“Bolivian health workers have denounced the lack of medical supplies and conditions in public hospitals and facilities.”Tim Young, Friends of Bolivia
Bolivia’s rerun of the presidential elections scheduled for May 3 has been postponed by the Supreme Electoral Court until some time between June 7 and September 6, owing to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The decision to delay the elections comes a few weeks after a new analysis published by the Washington Post confirms that the Organisation of American States (OAS) was wrong to declare Evo Morales’s election victory last autumn as fraudulent.
The study, commissioned by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) which made an early challenge to the OAS’s claims of serious electoral irregularities, was carried out by US researchers John Curiel and Jack R Williams who specialise in election integrity.
Morales had been declared the winner of the October election with a lead of just over 10 points over his rival Carlos Mesa, giving him outright victory, with no need for a second round of voting. But the OAS had contended this was not statistically likely and recommended Bolivia use new electoral authorities for a re-run vote, paving the way for the violent right-wing protests and military coup that deposed Morales.
The new, unelected President, Jeanine Añez, is an ultra right-wing politician whose party‘s electoral alliance secured only 4% in October’s elections.
The subsequent widespread and uncritical reporting of these OAS allegations undermined Bolivia’s legitimate democratic processes and legitimised the new coup regime, which has set about to destroy the social gains of the Morales’ governments.
But Curiel and Williams found that the OAS’s accusations of fraud are not supported by the actual voting data. They concluded: “There is not any statistical evidence of fraud that we can find – the trends in the preliminary count, the lack of any big jump in support for Morales after the halt, and the size of Morales’ margin all appear legitimate. All in all, the OAS’ statistical analysis and conclusions would appear deeply flawed.”
In response, Mark Weisbrot of the CEPR has tweeted “there needs to be an investigation of the OAS to find out who was responsible for promoting this so obviously false narrative for 4 months, when the Trump administration and OAS used it to support a military coup and violent political repression.”
However, the OAS – which is 60% funded by the US government – is unrepentant and continues to stand by its analysis.
The damage, though, has been done. The coup regime wasted little time in starting to overturn Morales’s strategy of reversing neoliberal policies and retaking control of key parts of the country’s economy from foreign corporations.
Its reactionary moves include beginning to privatise state-owned companies, as well as tearing up plans to ensure the proceeds of increased lithium production flow to the Bolivian people rather than multi-national corporations.
At stake in particular are the political and economic advances secured by Morales for indigenous peoples in the new plurinational state. Añez, a Christian fundamentalist, revealed this clearly when she announced in January that “savages” must not be allowed to win in the elections then scheduled for May.
Añez has continued to repress dissent against the imposition of the coup regime, persecuting journalists, political opponents, and human rights activists. A decree signed in secret by her is shielding security forces from criminal prosecution when dealing with protesters, many of whom are Indigenous.
According to an interim report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), at least 36 people were killed in post-election violence., including in two events it categorised as massacres.
Nine people were killed in the town of Sacaba and a further nine killed in the El Alto neighbourhood of Senkata, just outside La Paz, during a protest against human rights violations by the de facto government and the arbitrary detention and imprisonment of dozens of youth and activists being held as political prisoners..
The IACHR has called for an international investigation into these and other alleged human rights abuses in Bolivia. In January it announced the establishment of an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts with a wide-ranging, six months’ mandate to investigate human rights violations in Bolivia.
Meanwhile, opponents of the coup, especially leaders from Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, are being criminalised and face various charges. The regime reportedly has a list of 592 officials from the MAS government whom it has in its sights.
Those arrested early on include Cesar Cocarico, the ex-minister of Rural Development and Lands, former Interior minister Carlos Romero and MAS deputy Gustavo Torrico.
Five former government ministers facing charges including sedition and terrorism have sought refuge from persecution by the coup government in the Mexican embassy.
The harassment of MAS leaders has extended to its presidential candidate, Luis Arce, who on returning to Bolivia to begin his campaign for the June elections was given a legal citation at the airport with potential charges. At a hearing next day, the citation and charges were declared illegal.
In response to this climate of repression, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego Garcia-Sayan, has tweeted: “I am concerned about the use of judicial and fiscal institutions for political persecution purposes. The number of illegal detentions is growing. Today it was the turn of Gustavo Torrico. I request respect for the due process and the independence of institutions.”
Journalists, too, are being harassed and imprisoned. The most notorious case is that of the Argentinean photojournalist Facundo Molares who was detained without any evidence that he had committed a crime and has been imprisoned for more than three months, without medical assistance.
He is being held incommunicado in Chonchocoro prison and has been refused transfer to a hospital for medical care for his diagnosis of kidney failure.
Another Argentinean journalist, Sebastian Moro, is suspected of having been killed in the days after the coup. His relatives are calling for truth and justice.
Most recently, a Bolivian journalist, Rene Guarachi, was arrested and tortured by the police after filming a video of police launching a violent attack using tear gas on a protest in the Indigenous city El Alto. He was released without charge the next morning.
Others arrested by the coup regime include Afro-Bolivian trade union leader Elena Flores. She is a leader of the Yungas cocaleros (coca leaf growers) who opposes Franklin Gutierrez, a violent far-right leader in the area, who is alleged to have asked the regime to arrest her.
In the run-up to the delayed re-run of the presidential elections, with the MAS candidate for President in the lead of over a divided right-wing opposition, state repression is expected to intensify as the regime tries to consolidate its position and deal with the coronavirus crisis.
Mismanagement of the health emergency by Añez has increased hostility by sections of the population to the government.
Bolivian health workers have denounced the lack of medical supplies and conditions in public hospitals and facilities. The government’s failure to ensure regular deliveries of a food basket promised to 1.6 million households in quarantine led people in Riberalta city, in the Beni department, to defy the lockdown and demonstrate for food and greater health security.
There are fears, too, that the elections when run will be neither free nor fair, given the regime’s invitation to both USAID – expelled by Morales 2013 for meddling in internal affairs – and the OAS to be involved in the planning of the elections.
As Latin American historian Thomas Field has observed of the two organisations’ involvement, “we can be sure [the] goal will be similar to Bolivia’s 1966 election (following the ’64 coup), which the CIA steered to ensure the country returned to constitutionality in a way that meshed with U.S. interests.”
Whatever happens going forward, we need to stand with all those fighting for democracy and social progress in Bolivia.