Roadblocks are a common form of protest in Bolivia, used by the working class who feel they don’t have any other way to express themselves, Mr. von Vacano said. “In the pandemic, however, this is a double-edged sword that will be seen by many as a threat to their health.”
The country’s mountainous geography means a few well-positioned roadblocks can isolate major cities and bring the country to a standstill, a vulnerability that was exploited by Mr. Morales’s rural supporters to great effect in the past.
Mr. Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, was ousted from power in November after a fraught bid for a fourth term.
Exiled in Argentina, Mr. Morales continues to evince intense loyalty among many in Bolivia’s Indigenous majority, who see him as a transformative leader who gave them a political voice for the first time in the nation’s 200-year history.
The presidential candidate of Mr. Morales’s party, Luis Arce, is leading the polls, raising fears among the former president’s opponents that he will return to power after October and take revenge on those who ousted him.
In maintaining the protests, Mr. Morales’s supporters are playing a high-stakes game that seeks to destabilize Ms. Añez’s government and provoke a violent military response that will further sap her popularity, said Filipe Carvalho, a South America analyst at Eurasia Group, a Washington-based political consultancy.
“Both sides are playing the pandemic for electoral gain, adding a new level of tensions,” Mr. Carvalho said. Whoever wins will take control of a highly divided country in deep recession and few options to restart economic growth, he said.
Norman Chinchilla contributed reporting from Cochabamba, Bolivia.