On November 24, Bolivian police arrested the commander of the Cochabamba Military Garrison, General Alfredo Cuellar, in connection with the massacre in Sacaba city in the Cochabamba department on November 15, 2019. Cuellar has been charged with the crime of murder.
The Prosecutor’s Office ordered Cuellar’s arrest after he gave his statement in the Sacaba massacre case yesterday. The Prosecutor’s Office said that the arrest warrant was issued because there were elements of conviction against the military personnel, in addition to the risk of obstruction in the investigation and escape.
Cuellar’s lawyer, Edwin Paredes, claimed that his client “only performed administrative functions” during the incidents of last year and said that he was “preparing for the hearing of precautionary measures.”
Paredes added that in his statement, Cuellar presented the general strategic work plan applied in November 2019, “in compliance with a supreme decree and orders from the Commander in Chief.” Paredes said that his client “only fulfilled administrative functions and never made operational decisions.”
In the Sacaba massacre case, the Public Ministry is investigating the death of 12 protesters and the injuries caused to more than a hundred other protesters, during the brutal police and military repression of a peaceful anti-coup mobilization at the Huayllani bridge in Sacaba a year ago. On November 15, 2019, soldiers and police officers fired tear gas canisters and live bullets at the protesters trying to march to the Cochabamba city in rejection of the civic-military coup against former president Evo Morales.
It was alleged that the state security forces had acted on the orders from the president of the de facto government, Jeanine Áñez. It was somewhat confirmed when the same day as the massacre, Áñez passed the supreme decree 4078 that exempted from criminal liability the military personnel who “participate in the operations for the restoration of order and public stability.” The decree also authorized the security forces to use extreme force to suppress social protests.
Cuellar’s arrest happened a day after a group of independent experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) arrived in Bolivia to investigate the incidents of violence and other human rights violations committed after the coup under Áñez’s rule.
During their election campaign and on assuming office, the newly elected president Luis Arce and vice-president David Choquehuanca of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party promised to investigate the massacres in Sacaba and Senkata and bring the intellectual and material perpetrators to justice. Cuellar’s arrest is seen as a first step towards justice by the families of the victims.