Tens of thousands took to the streets of at least four Bolivian cities on Monday night to protest against the detention of conservative former President Jeanine Anez, who was charged with fomenting a coup that led to the overthrow of longtime left-wing leader Evo Morales.
Local media reported that protesters gathered in the cities of La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Trinidad to denounce the arrest of Anez and that of two of her former cabinet members on Saturday.
Footage circulating on social media from Santa Cruz, a stronghold of right-wing support in Bolivia, showed thousands of people gathered in the city’s main square waving flags and chanting “Freedom, freedom!”
“We demand that all political prisoners be released immediately and that the persecution cease, because if not tomorrow we will be in the streets,” civic leader Romulo Calvo reportedly said during a fiery town hall in Santa Cruz held before the protest.
Thousands gathered in the main square of Santa Cruz, Bolivia on March 15, 2021 [Lesly Moyano/Reuters]
A judge on Sunday ordered Anez to four months of preventive prison on charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy in relation to Morales’s removal from power in 2019. On Monday, Ivan Lima, the minister of justice, said additional charges against her over alleged financial corruption and human rights violations committed during her one-year tenure as interim president had been presented to the state attorney general’s office.
“What we expect is not a four-month detention, we are looking for a 30-year [prison] sentence because there have been bloody massacres, there have been families, fathers and mothers who have been left without their children,” Lima said in an interview with the Bolivian national television.
Anez, 53, a conservative Senator stepped in as president of the Andean nation after weeks of nationwide violent protests that erupted following the October 2019 elections which were marred by allegations that Morales had rigged the vote to secure a controversial fourth term in office.
Amid pressure from the armed forces, Morales, his vice president and other senior members of his administration resigned and fled the country. Morales and his supporters say he was the victim of an organised coup.
Anez has rejected that a coup took place, arguing that it was “a constitutional succession due to electoral fraud”. She has denounced her arrest and the charges against her as politically motivated.
“They are sending me to four months in detention to await the trial over a ‘coup’ that never happened,” Anez said in a tweet on Sunday.
Anez had initially pledged to serve as a caretaker president and organise a rerun of the tainted elections. But during her time in office, she cracked down on Morales supporters and announced her own candidacy for president.
But support for Anez’s administration dwindled amid criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, allegations of corruption and the imposition of new laws that rights groups said constituted human rights abuses.
She suspended her presidential campaign in September and a month later, the Movement Towards Socialism, Morales’s left-wing party won 55 percent of the vote, paving the way for his return. Luis Arce, Morales’s pick, became president a month later.
Morales and his supporters say that Anez’s arrest is the beginning of justice for the killings of more than 30 protesters by security forces following his removal, as well as the arrest of hundreds of others.
Por justicia y verdad para las 36 víctimas fatales, los más de 800 heridos y más de 1.500 detenidos ilegalmente en el golpe de Estado. Que se investigue y sancione a los autores y cómplices de la dictadura que saqueó la economía y atentó contra la vida y la democracia en Bolivia.
— Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) March 13, 2021
Translation: For justice and truth for the 36 dead victims, the more than 800 injured and more than 1,500 illegally detained during the coup. That the authors and accomplices of the dictatorship that looted the economy and attacked life and democracy in Bolivia must be investigated and punished.
The latest developments in Bolivia have drawn concern from the Organization of American States (OAS) over “the abuse of legal mechanisms that once again have been transformed into instruments of repression by the governing party”.
“The Bolivian judicial system is not in a position to provide the minimum guarantees of a fair trial,” Luis Almagro, the OAS secretary general, said in a statement on Monday.
The statement also called for “the liberation of all those detained in this context, until impartial processes and mechanisms can be put in place to determine responsibilities”.
Brazil’s far right President Jair Bolsonaro denounced Anez’s arrest, calling it “totally unreasonable.”
“We are concerned by the events taking place in Bolivia, our neighbour and brother country, where former President Jeanine Anez and other authorities were arrested on the grounds of participation in a coup, which seems totally unreasonable to us,” he said on Tuesday during a summit for South American presidents, held virtually.
“We hope that Bolivia will maintain the rule of law and democratic coexistence,” Bolsonaro said.
Local media reported that Roxana Lizarraga, who served as minister of communications in Anez’s government, has requested asylum in Peru.