Love, Money, and Politics in Bolivia

Bolivia’s Evo Morales has three years left in his third presidential term, a term that will be his last due to a failed referendum attempt to change the constitution and allow him to run for a fourth time. In recent weeks, Morales has been rocked by scandals. In what feels like a bad telenovela, Morales has been implicated in an embezzlement and influence peddling scandal with a former lover who claims to have had a child with the president who may or may not be alive.

Two weeks before President Morales’ referendum, a journalist discovered that a former lover of the president, Gabriela Zapata, had been appointed the head of a Chinese engineering group, CAMC, in 2013. Under Zapata and her use of her presidential connections, CAMC obtained $USD 500 million in no-bid construction projects in Bolivia. On February 26th, Ms. Zapata was arrested for “legitimizing” illicit profits, illicit enrichment of individuals with involvement with the State, and misuse of influence” (Brocchetto, 2016).  President Morales claims that the two lovers broke off their affair in 2007 and he had no part in Ms. Zapata’s alleged corruption scheme at CAMC. Despite this, President Morales has seen his credibility severely damaged by the scandal, which came to light prior to his attempted referendum.   

As if the corruption scandal were not enough, it was revealed on Bolivian national television that Ms. Zapata and President Morales did have a son together in 2007. While President Morales admits that the two had a son together in 2007 before they ended their relationship, he has maintained that Ms. Zapata told him that the child had died. Recently, however, accusations have been made that the child is still alive. Ms. Zapata’s aunt told reporters: “The child lives. I held him in my arms when he was four months old. The child is called Ernesto Fidel. He's here [in La Paz] and is between eight and nine years old now” (BBC News, 2016). Additionally, Ms. Zapata’s lawyer has also claimed the child is alive and well. Morales has since asked to see the child and claim him if Ernesto is in fact alive, but as of yet, the boy has not been brought forward. Despite claims that the child is alive by Ms. Zapata’s family and lawyer, Bolivian senior government ministers have said they are "absolutely convinced that sadly, the boy had passed away” (BBC News, 2016). It is unclear why the government ministers are so convinced that the child is dead. President Morales, though, has asked a court to order Ms. Zapata to produce the child if he is in fact alive.

President Morales has had an extremely tough month. Bogged down by scandal, a failed referendum attempt, and now a potential child, Morales has seen his public reputation and credibility take a hard hit. Perhaps the case of Morales in Bolivia is just another example of Latin America’s recent shift away from the left. President Morales’ failed referendum attempt follows in the wake of electoral shifts in both Argentina and Venezuela. Morales’ party, the Movement for Socialism party, has also suffered defeats in local and regional elections in the past year. With the defeat of Evo Morales reelection referendum, the party will be forced to find a new leader, a task that will severely challenge the capabilities and stability of the party that has governed Bolivia since 2006. Ultimately, recent scandals are just a few of President Morales’s many problems. In light of his defeat and recent shifts in the political landscape, he must also work to sustain the governing powering of the Movement for Socialism party.


Brocchetto, Marilia. “Bolivia’s President Faces Multiple Scandals.” CNN World News. Mar. 1, 2016.

“Evo Morales’s Estranged Son “to talk to media.” BBC News. Mar. 2, 2016.

“They Think it’s All Evo.” The Economist. Feb. 20, 2016.

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