Bolivia’s socialist government has arrested former interim president Jeanine Añez and issued arrest warrants against several key members of its government on charges of terrorism, an action that the opposition and a human rights organization said was unjustified and smacks of political persecution.
The move has increased political tension between indigenous leader Evo Morales’s ruling party of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) and her opponents from across the political spectrum in the impoverished mining nation in the Andes.
Interior Minister Eduardo Castillo announced on Saturday that Añez had been detained by the police and congratulated the agents on what he called “this great and historic task to do justice to the Bolivian people”. Two former ministers were also taken into custody.
Jose Miguel Vivanco, America’s chief at Human Rights Watch, said the arrest warrants against Añez and her ministers contained no evidence that they had committed terrorist crimes. “For that reason, they rightly call into question that this is a process based on political motives,” he said.
The arrests relate to events in late 2019 when Morales fled the landlocked country amid massive protests after attempting to take power for a fourth consecutive term in an election tainted by what the Organization of American States and the United States have said. Serious irregularities.
Añez, then a conservative provincial senator, was next in the constitutional line of succession because Morales vice president and the head of the senate had resigned alongside him, meaning she was hastily sworn in to lead one by the EU recognized temporary government. The United States.
Añez’s government was heavily criticized by rights groups while in power for pursuing the arrest of Morales on terrorism charges after he fled the country. The charges were dropped shortly after MAS returned to power last year.
Morales and MAS never accepted that the elections were fraudulent and described the events of November 2019 as a “coup” promoted by reactionaries and the military with the backing of Washington.
Clumsy actions by the interim government, including mishandling the pandemic and exceeding its mandate as a janitor by chasing Morales and some of his officials, led to a landslide victory for MAS candidate Luis Arce in the presidential election last year.
Since returning to power, the MAS has cracked down on opponents and Friday’s arrests, as well as arrest warrants for former police and armed forces chiefs, suggest the government now wants to punish anyone involved in the interim administration. .
“A lie has been invented, an alternate reality, an alleged and non-existent coup d’état to generate political persecution, destroy opponents and install the lie inside and outside the country that a coup took place when what was there was in fact. a massive fraud, a major electoral crime, ”said former opposition presidential candidate Carlos Mesa.
In a tweet shortly before her arrest, Añez said: “The MAS has decided to return to the methods of dictatorship. A pity, because Bolivia does not need dictators, but freedom. “
Long ravaged by political instability, the country is deeply divided between MAS supporters, concentrated in poorer rural and mountainous areas, and the opposition, whose supporters come mainly from the cities and the richer lowlands.
MAS failed to win one of the four largest cities in local elections last weekend when it lost control of the old stronghold of El Alto, just outside the city of La Paz, to a former senior MAS official who party had left.
“There is a sense of sadness that it has come this far,” said a diplomat in La Paz. “The MAS were at a split when Arce was elected last year. They could have chosen to rule as a normal government and tolerate some opposition. But they seem to have chosen to walk the Evo route and tolerate no opposition at all. If you have achieved a Democratic victory, why do you have to do this? “