President Evo Morales of Bolivia went on a hunger strike beginning April 9th in protest of congressional attempts to block an electoral bill. He has been sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the presidential palace with supporters and has canceled two upcoming summit visits.
The bill would create fourteen new electoral districts in rural areas, giving indigenous groups more seats in Congress. As the first indigenous president of Bolivia, President Morales has championed reform to give more rights to the disenfranchised indigenous majority of Bolivia, including a recently passed new constitution.
Members of the opposition argue that it would give the president a distinct political advantage and secure his reelection. Senator Walter Guiteras describes the strike as “shameless” and “blackmail,” while opposition member Fernando Mesmer claims President Morales is trying to ensure his reelection and “cover up the massive corruption.” The president has called the opposition “racist, fascist [and] selfish,” and announced in a press conference, “Faced with the negligence of a group of neoliberal lawmakers, we had to take this next step.”
Cabinet members had volunteered to join the president on his hunger strike, but their offer was struck down in order to keep the country functioning.
President Morales went on a hunger strike one other time in 1998 in protest of the government’s policy towards coca, the plant used to make cocaine which holds significance among Bolivia’s indigenous groups for its medicinal and nutritional properties.