Hemisphere Weekly: Former Interim President Áñez arrested in Bolivia

Prosecutors claim that former President Morales’ removal constituted a coup, accusing Áñez and numerous other officials of having masterminded a plot to oust Bolivia’s first Indigenous president.


Illustration Credit: Rainer Hachfeld, Cagle Cartoons

Last Saturday, security forces arrested former Interim President of Bolivia Jeanine Áñez on charges of terrorism, sedition, and conspiracy related to the political crisis that gripped the country in late 2019 and forced former President Evo Morales into exile. The arrest and imprisonment of Áñez, who occupied the presidency for less than a year, provoked protests in four of Bolivia’s largest cities, puncturing the fragile peace that had largely reigned since Luis Arce—Morales’ longtime Minister of Economy and Public Finance, and fellow member of his Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party—was elected president, with over 55 percent of the vote, in October 2020. Government prosecutors claim that Morales’ removal constituted a coup, accusing Áñez and numerous other officials—including Áñez’s former energy and justice ministers, the former commander of the Bolivian army, and various other community leaders and police chiefs—of having masterminded a plot to oust Bolivia’s first Indigenous president. Minister of Justice Iván Lima has announced that prosecutors will seek a 30-year prison sentence for Áñez.
In 2019, Morales sought a fourth term as president, even though in a referendum just three years earlier, Bolivian voters had narrowly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded presidential term limits. Morales initially claimed victory with 47.08 percent of the vote, more than 10 percent greater than the total vote received by his closest rival, former President Carlos Mesa (a margin that would have enabled Morales to avoid a second-round runoff). However, the Organization of American States (OAS), which served as the official independent monitor of the elections, concluded that Morales’ victory had been fraudulent, citing significant statistical irregularities and evidence that vote tallies had been manipulated. (Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Center for Economic and Policy Research have since released analyses casting some doubt on the OAS’ claims). Under pressure from opposition lawmakers, the military, and protests that had erupted across Bolivia, Morales resigned the presidency on November 10, fleeing the country the following day; on November 12, Áñez was installed as acting president by Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly.
Áñez’s arrest has sparked criticism from various human rights groups and the OAS, which has warned that judicial channels in Bolivia “have become repressive instruments of its ruling party.” Amnesty International added that Áñez’s arrest represents the continuation of a decades-long “crisis of impunity” in the country; while Human Rights Watch has deemed Áñez’s arrest to be evidence of “the abuse of the justice system against political opponents.” The arrests of Áñez and the other members of her administration took place only weeks after Bolivia’s local elections, in which MAS lost significant ground, ceding the mayoralties of La Paz, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and El Alto, which collectively represent 70 percent of the Bolivian population, to center-right parties. Opposition figures in Bolivia have also voiced their dissent, with Mesa (one of Morales’ opponents in the disputed 2019 election) alleging that the Arce government is “seeking to decapitate an opposition by creating a false narrative of a coup to distract from fraud.” Áñez—who was arrested in her hometown of Trinidad, before being transported to La Paz, where she is currently imprisoned—has written to Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, and Michael Doczy, ambassador of the European Union in Bolivia, requesting that they send official observation missions to monitor her imprisonment and trial.

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