Coup or fraud: Bolivia, more polarized than ever

The recent arrest of former president Jeanine Áñez, accused of terrorism and sedition, increases the political tension in the country.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Bolivian elections last October settled many things. Above all, they refuted the widespread idea among political and media analysts that 70% of Bolivians did not want “even in figures” the return of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) to power.

In a context of fierce political polarization, the electoral process allowed pacifying the country and restoring constitutional normality. However, as could be seen with the recent arrest of former president Jeanine Áñez, the country remains divided around the two slogans that circulated during the violent days of 2019: “It was a coup, it was not fraud” / “It was fraud, it was not a coup”.

The recent arrest of former president Jeanine Áñez, accused of terrorism and sedition, increases the political tension in the country. (Photo internet reproduction)

For MAS, its resounding victory on October 18, 2020, with more than 55% of the votes, was the proof that in 2019 there was no fraud for Evo Morales to remain at the head of the executive power. For the opposition, that the Áñez Government transferred the command to MAS is the evidence that what there was was a Government that only proposed to call for clean elections. But behind these “simple things” there is a much more tangled background.

The idea that there was a coup, the MAS often prevents it from recognizing the political mistake of having moved forward with the reelection of Morales despite the result against the 2016 referendum (51 voted “no”) to reelection with the consequent repolarization of the country (including the rebirth of a hard right).

On the side of the pititas -as those who mobilized for the resignation of Evo Morales in 2019 are known-, the idea that the government of Áñez was merely “transitory” occludes that it had open refoundational veleities and sought to undo the legacy of the MAS, together with a revanchist vocation embodied in the Minister of Government Arturo Murillo, personally in charge of persecuting militants and officials of the previous Executive.

Political truths are one thing and legal truths are another. If the government of Añez did not manage to prove the “monumental fraud” of the MAS, in spite of having a certainly docile justice system, the same may happen to the government of Luis Arce, at least in an unquestionable way, with the mega-case of the coup d’état.

The coup denouncement had its basis and was effective both nationally and internationally to denounce a government with a conservative agenda and that did not hesitate to use force against the protests, with the repressions of Sacaba and Senkata [with 11 civilian deaths in each one] as particularly deadly. But today the judicial case faces no lesser legal and political problems.

Legal problems, because Áñez was imprisoned for her alleged participation in the coup – accused of crimes of terrorism, conspiracy and sedition – but her presence in the coup was minor or even null (so minor that in order to discredit her, the version was spread that the conspirators had paid her to assume the presidency).

And politicians, because it is difficult to arrest the most notorious architects of the coup, such as Luis Fernando Camacho, from Santa Cruz, who led the protests and the most radical groups, recently elected governor of Santa Cruz. Or former president Jorge Tuto Quiroga, who allegedly “gave orders” to the military to let Evo Morales leave the country in order to unblock the “constitutional succession” and appoint Añez.

The problem is that in order to judge her for her decisions as president, two thirds of the Parliament must approve the process and they do not have the numbers.

Added to this are the complex meetings in November 2019 to try to unblock the succession, in which the MAS participated, and the resignation of the entire line of succession (Morales, Vice President Álvaro García Linera, the president of the Senate and the president of the Chamber of Deputies resigned).

It was in this power vacuum that the opposition decided to activate plan B: that Áñez would take over automatically (the former senator was second vice-president of the body and was not in the line of succession) appealing to a previous jurisprudence, with a previous Constitution.

For MAS, its resounding victory on October 18, 2020, with more than 55% of the votes, was the proof that in 2019 there was no fraud for Evo Morales to remain at the head of the executive power. (Photo internet reproduction)

If Adriana Salvatierra said she resigned from the presidency of the Senate in coordination with Morales and García Linera, the head of the deputies Víctor Borda did it under pressure due to the physical attacks to his house and family members. In addition to these complexities, the Parliament, with two thirds in the hands of the MAS, ended up accepting Morales’ resignation and recognizing in fact Áñez, whom it denounced as illegitimate president, but sent her the laws for their enactment.

It was a sort of catastrophic tie: Añez could not dissolve Congress and MAS could not disavow the president.

At the end of the day, “fraud” and “coup” may possibly survive as political “truths”, which will continue to mobilize different sectors of the cracked Bolivian society, but they will hardly find a legal response with legitimacy beyond the convinced on each side.

The MAS had, with its victory at the polls, a political-moral triumph that the sloppiness of the current actions, in a country with a particularly discredited justice system, may seriously erode. Although the opposition is weakened for the moment, at least on a national scale, the demons that the October elections and the clarity of the results had locked in the bottle could return to do their thing again.

Source: El País

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