Bolivia’s interim government tortured and executed opponents, report says


Show caption We don’t want revenge. We want justice,’ the mother of a man killed by security forces after the 2019 election said. Photograph: Jorge Bernal/AFP/Getty Images Bolivia Bolivia’s interim government tortured and executed opponents, report says OAS review of violence that followed 2019 election stops short of calling Jeanine Áñez’s ascent to power a coup but finds ‘irregularities’ AP in La Paz Tue 17 Aug 2021 21.50 BST Share on Facebook

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Bolivia’s recent interim government came to power by sidestepping constitutional rules for presidential succession and persecuted opponents with “systematic torture” and “summary executions” by security forces in the tumultuous aftermath of Evo Morales’s resignation in 2019, according to a new report by independent human rights experts.

The scathing 471-page report is the most comprehensive yet to examine the events surrounding the disputed 2019 presidential vote, when Morales’s narrow election to an unprecedented fourth term triggered widespread protests spurred by strong international allegations of voting fraud – claims later questioned by foreign electoral experts.

The report, presented Tuesday in La Paz in an event attended by the new president, Luís Arce, was commissioned by the Organization of American States (OAS) review chief human rights watchdog under an agreement with the former interim government led by Jeanine Áñez.

The five-member panel’s findings of widespread abuses by security forces acting under the conservative interim government’s direction is likely to embolden leftist supporters of Morales and Arce, who have long maintained Áñez seized power through a coup tacitly backed by the Trump administration. It is also likely to undercut criticism by the Biden administration and others suggesting that the jailing of Áñez on sedition and terrorism charges tied to the unrest was politically motivated.

“This thoroughly documented report sets the record straight,” said Kathryn Ledebur, who leads the nonprofit Andean Information Network in Bolivia and has been a sharp critic of Áñez.

“Instead of suggesting Áñez’s arrest was politically motivated, the US should speak out about the gross human rights violations committed by, and the illegality of, the Áñez government,” Ledebur said.

The state department said that it would not comment until it had heard from the Group of Independent Experts and had reviewed its report. But a spokesperson in an email said that Bolivians deserve accountability based on credible legal proceedings that respect due process.

Following Áñez’s arrest in March, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Twitter that he was “deeply concerned by growing signs of antidemocratic behavior and politicization” of Bolivia’s justice system.

An OAS electoral mission to Bolivia found a number of “irregularities” in the 2019 election, including the existence of hidden computer servers. Morales officially won by barely enough votes to avoid a runoff with the second-place finisher.

That OAS electoral mission’s findings prompted opponents joined by Bolivia’s armed forces to pressure Morales into resigning hours after he had acquiesced to OAS secretary general Luis Almagro’s call for a redo of the vote.

Later, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would cast doubt on the OAS’s claim that a sudden change in voting trends following an extended lapse in releasing results pointed to fraud. The OAS has stood by its findings.

The new report, which was the result of eight months of research partly funded by the US government and the Ford Foundation, is careful not to endorse claims of a coup against Morales.

But it does question the legitimacy of Áñez’s ascent to power, pointing out that her election to the head of the senate and then to interim president lacked the quorum required by Bolivia’s constitution after several of Morales’s allies in the legislature resigned in protest.

“If this isn’t a coup, what more proof can there be?” Arce said at Tuesday’s presentation to shouts of “Justice!” by relatives of those killed who were also in attendance.

The report also detailed examples of excessive force by police, including the use of lethal ammunition, to suppress unarmed supporters of Morales who poured into the streets. At least 20 people were killed in two incidents that the experts characterized as “massacres” perpetrated by security forces acting under the authority of a decree signed by Áñez guaranteeing amnesty for those working to reestablish public order.

“We don’t want revenge. We want justice,” said Georgina Siles, whose son Omar was killed after being shot in back in the city Sacaba.

The report highlights the deep political polarization surrounding Morales’s changing of the constitution to seek a fourth term, deep-seated racism against his Indigenous followers and traditionally weak institutions as aggravating factors.

But it specifically faults Áñez officials for using the judiciary and security forces to target opponents, often based on flimsy evidence.