Canada updated its position on the fluid and chaotic situation in Bolivia today, saying it would work with and support the caretaker administration of Jeanine Añez — while still stopping short of formally recognizing her presidency.
Opposition member Añez appears to have consolidated her position as the country's president after a revolt that overthrew longtime president Evo Morales, accused by many Bolivians of trying to steal victory through fraud in the presidential election of October 20.
In contrast to its swift recognition of the interim presidency of Venezuela's Juan Guaido (Canada was the second country to take the step after the U.S. went first), Canada did not join the U.S. and Brazil in recognizing Añez on Tuesday night, or follow Colombia's example when it did so on Wednesday.
A Global Affairs official told CBC News on Wednesday that Canada wanted to consider the constitutional legitimacy of Añez's claim before taking a position. The same official said that GAC was aware of past comments by Añez that are hostile to Bolivia's Indigenous people.
Today, GAC spokesman John Babcock said that Canada has decided it will work with the new interim administration — as long as it sees it following up on its commitment to hold new elections as soon as possible. Añez has proposed January 22 as a possible election day in Bolivia.
"Now that President Morales has resigned, Canada supports an institutional solution that will allow for a temporary caretaker administration to prepare for new elections and avoid a power vacuum'" said Babcock. "According to the constitution, in the absence of the president and the first vice-president of the Chamber, the second vice-president of the Senate would be next in line to assume a caretaker role until new elections are held.
"Bolivians deserve to have their voices heard and democratic rights respected, and it is critical that free and fair elections be held as quickly as possible. Canada stands ready to support those efforts."
Senate president's claim rejected
Speaking on background, another GAC official told CBC News that although Senate President Adriana Salvatierra, of Morales' Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, remains in the country and appears to outrank Añez in the constitutional order, Canada considers her decision to boycott Senate proceedings a form of resignation and accepts the opposition's argument that she has removed herself from the running for the presidency.
Salvatierra publicly announced her resignation and sought sanctuary in the Mexican Embassy in La Paz before apparently changing her mind and returning to the Senate. Bolivian police, who have mostly backed the opposition, refused to allow her to enter.
The same GAC official told CBC News that Canada was not using the term "recognition" — and probably would not use the term "President Añez" either. The official said Canada's priorities were to avoid a power vacuum and to get to new elections as quickly as possible.
Canada's embrace of the new government in Bolivia is considerably less warm than that of Brazil and the United States, and in fact closely mirrors the position taken by Russia.
It also reflects the reality on the ground in Bolivia, where Añez appears to have achieved a fait accompli. Many members of Morales' government have fled the country or are in hiding, and the opposition appears to have established control with the support of the armed forces.
Argentina offers asylum
One important South American government has closely mirrored Canada's approach to the Bolivian crisis. The government of Mauricio Macri in Bolivia's much larger neighbour Argentina joined Canada in rejecting the results of the Bolivian election on October 20. But Macri also held back from calling for Morales' ouster and declined to extend a quick recognition to Añez.
However, Macri is a lame-duck president, who was defeated in his own election on October 28. President-elect Alberto Fernandez of the left wing Frente de Todos coalition congratulated Morales on his "electoral triumph." The incoming administration, which has close ties to Cuba and Venezuela, has denounced events in Bolivia as a "coup" and today offered asylum to Morales, saying he was welcome to come to Argentina as of December 11, when the new government takes office.
The offer suggested that Morales could use Argentina as a base to stage an attempted return to power "as soon as possible," raising the possibility of further conflict between left- and right-wing governments in South America.