No coup, fraud

Bolivia's political quagmire thickens, despite Arce's promise of reconciliation.

The Bolivian political landscape is a mess and shows no sign of improvement. Add to this a deepening economic crisis and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the short-term looks bleak.

Disappointingly, despite campaign promises of reconciliation after a fraudulent election and the ousting of the then President Evo Morales, President Luis Arce recently oversaw the arrest of the former interim President Jeanine Áñez, who took command after Morales fled the country. A former opposition deputy was exasperated, “The arrest of Áñez, charged with terrorism, sedition and conspiracy, is a fabrication and is widely acknowledged as a desperate attempt to divert attention from the political, economic and health crises the country is facing.”

“The arrest of Áñez, […] is a fabrication and is widely acknowledged as a desperate attempt to divert attention from the […] crises the country is facing.”

Former opposition deputy, Bolivia

It is widely known that there are no grounds for Áñez’s arrest and that legal process has been ignored. A Bolivian diplomat explained, “The ‘preventive detention’ of Áñez and her two ministers is a legal aberration. There is no legal basis and due process was not followed. The trial is unlawful too.”

A government source commented, “They entered houses without warrants. They have detained and tortured relatives. The Minister of Justice himself admitted that they did not follow due process of a liability trial [juicio de responsabilidades], because MAS does not have a two thirds majority in the Legislative Assembly so they are trying this as an ordinary case, this is unconstitutional.”

“They entered houses without warrants. They have detained and tortured relatives. The Minister of Justice himself admitted that they did not follow due process.”

Government source, Bolivia

The Bolivian diplomat was concerned about what this means for the wider picture, “The greatest risk is that by using this ordinary route, an ordinary judge will rule on whether or not there was a coup d’état. With such a ruling, they could imprison whoever they want.”

The question follows, how far will MAS go? So far, the government has arrested several generals and colonels of the police and the army as well as social and political leaders. Some of the legal complaints against these people are absurd, such as ‘promoting the contagion of COVID-19′.

So what’s really going on? What’s behind all this? Is it really just revenge? Or Morales struggle for power?

Our sources have traced the underlying issue to a major fracture in the MAS party. As a former MAS adviser confirmed, “From the first day of Arce’s administration, [former President Evo] Morales and company laid siege to Arce and his cabinet. Morales’ big bet was the sub-national elections that took place a few weeks ago, but the big electoral losses have made him the biggest loser of all.”

“Morales’ big bet was the sub-national elections that took place a few weeks ago, but the big electoral losses have made him the biggest loser of all.”

Former adviser to the MAS party, Bolivia

These losses were compounded over the weekend, as the MAS party lost 4 remaining departments during a second round of sub-national elections. A huge blow for President Arce and his party, which lost control of the City of La Paz and the Department of La Paz, historically considered the bastion of MAS. All of this, less than six months after taking power, Arce’s legitimacy and his landslide victory of last year achieving over 55% of the votes could be called into question. MAS has been left with very little to celebrate from the sub-national results.

The divisions within the MAS party became greater as several regions questioned the MAS candidates for the sub-national elections, believed to have been chosen by Morales himself. The loss of the main capital cities and several regional governments, motivated the MAS to an illegal and undemocratic onslaught of the opposition. A political analyst observed, “Following the elections, critics have highlighted the weakness of Arce’s government. Consequently, MAS decided to apply an iron fist and show strength in an attempt to win back voters. An internal struggle ensued.”

Morales, with his own agenda, is seeking to regain power and prominence and in response, the government has taken a tough stance and aligned itself with Morales’ discourse by categorising the fraudulent election of 2019 as a coup. Bear in mind that during the elections campaign of last year, President Arce didn’t mention even once that a coup d’état took place in 2019 and referred to Áñez as a constitutional interim president.

Additionally, Arce’s government and Morales continue to attack international organisations and countries that had participated in the ‘peace talks’ process in November 2019. The Bolivian diplomat explained, “The attack on several embassies was to appease MAS voters who wanted revenge and for the government to show strength and conviction. They even went after the Catholic Church! I don’t think they’re about to expel foreign ambassadors or arrest newly elected opposition figures such as Camacho or Arias anytime soon. They will get them slowly, tactically, using the judiciary … just like they did before.”

In contrast, the attack against the Organisation of American States (“OAS”) is different. The political analyst commented, “This is something rooted in Morales and his surroundings. Revenge against General Secretary Luis Almagro, who is also accused of enabling the coup of 2019. Here the stakes are much higher: Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba and even Mexico want to remove Almagro and that is why the attacks against him will continue. This goes beyond the coup rhetoric. It is the Rio Group trying to take control of the OAS.”

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