On March 22, thousands of Bolivian citizens and members of various social movements and trade unions took to the streets of the nine capitals of the country’s nine departments. The citizens held massive marches to demand justice for the Sacaba and Senkata massacres and numerous other human rights violations committed by the coup-installed regime under the rule of de-facto president Jeanine Áñez. They demanded that all those responsible for the crimes perpetrated after the coup d’état of November 2019 against the democratically elected president Evo Morales be punished.
Dancing and singing, waving national and Indigenous Wiphala flags, the demonstrators expressed their support for the progressive government of President Luis Arce. They rejected the accusations of the country‘s right-wing forces and affirmed that Áñez and her former ministers’ arrests are part of justice and not “acts of political persecution or revenge.”
Áñez and two of her former ministers: Álvaro Coimbra, the former justice minister, and Rodrigo Guzmán, the former energy minister, were arrested on March 13 for their involvement in the coup. On March 14, a criminal investigating judge ordered four months of preventive detention for them, considering that there was a high risk of their escape, and that they could influence important witnesses if they remain free. On March 20, the Second Criminal Chamber of the Departmental Court of La Paz ruled to extend the preventive detention for them from four to six months. They have been charged with terrorism, sedition and conspiracy crimes, which left 36 people dead and 804 injured, while thousands were illegally detained and hundreds were harassed, kidnapped, tortured and persecuted.
On March 15, two other former government officials were arrested: General Pastor Mendieta, former chief of the armed forces, for his participation in the 2019 coup and Major Freddy Vargas, former police chief, for wrongly granting promotions to officers supporting Añez’s regime.
Since March 16, the country has been witnessing demonstrations for and against the arrests of coup regime officials. Bolivia’s right-wing organizations have been holding rallies against the arrests in the Santa Cruz department and few other cities, while the Indigenous, peasant and women’s organizations have been marching across the country in defense of democracy and justice for victims of the coup regime.
Yesterday’s nationwide mobilization was called for by the Pact of Unity, a national alliance of grassroots organizations in Bolivia, on March 19. Trade unions such as the Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia (CSUTCB), the Sindical de Comunidades Interculturales de Bolivia, the Confederation of Indigenous Peasant Women of Bolivia ‘Bartolina Sisa’, the National Council of Ayllus and Markas del Qullasuyu, Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba and the Central Obrera Boliviana (COB), Bolivia’s trade union center, supported and joined the call.
The leaders of the organizations condemned the right-wing protests and their rejection of the investigations carried out by the Prosecutor’s office and denounced them as attempts to destabilize the current government of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).
Eber Rojas, the executive national secretary of the CUTCB, questioned the opposition for rejecting judicial proceedings against former authorities. “They are inciting (conflict) from their homes, why don’t they talk to Bolivian society, Bolivian social organizations? We demand justice and peace in Bolivia,” Rojas told the Agencia Bolivia de Información (ABI).
Likewise, Flora Aguilar, the executive secretary of the Peasant Women Confederation Bartolina Sisa, stressed that the cases should not go unpunished and that investigations must continue. “So many brothers have been lost to restore democracy, for them we ask for justice. Justice for those comrades who were battered in Sacaba, Cochabamba, here in Senkata so many died,” said Aguilar.
Similarly, several international leaders and organizations rejected the interference in the internal affairs of Bolivia by the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro. Almagro, who has been widely criticized for his participation in the 2019 coup, questioned the judicial process against Áñez and expressed “concern about the abuse of judicial mechanisms that once again have become repressive instruments of the ruling party.”
The Puebla Group, a political and academic forum made up of progressive presidents, former presidents, political and social leaders from around the world, declared that Almagro’s statements “flagrantly ignore the independence of powers in that country” and that the OAS “presumes, without any basis, that it is a persecution campaign directed by the government whom it accuses of using “repressive instruments”.” The group declared that they do not recognize “the moral authority of Secretary Luis Almagro, after the role played by the Observation Mission under his charge in the 2019 elections, after which the coup against the government of Evo Morales took place.”
The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), a platform for social, political and economic integration of Latin American and Caribbean nations, also rejected Almagro’s interference and meddling. The ALBA-TCP denounced “these actions constitute a very serious violation of the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations” and that “such actions only promote confrontation and destabilization scenarios of the democratic processes that the Bolivian people freely decided to undertake. A clear example of this is the role of the OAS in the coup d’état, during and after the 2019 Bolivian electoral process.”