Evo Morales Returns to Bolivia to Cheers — and Worries

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Bolivia’s maverick former president, Evo Morales, made a triumphant return to his homeland Monday, a year after his failed attempt to keep power tore the nation apart and sent him into exile.

Mr. Morales, the country’s longest-serving leader, was greeted by brass bands and hundreds of cheering supporters as he walked across the border from Argentina on the dusty and frigid Andean plateau, accompanied by the neighboring country’s president, Alberto Fernández, and a retinue of close allies.

But beyond a jubilant reception, Mr. Morales finds a wary nation anxious to move beyond the political turmoil unleashed by his divisive bid for a fourth term and focused on overcoming a crippling pandemic and economic crisis.

None of the national leaders of Mr. Morales’s socialist political party, which returned to power this month following a calm presidential election, came to greet their mentor at the border. Neither Bolivia’s new president, Luis Arce, nor the vice president, David Choquehuanca, both former ministers in Mr. Morales’s governments, mentioned him in their acceptance speeches on Sunday.

Mr. Arce had made clear during the campaign that Mr. Morales would play no part in his government, if he won — and he went on to handily beat a field of right-leaning parties that had opposed Mr. Morales in previous general elections.

On his return to Bolivia, Mr. Morales echoed the promise, telling supporters that he would dedicate himself to labor activism, where he began his political career.

“I will share my experience in the union struggles, because the fight continues,” he said at the border crossing Monday. “As long as capitalism exists, the people’s fight will continue, I’m convinced of this.”

But the return of a controversial leader who had tried a number of tactics to remain in power, including changing the Constitution and stacking the electoral board with supporters, provoked alarm among the government’s opponents in a nation that remains deeply divided after last year’s political unrest.

In the prosperous eastern region of Santa Cruz, protesters went on strike last week and pledged not to recognize the new pro-Morales government, saying there had been fraud, but without providing evidence.

Maria Silvia Trigo reported from Santa Cruz, and Anatoly Kurmanaev from Caracas, Venezuela.

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