Why Bolivia’s Wildfires Are Raising the Heat on Evo Morales

Why Bolivia’s Wildfires Are Raising the Heat on Evo Morales
Activists participate in a global protest on climate change, in La Paz, Bolivia, Sept. 27, 2019 (AP photo by Juan Karita).

When wildfires started raging out of control in the Amazon in September, the entire world took notice of Brazil and the refusal of its far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, to accept international assistance to put out the blazes. But a similar disaster may end up having a greater political impact in neighboring Bolivia, where fires have consumed some 10 million acres in the past few months. Socialist President Evo Morales’ tepid response has infuriated Bolivians, just days before a controversial presidential election.

The magnitude of the anger became palpable Friday, when Bolivians turned out in huge numbers to protest against Morales’ refusal to designate the fires a national disaster, in order to ease the arrival of foreign assistance.

Protest organizers in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city and a bastion of the opposition, claim that 1.5 million people participated in the demonstration, a staggering number in a country of 11 million. Other estimates put the number of protesters in the hundreds of thousands. In any case, with the presidential election approaching on Oct. 20, the impact of such a high-stakes issue could help tip the outcome of a contest whose result remains uncertain.

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