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Analysis: Questions mount over former president’s arrest in Bolivia

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Even before his arrest in the early hours of Saturday morning, former Bolivian interim president Jeanine Áñez posted several messages on his Twitter account. “The political persecution has begun,” the right-wing politician said he wrote Friday afternoon. Less than 24 hours later, she would be detained at her home in the city of Trinidad.
Members of his former cabinet were also arrested. Álvaro Coímbra, who held the post of Minister of Justice under Áñez, and Rodrigo Guzmán, who was its Minister of Energy, they were arrested as part of a Bolivian police operation apparently aimed at officials who served in the previous administration.
“I denounce in Bolivia and the world that, in an act of abuse and political persecution, the MAS government has ordered my arrest. I am accused of participating in a coup that never happened. I pray for Bolivia and all its people. ” the Donkey, 53 years old he tweeted just before his arrest, referring to the country’s left-wing ruling Party Movement for Socialism (MAS).

Until then, Morales had ruled Bolivia for three terms (almost 14 years) and was waiting for a fourth. Although the results would be found after an international audit, the 2019 elections could not be validated due to “serious irregularities”, it was declared the winner, provoking massive protests across the country.

Then head of the Bolivian Armed Forces, Cmdr. Williams Kaliman, asked Morales to leave office to restore stability and peace; Morales acceded on November 10th “for the good of Bolivia.”
But political allies argue he was ousted from power as part of a coup orchestrated by conservatives, including Áñez. After the resignation of Morales, also did Alvaro Garci’a Linera, its vice-president the president of the senate and the president of the lower house, creating a power vacuum that Áñez was mandated constitutionally to hold the provisional position.
The following year, his government held new elections. Luis Arce, a protégé of Morales, won, and the former president finally returned from exile in Bolivia.

But now that Morales is back, there are those who fear political revenge.

Strike loads

In all, the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic of Bolivia has issued arrest warrants against ten officials of Anez’s interim government, including the interim president herself and the two ministers who have already been arrested.

Charges are wide and scarce. According to officials, the charges facing Ánez and several of his ministers are terrorism, sedition and conspiracy to commit a coup, accusations that they have fiercely rejected, with Anez herself describing the charges as an act of “political persecution.”

After his arrest, Coimbra, the former justice minister, said in a video posted by Democratic Unity, an opposition political coalition, that there was no legal basis for his arrest.

“This has no legal validity. Do you know the reason why we are currently detained under the arrest warrant? He says we have committed the crimes of terrorism, sedition and others simply because we have accepted our positions as ministers. That’s it!” Coimbra said in an impromptu statement made behind the bars of a local cell.

Right next to him, in the same cell, was Rodrigo Guzmán, Áñez’s Minister of Energy. “This is an illegal arrest. We have been arrested on the street [the city of] Trinity. We could have been easily summoned and would have been delighted to appear in court. We didn’t run away and we won’t. We will face this process and all the political things that can throw us off. We are sure that this is just a smokescreen to hide the terrible management of the pandemic, “Guzmán said.

The government of President Arce, who won the presidential election in October, has denied that the arrests have anything to do with political vendetta.

Appeared on national television, Prime Minister Eduardo del Castillo it was unequivocal. “It is very clear that we are not committing any kind of political persecution. We are neither acting arbitrarily nor intimidating those who think differently. This process had already begun. Justice is following its course as it is legally appropriate and we believe it has done so. judicial must continue to operate regardless of who is in power, ”del Castillo said.

A “pushover system”?

But national and international observers are skeptical that politics and the judiciary will not overlap in this case.

According to Bolivian political analyst Roberto Laserna, Bolivia’s justice system and security forces are unstructured to ensure complete independence and can be easily controlled by the central government. He describes it as a “pushover” system: although the 2009 constitution stipulated that judges should be elected, this has never happened; the judges have been appointed by the president in power ever since.

“Bolivian democracy is extremely fragile, weak and susceptible to the arbitrary manipulation of those who come to power at any given time. I think what has happened to Jeanine Áñez and her [former] ministers are abusive and offensive to the country to all those who believe in democracy, “Laserna told CNN.

Accusations of manipulating Bolivian justice for political purposes are nothing new in Bolivia. In 2009, then-President Evo Morales, on arriving in Venezuela, claimed that police forces had dismantled a right-wing conspiracy planning to assassinate him and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera. Three men with foreign passports were killed in a shooting at a hotel in the city of Santa Cruz.

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Ten years later, the government of Jeanine Añez dismissed the case, saying that everything had been staged for the left-wing government to face political rivals in the city of Santa Cruz. The prosecutor responsible for the case fled the country in 2014 and now lives in exile in Brazil.

Áñez herself faced accusations of abuse of power during her short term. Critics said the Roman Catholic who brought the Bible into government processes after Morales secularized them was a little too quick to use state security forces to quell indigenous protests across the country. But did he really plot a coup?

Laserna believes such a complaint would be an extensive stretch. Áñez was not in a position of great power at the time of the 2019 crisis, he says, adding that Morales had also positioned himself in an unsustainable position by running for another term.

“It can be said that Evo Morales felt compelled to resign. In fact, he was forced to resign. This is obvious. The people on the street forced him to resign because he had manipulated justice. He had promised not to run again. He called a referendum, which he later ignored. There were a number of acts that showed that he was someone that people could no longer trust, and I think that’s why people forced him to resign, “Laserna said.

José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch, also expressed doubts about the arrests, saying Saturday that “arrest warrants against Añez and his ministers do not contain any evidence that he has committed the crime of” terrorism. “”.

“For this reason, they raise well-founded doubts that this is a process based on political motives,” he added.

And another former Bolivian president, Jorge Fernando “Tuto” Quiroga, who ruled from 2001 to 2002, has joined the chorus of national and international leaders denouncing Áñez’s arrest.

In a video posted on Twitter, Quiroga suggested that what happens to Áñez goes beyond political revenge. “With a fable, they seek to change a story that in Bolivia we know by heart about what happened. Unfortunately, due to the electoral loss, and so that Evo Morales can save his face after cowardly fleeing the country. [current President] Luis Arce has decided something unheard of in Latin American history by criminalizing a constitutional succession, “Quiroga said.

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