion were and are clear-cut.

At the time of this writing (March 2020), it appears that, with the help of the UN and without widespread use of the UNEPS, Bolivia will be conducting new elections in May. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated matters and the situation remains fluid. See news.un.org for recent developments.

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