George Washington set an important and sacred precedent for American political life when he served two, and only two, terms as president of the United States, from 1788-1796. So sacred was the precedent, that it would not be until 140 years later, in 1940, that Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke with this tradition, which was never enshrined in law, but held in great regard and esteem by politicians of both parties.
FDR did win a third term and then a fourth. It is no surprise that the man who successfully broke with this precedent was also the president who did the most to trample on the framework of individual liberties and Constitutional freedoms that had made the United States a haven for freedom. It is also no surprise that FDR did perhaps more than any other president in history to expand the size and scope of the federal government, in complete and flagrant disregard of the 10th Amendment.
So unpopular was his decision to run for third and fourth terms, that in 1947 Congress passed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution specifically limiting presidents to two terms. By 1951, the states had ratified the amendment, enshrining it into law.
The Bolivian Constitution has such sensible provisions as well. Evo Morales successfully thwarted the Bolivian Constitution to stand for a third term, and now he appears poised to stand for a fourth. This is in spite of losing a 2016 referendum that specifically asked the Bolivian people if they approved of his fourth candidacy.
Morales lost that referendum by a narrow margin of 2.5%, or slightly over 100,000 votes, but that certainly wasn’t going to stop him from ruling Bolivia for life.
Then in 2017 the Supreme Tribunal of Justice of Bolivia ruled that it would be a violation of human rights to deny the Bolivian people of the opportunity to elect Evo to a fourth term. The heavily politicized court thus invalidated the provisions of Bolivia’s Constitution that discuss term limits of any nature, thus establishing Morales as a likely dictator-for-life, and installing his Movement towards Socialism (MAS) Party in perpetual power.
Bolivians are fed up, and at least one brave Bolivian is doing something about it. Henry Rojas is holed up in a church in LaPaz, on hunger strike, in a sparse room decorated with just the Bolivian flag, and a banner with a phrase from the Bolivian national anthem: “Viva Bolivia, Morir antes que esclavos vivir.” Bolivia, better to die than to live as slaves!
Indefinite governance nearly always leads to bad governance, and Rojas claims that Morales’ plan is to systematically disassemble democracy in the poor Andean nation: “I prefer to die in this hunger strike before allowing Evo Morales and Álvaro García Linera [current Vice President of Bolivia] to grow in power as a cancer on Bolivia for another five years. “We stand firm in the trenches, fasting and protesting, because without electoral transparency, there is no legitimacy and with no legitimacy, there can be no democracy,” he said.
Can any democrat, can any liberal, now reasonably think, that having wrested a fourth term from the Bolivian Constitution, against the will of the people, that Morales will stop there? No! He will certainly seek a fifth, and then a sixth. His mission is clear: install himself as “president” for life, and dismantle the country’s democratic institutions, and expand his own power.
When have tenures of 10, 20, 30, or 40 years led to good governance? The examples are few and far between. Generally, they lead to authoritarianism, then totalitarianism, with a healthy dose of cult of personality, which Evo has assiduously crafted.
A necessary foundation for any democratic system is limited government, and nothing is more important than ensuring sensible term limits for the executive branch.
In the meantime, Morales remains the only South American continental ally of the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Bolivia has little geopolitical clout, so its support is mostly moral and diplomatic, but Maduro makes the most of his ragtag band of regional allies: Bolivia, Cuba, and Nicaragua. Fundamentally, they enrich themselves, while they rob the national treasury and the people, shrouding their kleptocracy in Marxist rhetoric and platitudes about the oppression of capitalism and the redistribution of wealth.
Bolivia needs more Henry Rojases and fewer Evo Moraleses.