50 days of coup d’état in Bolivia

The coup regime has been denounced for committing extensive human rights violations and persecuting the political opposition

December 30, 2019 by Tanya Wadhwa
Indigenous women were heavily targeted by the racially-driven violence during the civic-military coup d'état. Photo: Redfish

This is part of Peoples Dispatch’s year-ender series for 2019. For the complete series, click here

December 30 marks 50 days since the civic-military coup d’état was carried out against democratically elected President Evo Morales and the installation of the dictatorship led by far-right Jeanine Áñez. The coup regime, backed by the United States government and the Organization of American States (OAS), has been denounced by international human rights organizations and institutions for committing grave human rights violations and persecuting the political opposition.

The coup

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Vice-President Álvaro García Linera were forced to resign on November 10 amid an escalation of violent protests across the country and a campaign of threats and intimidation to government functionaries, members of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) and their family members.

The underlying narrative driving the unrest was the claim that electoral fraud had been committed in the general elections carried out on October 20. The final results showed that Morales had obtained over 10% more votes than his closest rival, Carlos Mesa, which was necessary for victory. However, the opposition refused to accept the results and began violent mobilizations demanding his resignation.

On November 11, due to serious threats to their physical integrity and safety, Morales and García Linera left the country and sought political asylum in Mexico. On November 12, in a session of Congress that met without quorum, right-wing legislator Áñez declared herself “interim president” of Bolivia.

Members of the military decorate Bolivia’s self-proclaimed ‘president’ Jeanine Añez with the presidential sash.

Resistance

Immediately following the coup, Indigenous organizations, social movements, trade unions and community organizations took to the streets across the country to reject the coup and manifest their complete support to President Evo Morales and his process of change in the country.

The city of El Alto, which neighbors the capital La Paz and whose inhabitants are mostly Indigenous and working class, was the central force of the resistance to the coup. For more than a month, protesters marched daily from El Alto to the capital demanding Áñez’s resignation and right-wing leaders such as Fernando Camacho’s exit from La Paz.

Indigenous women were at the forefront of the protests against the coup in Bolivia. Photo: Redfish

Repression

In response to the popular uprising, the de-facto government of Añez unleashed an unprecedented level of repression against Morales’ supporters, who had been protesting the coup in the streets.

The coup-supporting Police Force and Armed Forces brutally repressed the multitudinous mobilizations, using tear gas, arresting protesters, carrying out violent house raids, and firing on protesters with firearms.

The most intense points of the state terrorism were witnessed in the massacres of Sacaba, Cochabamba and Senkata, El Alto. In Sacaba, 9 anti-coup protesters were killed by security forces and in Senkata 6 were killed. Hundreds were gravely injured in the massacres.

9 were killed by Security Forces in the massacre in Sacaba, Bolivia. Photo: AFP

The discriminatory and authoritarian stance of the de-facto government became further evident when it passed the Supreme Decree no. 4078, which exempted the member of armed forces from criminal liability, on the same day of the massacre in Cochabamba.

The interim government tried to impede the communication about the reality of what was happening in the country. The local press was censored and foreign correspondents were harassed and attacked.

Political persecution

The coup regime also intensified selective prosecution of political and social leaders. In the last week of November, arrest warrants were issued for five MAS deputies and senators who opposed the coup. On December 18, the Attorney General of the coup regime issued a warrant for Morales accusing him of sedition, terrorism and financing of terrorism.

Morales is currently in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After spending a month in exile in Mexico, on December 12, he arrived to Argentina and filed a request to be considered a political refugee in the country and it was approved shortly after. Given this status, Morales is protected from any possible extradition to Bolivia.

Last week, the MAS functionaries, who sought refuge in the Mexican embassy located in La Paz after the coup, were intimidated. On December 23, the Mexican government denounced the excessive presence of security forces outside its diplomatic missions, the Mexican Embassy and Ambassador’s residence in La Paz, Bolivia.

Attack on the plurinational character of Bolivia

The de-facto government also attacked the plurinational character of the State. The desecration of the Wiphala, the Indigenous flag and an official symbol of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, by violent right-wing forces was symbolic of the nature of the coup.

Immediately after the coup, the right-wing opposition forces removed the Wiphala from the government palace and burned it on the street. The video of this incident circulated widely on social media. Several videos of national security officials cutting the Wiphala out of their uniforms also circulated on social networks.

The illegitimate government institutionalized this racist attitude when it prohibited public servants from wearing traditional Indigenous dresses during working days. In the first week of December, through a resolution, the Directorate General of Protocol ordered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to keep a check on the dress of all officials to prevent them from wearing ponchos, aguayos and polleras (Indigenous dresses).

International organizations confirm human rights violations committed by de-facto government

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and other international human rights organizations verified that Añez’s government committed a number of human rights violations post-coup.

On December 11, the IACHR issued a report on its observation visit to Bolivia between November 22 and 25, following the invitation from the de-facto government. In its report, the IACHR expressed “utmost concern” about human rights violations in the country before and after the coup.

In its report, the organization highlighted the climate of violence characterized by “polarization, hostility and hatred in social relations, based on discrimination, intolerance and racism”.

The organization cited several examples of “excessive use of force” in the joint operations of the military and police forces, including during the massacres in Sacaba and Senkata. Referring to the Supreme Decree no. 4078, the IACHR said that the security officials involved in the “acts of violence cannot be protected by any type of amnesty or exemption.” It also noted the “use of violence by private groups and citizens, which have acted on occasion in association with, or under the tolerance of, agents of the State, including members of the public forces”.

It also recorded the “violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to public information”, the aggression suffered by foreign journalist due to “lack of guarantees”, the cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and ethnic and racial discrimination. According to the data recorded by the IACHR, 36 people were killed and more than 800 were injured during military and police operations.

The commission requested that an “independent international investigation” be carried out on the events recorded in the country after the coup.

In the last week of November, the delegation of Argentine human rights defenders, social leaders and lawyers, that traveled to Bolivia with the objective to observe the human rights situation in the country following the coup, also denounced a series of human rights violations by the de-facto government. The delegation itself was threatened by the interior minister of the de-facto government, Arturo Murillo, who tried to make the delegation seen by society as a destabilizing and violent factor.

The delegation, in its preliminary report based on evidence and testimonies gathered during their two-day stay in Bolivia, confirmed the involvement of the de-facto government in the massacres perpetrated in Sacaba and Senkata; the forced disappearance of people; torture, rapes and sexual crimes; the selective persecution of political and social leaders and their families with the preparation of “blacklists”; the repression of public demonstrations; restriction on press freedom; promotion of racism and hate speech; inaction and complicity in covering up crimes by the judiciary; harassment of international human rights brigades and illegal spying operations.

The delegation also said it had evidence of the “explicit support of foreign governments” in the coup.

Realignment of foreign policy

Since the coup against Morales, the dictatorial government of Añez seeks to destroy the foundations on which the Plurinational State of Bolivia was forged.

The re-establishment of relations with the United States and Israel, suspended more than a decade ago, and persecution of Cuban doctors and Venezuelan diplomats are clear examples of this.

As is the entry of Bolivia into the Lima Group, a group of the right-wing governments of the region founded in 2017 with the objective to intensify diplomatic measures against the constitutional government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and force his resignation.

The coup regime also expressed its intentions to withdraw Bolivia from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), an instrument of regional integration against the influence of the United States on the politics and economics of Latin America.

There was no electoral fraud but there will be new elections

The alleged “electoral fraud”, given as a pretext for the right-wing coup, turned out to be baseless.

Morales had invited the Organization of American States (OAS) to conduct an audit. The OAS’ preliminary report called for fresh elections. Following this, Morales called for new general elections, hours before he had to resign.

However, after the coup, the OAS, responsible for auditing the election, was unable to demonstrate any significant irregularities. “The information entered with the counting and computing of votes cannot be verified” because of the burning of ballets in the region of Beni, said the OAS in its final report. Besides, the word “fraud” didn’t appear once in the final report.

In addition, through a document, more than one hundred economists and statistics experts from different universities in the US, Spain, Argentina, India, Brazil, Canada and other countries, ruled out any possibility of fraud in the presidential elections and criticized the actions of the OAS.

However, to legitimize itself, the dictatorial government of Añez took advantage of the political persecution of MAS leaders to get the parliament to annul the elections on October 20 and called for new elections in March 2020. It also managed to outlaw Evo Morales and Álvaro García Linera as candidates.

On December 7, the MAS held a national assembly in the city of Cochabamba, where Morales was appointed as the campaign leader of the MAS for these elections.

Political leaders, legislators, representatives of various social movements, grassroots organizations and trade unions from all the departments of Bolivia took part in the MAS assembly in Cochabamba on December 8.

Yesterday, Morales held a meeting with the MAS leaders of all 9 departments and they announced that on January 19, a MAS assembly will be held in Buenos Aires where they will define the candidates for the upcoming elections.

× To Subscribe