Sun | Nov 28, 2021

Bolivia arrests ex-leader in crackdown on opposition

Published:Saturday | March 13, 2021 | 6:00 PM
Bolivia's former President Jeanine Anez is escorted into a police station after giving her statement at the prosecutor's office, in La Paz, Bolivia, today. The conservative interim president, who led Bolivia for a year, was arrested, as officials of the restored leftist government pursue those involved in the 2019 ousting of socialist leader Evo Morales and the administration that followed. The ousting is regarded as a coup (AP photo).

The conservative interim president who led Bolivia for a year was arrested today, as officials of the restored leftist government pursue those involved in the 2019 ousting of socialist leader Evo Morales and the administration that followed.

His ousting is regarded as a coup. 

Jeanine Áñez was detained in early this morning in her hometown in the city of Trinidad and was flown to the capital, La Paz, where she appeared before a prosecutor.

“This is an abuse,” she told reporters after the appearance. “There was no coup d'etat, but a constitutional succession,” she said of when she took over.

The arrest of Áñez and warrants against numerous other former officials further worsened political tensions in a South American country already torn by a cascade of perceived wrongs suffered by both sides. Those include complaints that Morales had grown more authoritarian with nearly 13 years in office; that he illegally ran for a fourth re-election and then allegedly rigged the outcome; that right-wing forces led violent protests, which prompted security forces to push him into resigning; and then cracked down on his followers, who themselves protested the alleged coup.

Dozens of people were killed in a series of demonstrations that followed.

“This is not justice,” said former President Carlos Mesa, who has finished second to Morales in several elections. “They are seeking to decapitate an opposition by creating a false narrative of a coup to distract from a fraud.”

Morales, meanwhile, tweeted that “The authors and accomplices of the dictatorship should be investigated and published.”

Warrants issued for former officials

Other arrest warrants were issued for more than a dozen other former officials. Those include several ex-cabinet ministers and former military leader William Kaliman, as well as the police chief who had urged Morales to resign in November 2019, after the country was swept by protests against the country's first Indigenous president.

Morales resigned — or was pushed — and flew abroad, many of his key supporters also resigned. Áñez, a legislator who had been several rungs down the ladder of presidential succession, was vaulted into the interim presidency.

Once there, she abruptly wrenched Bolivia's policies to the right and her administration tried to prosecute Morales and an array of his supporters on terrorism and sedition charges, alleging election rigging and oppression of protests.

But Morales' Movement Toward Socialism remained popular. It won last year's elections with 55 per cent of the vote under Morales' chosen candidate Luis Arce, who took the presidency in November. Áñez had dropped out after plunging in the polls.

Two ministers in Áñez's government were also arrested on Friday, including former Justice Minister Alvaro Coimbra, who had helped lead the prosecution of Morales' aides. A former defence minister and others also have been accused.

New Justice Minister, Iván Lima, said that Áñez, 53, faces charges related to her actions as an opposition senator, not as former president.

Interior Minister Eduardo del Castillo denied it was an act of persecution, saying the case arose from a criminal complaint of conspiracy and sedition filed against her in November, the month she left office.

The Americas director of Human Rights Watch, José Miguel Vivanco, said from Washington that the arrest warrants against Áñez and her ministers “contain no evidence whatsoever that they have committed the crime of terrorism.”

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