Bolivia Presidential Election Influence Operations
After five months of delay, the Bolivian election is finally approaching. The deeply polarized country heads to polls on October 18. With the divisive former president Evo Morales still in exile and not allowed to run, and the unpopular interim president Jeanine Anez announcing that she will not seek office, Bolivia will have a new president. Key contenders are former Economy Minister Luis Arce, from Morales’ Movement for Socialism party (MAS), and former president, Carlos Mesa, from the centrist political coalition Civic Community. Opposed to Anez’s pro-US stance, several actors, namely the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation, and Venezuela, have expressed their preference for Arce and Morales on social media and have attempted to vilify Anez. These actors questioned the legitimacy of the upcoming election and claimed that the United States is conspiring with the Anez administration.
Venezuela, with which Anez cut relations in November 2019, was the most active of the actors with 484 posts accusing Anez of being an illegitimate president, who together with the United States and Organization of American States (OAS), orchestrated a coup d’etat and pushed Morales out of the country. Nicolas Maduro’s Twitter account noted that Venezuela stands behind the Bolivian people and his hope that peace and democracy will be reestablished after the elections. Venezuelan state broadcaster TeleSUR claimed that the interim government has threatened the rights of indigenous people and intensified the growing inequalities in the country. Additional posts by Venezuela on Twitter further sought to question the integrity of the election with claims that international observers, who allegedly helped to push Morales out of Bolivia, will once again be present at the polls. Overall, 94.8% of Venezuelan content appeared in Spanish and registered a negative sentiment score of -0.38, on a scale from -1.0 to +1.0.
Over the last 30 days, we identified 397 posts by Russia regarding the Bolivian election which drove more than 80k engagements. The Russian Federation highlighted the internal troubles of the Anez administration, especially the sudden resignation of three ministers in late September. Sputnik Mundo and RT en Español portrayed Anez as incapable of governing and of handling the economy, and argued that Anez deliberately tried to impoverish the Bolivian people. RT en Español followed up with a video accusing the Anez administration of having deep ties to the United States and to the OAS which threaten the legitimacy of the upcoming election.
Iran produced 70 posts that attained more than 18k engagements. Iranian content drew attention to Morales’ claims that the United States and Anez conspired to prevent him from running in the election. Iranian media also said that support for MAS will return stability to Bolivia which was unduly destabilized by US. Iran’s Spanish-language digital studio, HispanTV, was particularly active in accusing the interim government of damaging the free electoral process in Bolivia and of orchestrating the coup against Morales and MAS. Several Twitter accounts of HispanTV journalists called the European Union hypocritical for recognizing Anez in Bolivia while rejecting Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, echoing a popular Kremlin talking point.