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Thank you Madame President.
This is a critical moment for Bolivia - a moment when maximum restraint and a strongest possible sense of responsibility is needed, both inside and outside the country. Delicate moments like this require firm rejection of violence at the highest level of statesmanship from all.
As you know, on 20 October, Bolivians voted in presidential elections that were marked by several irregularities. This has brought Bolivian citizens to the streets, and has led to violence and civil unrest across the country. Three people were killed and more than 100 were injured.
The current unrest follows months and years of tensions regarding the country's political future.
As you all know, President [of Bolivia, Evo] Morales took the controversial decision to run for a fourth term in office with the approval of the Constitutional Court, but after failing to win a referendum to amend the Constitution itself.
Tensions escalated around the election day. When the polls closed, a “preliminary result counting system” showed that none of the candidates was likely to win enough votes in the first round, and that a second round was the most plausible outcome.
The system was then blocked for some 20 hours, and when it resumed, it registered a sharp change in the initial tendency. The Supreme Electoral Court announced President [Evo] Morales as the winner in first round by a margin of just 0,57% of the votes.
But the Vice-President of the Court resigned during the counting process, protesting the way the process was managed.
As a consequence, demonstrations and violence broke out across the country. Five local election offices were set on fire and the most powerful civil society organisation called for a general strike.
The Organisation of American States had deployed an Election Observation Mission to Bolivia, and it declared in a preliminary report that the best option would be that the two leading candidates moved on to the second round run-off. This assessment was endorsed by the European Union's Election Expert Mission that we had sent to the country, and by several EU Member States. We also expressed this position publicly on 24 October.
Given the widespread mistrust, the Bolivian government invited the Organisation of American States to carry out an electoral audit. The government agreed that the results of the audit would be binding. The audit was supported by some EU Member States with experts and also with some funding.
The preliminary conclusions were announced last Monday. The audit identified a number of irregularities, and concluded that the election results should be annulled and fresh elections should be held as soon as possible.
In the following hours, the opposition asked [Evo] Morales to resign, and so did the head of the Bolivian armed forces. President [Evo] Morales – together with the Vice-President [Alvaro García Linera] and a number of ministers – decided to step down, and he has sought political asylum in Mexico.
According to the Constitution, and based on the absence and resignation of the President [Evo Morales], and the first Vice-President of the Chamber [Alvaro García Linera], the second Vice-President of the Senate [Jeanine Áñez] would be the next in line to assume the presidency in a caretaking role until new elections. The European Union supports an institutional solution that allows for a caretaking interim leadership to prepare for new elections and to avoid a power vacuum, which could have dire consequences for the entire country.
In these very days and hours, we have been active through our Delegation in La Paz – that I want to thank - to create a space where the government, opposition and civil society could meet and discuss a way out of this situation. We are actively supporting the mediation organised by the local Catholic Church, to help the Bolivian parties agree on a peaceful path that can lead to new elections. This mediation has already produced some first results in partially easing tensions and avoiding a worse escalation of violence.
At the Foreign Affairs Council last Monday, I updated the European Union Foreign Ministers on our work on the ground, and we discussed how to best support Bolivia in preparation of the announced elections. We are assessing the possibility of a new EU mission to the country, and of assistance in the election of a new Supreme Electoral Court.
Bolivia is a very important partner for the European Union. In these years we have built a strong political cooperation and we have developed political dialogues where we discuss all issues, including those where we have disagreements or different views.
We deployed an Election Expert Mission to the country and we have several projects in support of Bolivia's strong civil society.
In the last 14 years, Bolivia has certainly changed for the better. Poverty has dropped, access to basic services has improved, and indigenous people have increasingly been included in the country's public life.
All these successes must be preserved, and this can only happen through a peaceful political solution that respects the Constitution and the rule of law, and that can bring the country to new, timely and credible elections, which faithfully reflect the will of the Bolivian people.
Bolivia can come out of this crisis and consolidate its democratic institutions. It has all the potential to continue on a path of democracy, sustainable development and social inclusion.
But the coming weeks will be crucial. The European Union will continue to be at the side of the Bolivian people, as we have done through the years and in particular in these difficult moments in the country's democratic life.
Link to the video:
I have listened carefully to all the different interventions. Let me say that I see some variety of opinions on the reading or on the analysis of the situation. But overall and first of all, I also see the strong support for the European Union’s role and presence to accompany the country now. This is exactly what we have been doing quietly but constantly in these hours and days and this is why I want to repeat here my thanks to our European Union Delegation staff on the ground that has done remarkable work in these weeks in difficult circumstances. We will continue to do so.
I have seen also among Member States a certain convergence on the fact that we are and need to be ready to accompany the process further. Again, I think it is important for all of us to call upon statesmanship, responsibility and restraint in this moment, because, again, we are talking about a county that has made development a trajectory of positive change over these years and has all the potential to consolidate democracy and inclusion and social development in the coming years. They need to know, especially the Bolivians need to know, we are there to accompany and to support this process. I am glad to see that the large majority of this hemicycle is supporting this approach. Thank you.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-180183