November 30, 2017 / 2:15 PM / 16 days ago

Bolivia's Morales says he'll seek fourth term, spurs protests

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Thursday that opposition from the United States convinced him to run for a fourth term in 2019, spurring a second day of protests after the constitutional court eliminated term limits.

Morales’ government earlier brushed off criticism from Washington, which said it was “deeply concerned” over Tuesday’s court decision. Morales himself then took it a step further, saying the U.S. reaction actually convinced him to run.

“I was not so determined; now I am determined,” he said at a public event in the central Bolivian region of Cochabamba. “I will be a candidate, sisters and brothers, in 2019.”

The court ruling is final and cannot be appealed.

Groups opposed to the ruling protested in several cities again on Thursday, as opponents clashed with police outside an elections office in the city of Santa Cruz.

“Bolivia has a constitution and we should respect it,” said Olga Flores, who identified as a human rights activist and was among several hundred protesters braving the rain in La Paz. Others chanted “Bolivia said no!”

Morales, a former coca farmer in power since 2006, had previously accepted the results of a referendum in 2016, when 51 percent of voters rejected his proposal to end term limits. He later reversed course, saying that while he was willing to leave office, his supporters were pushing for him to stay.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a ceremony in Tiquipaya, Cochabamba, Bolivia, November 28, 2017. Enzo De Luca/Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

The U.S. State Department disputed that position.

“Twice in the last decade, the Bolivian people have expressed their opposition to the concept of indefinite reelection for elected officials,” the department’s statement said. It referred to a vote in favor of the current constitution in 2009 and the 2016 referendum.

Morales’ administration dismissed the criticism. “It looks like they are trying to tell us who our candidates should be,” the minister of the presidency, Rene Martinez, said.

He said right-wing political forces in Bolivia had joined with the United States and the Organization of American States to stop Morales from running again.

Historically unstable Bolivia has enjoyed relative calm and prosperity under Morales, the country’s first indigenous president. Approval ratings for Morales, a fierce critic of capitalism and ally of embattled Venezuelan socialist leader Nicolas Maduro, hover at around 50 percent.

In September, Morales’ Movement to Socialism party asked the courts to rescind legal limits barring elected authorities from seeking reelection indefinitely.

Morales says his first election took place under Bolivia’s previous constitution and therefore did not count under the now-defunct two-term rule.

Reporting by Daniel Ramos, Monica Machicao and Alexandra Alper in La Paz; Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler

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