Bolivia postpones elections after Áñez decrees a “total quarantine”

The Bolivian government of interim president Jeanine Áñez has decreed a sweeping “total quarantine” for 14 days to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and halt a small, but significant outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. (Prior coverage of COVID-19 in Bolivia|Wikipedia) There are just 19 cases confirmed in Bolivia, with known community transmission in urban Oruro and the municipality of Porongo, both of which were already under local quarantine measures. Nonetheless, municipal and departmental authorities, legislators, and presidential candidates had all called for a total quarantine in the past few days. The fourteen-day emergency restrictions immediately prompted electoral authorities to postpone the highly anticipated general election, previously scheduled for May 3.

The quarantine measures mandate Bolivians to stay in their homes except for trips for work, groceries, and medical care; shorten the working and shopping day; and suspend public transport. It enters into force at 12am on Sunday, March 22, just hours after being announced. Bolivians are encouraged to provision themselves today, but markets will remain open for the mornings under the quarantine.

After Áñez decreed the national quarantine, Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) suspends electoral preparations for 14 days, calls on all parties to agree on a new date for general elections, previously set for May 3. In recent days, six political parties supported postponing elections, but the largest, but Evo Morales’ MAS-IPSP opposed any delay. Both calculation are in part political, since the MAS-IPSP is leading in the polls and the Bolivian political Right has failed to consolidate around a single candidate.

The Tribunal had little choice but to propose some delay since the proposed quarantine will interfere with pre-election preparations, even if it ends on schedule on April 5. The Tribunal’s statement s very clear in seeking consent from the legislative branch, led by a MAS-IPSP majority for a new election date. It also points out the central and troubling challenge: “to resist the threat of the pandemic and to also organize a clean and transparent electoral process, which will reflect precisely the will of the citizenry and will permit the formation of a legitimate government.”

It remains to be seen whether Áñez decision was necessary or precipitous, and whether the quarantine will further militarization and political divisions within the country or allow Bolivians to supplant them. The fractures opened up during the 2019 political crisis remain gaping, as does the absence of an elected government. There are clearly signs of both a cross-party willingness to cooperate against the coronavirus, as evidenced by recent agreements in El Alto and the Chapare, as well as clear signs of political opportunism. As with the rest of the world, much also depends on whether or not the coronavirus spreads out of control over the next two weeks.

Top image: President Jeanine Áñez at the repurposed anti-imperialist military school, rapidly converted as a COVID-19 isolation site. From @JeanineAnez on Twitter.

Bolivia reacts to COVID-19: First panic, then policy

It has been just seven days since the Bolivian Ministry of Health confirmed the first two case of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the landlocked South American country, on Tuesday, March 10. The announcement, and the attempts of two patients to seek treatment in the lowland city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra set off a wave of panic in that metropolis, marked by (as best I know, globally unprecedented) protests by doctors, health workers, and neighbors seeking to deny treatment to the infected individuals. Cooler heads prevailed, and treatment sites were eventually proposed. Channeling the panic, several national legislators proposed criminal penalties for either blocking treatment or arriving and failing to quarantine.

Meanwhile, the small highland city of Oruro experienced community transmission of the virus, which now has seven cases (one of them is linked to travel from Italy). Oruro then led a wave of departments and localities in taking community-wide measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Oruro department’s “quarantine” measures are scheduled to last from March 16 to 31.

As of March 17, Bolivia has twelve cases, including four in Santa Cruz department and one in Cochabamba. A patient who died in El Alto was reported as a suspected case, but this claim was negated by the ministry of health.

Read More »

The Evo Morales Administration and Lethal Political Violence

Evo Morales was the longest-serving president in Bolivia’s history, serving for nearly 14 years. His December 2005 election came in wake of a national uprising, the September–October 2003 Gas War, that claimed seventy-one lives in six weeks. It ended with a three-week protest movement over alleged electoral fraud in the October 20, 2019 election. Ultimately, thirty-six peopled died during the 2019 crisis, all but four of them after Morales resigned as president. A common theme in both these political transitions is loud public denunciation of the violence of the prior governments, specifically of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who governed for fourteen months in 2002 and 2003, and Evo Morales, who served over eleven times as long.

In this post, I offer an overview of political violence, including state repression, during the Morales years. This analysis is based on Ultimate Consequences, a database of people who have lost their lives in Bolivian social movement conflicts since 1982. I have been working to compile this information systematically since 2015.  The data is compiled by myself and a research assistant based on multiple sources, including media reports, governmental, intergovernmental, and private human rights reports, and use of the research literature on political conflict. Unlike prior compilations by human rights organizations, however, this database includes a variety of qualitative variables designed to understand how and why the deaths occurred and what policies and patterns underpin them.

Altogether, 137 people[1] died in social movement-related events during the fourteen years of Morales’ presidency, the second highest total of any president during the democratic era, and a close runner-up to President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s fourteen-month death toll of 139. However, in nearly all other respects, the Morales years were quantitatively very different from Sánchez de Lozada, and more in line with the 1982–1999 period of limited violence in Bolivian political life.

The simplest way to see this is to look at the annual pace of deaths.

Table 1: Deaths by presidency in the post-1982 democratic era (excluding unconfirmed upper estimates and non-conflict-related accidents). The higher numbers of deaths found by the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia (APDH) in the 1989 to 1997 period may represent counting errors or deaths not yet included in the database.

Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada’s second term stands out from all others (116 deaths per calendar year), only distantly followed by Jorge Quiroga’s one-year term (32/year) and Hugo Banzer’s 1997–2001 term (24–31/year). Evo Morales’ presidency had 9.9 deaths per year. Over the whole period since the restoration of democracy in October 1982, an average of 14.8 Bolivians per year have died in political conflicts, so Morales’ record is well below average.

Read More »

Why I’m endorsing Bernie Sanders

I wake up and we are in the opening act of a national public health crisis that could shutter every institution for weeks or months, that the global financial markets are tripping towards meltdown, and that a leading presidential candidate, Joe Biden thinks that he can bring us “back to normal” by appointing JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to run the treasury department. By nightfall, Biden vows to veto Medicare for All if an inspired Congress were to pass it and send it to his desk.

Our times are not normal. Our time, right now, is about rising to the scale of the problems we confront. Those problems were started by keeping things on the normal track and denying the urgency of crises: decades of blinders on climate change and rising inequality, a decade of Wall Street deregulation before the 2008 crash, tear gas and water cannons (instead of student debt relief and restructuring) to confront the challenge of Occupy, failing to achieve the moral and social transformations called for by #MeToo and Black Lives Matter.

For priceless weeks, the current government has worn blinders on the coronavirus, building on the quiet acceptance of an epidemic of drug overdose deaths fueled by opioid addiction. We live in society where massive death is a tragedy when it happens to the powerless and a crisis only when it happens to the powerful, but now confront a pathogen that hits both. On this last, we need a well-funded epidemic response effort last year, guaranteed paid sick leave and vacation time today, and universal health care this month.

More broadly, we need a 2020 campaign that is as visionary and hopeful as Obama in 2008, but more committed to fundamental change in the aftermath. Bernie Sanders, working with grassroots movements, is building that campaign.

In my estimation, what is most interesting about the Bernie Sanders campaign is the attempt to build lasting ties with external movements as well as mechanisms to activate supporters to organize one another. Long-time community and labor organizers I know have been impressed by his willingness to show up for their issues and walk their picket lines. Sanders proposed in launching his 2020 campaign that “the essence of my politics … is that we need an ongoing grassroots movement of millions of people to pressure Congress, to pressure the corporate establishment. so that we can bring about the changes that this country desperately needs. So that’s why I have said that I will not only be commander-in-chief, I’m going to be organizer-in-chief.” Like changes in other arenas, this mass activation will require a change in culture, and the Sanders campaign has projected some of its image-making efforts towards spreading the very concept of solidarity, and pushing Sanders himself to the side in favor of a ”Not Me. Us.” vision of movement-driven campaigning.

Winning transformative change will require continued grassroots pressure, but the 2020 election provides an invaluable opportunity to choose who is on the other side of the table. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have shown they would be adversaries or obstacles to change in that role. Now is the time to stand with Bernie Sanders to make the work of changing our society that much easier.

A word to Warren supporters

Elizabeth Warren’s run for the presidency did so much to concretize progressive left policy and also to draw a lot of great movement-generated ideas into the space of the election. She was an invaluable symbol of women stepping up to the challenges leadership and a reminder of the barriers women face when daring to lead.

Especially, professional women who deeply identified with Warren’s trajectory as someone who had to project ultracompetence and endure personal sexism just to get the job. I see you. And I know something of how that feels in your professional life.

I won’t ask you to not emotionally project your experiences into political candidates. I know from experience that despite my many political differences from and skepticism of Obama, I took his 2008 run personally in the end.

I believe it’s basically a random fact of history (not to mention James Comey’s bad judgement) that a biracial Black man became president but a woman has not, but I also know that one’s identity being a treated as an electoral liability sucks.

Warren’s prolific plan production was part of a mutually beneficial period of campaigning that strengthened both Warren and Sanders’ platforms. Her wealth tax proposal raises the bar for what is possible and what could be funded. Sanders had to rush to craft his own detailed plans for things that were platform points in 2016. Running in a shared lane forced both to runner faster and further. And by not being alone they broadened the sense of what was possible. If you like Warren’s plans, go read Bernie’s platform.

Today the best chance for a progressive agenda in 2021 is Sanders in the White House and Warren leading the Senate. If Warren’s case that she could be a great author of legislation and builder of coalitions is true, then wonderful. We will need that to implement any of these visions. (Just as we would need a Senator Sanders actively working with a President Warren had she made it to the White House.)

In terms of American lives that could be saved by policy changes, the difference between Sanders or Warren and Biden is significantly greater than between Biden and Trump. So I look forward to working together. Now more than ever.

Collective Endorsements Worth Reading

100+ Black Writers and Scholars Endorse Bernie Sanders: “Bernie Sanders, the politics he advocates, the consistent track record he demonstrates, and the powerful policy changes he has outlined, if elected, would make the most far-reaching and positive impact on the lives and condition of Black people, and all people in the United States.”

Rising for a Global Feminist Future with the Movement to Elect Bernie Sanders: “All of our lives we have been creating movements and art organized around the critical basic human dignity of all people. We support the movement to elect Senator Sanders because engaging electoral politics is a part of the larger strategic democratic movement for solidarity and a feminist future to take hold. We believe an end to patriarchy demands an end to class and racial oppression.

“All across this country and globe, women and children have been working toward a shift in collective consciousness. A feminist future requires political change by men, women, and gender non-binary people not just in the structures and laws but in our collective values and behaviors. It requires an end to violence against women, girls, and all femme people. A feminist future demands the spirit of cooperation. We are inspired and motivated by the grassroots movements brewing across the globe and here in the United States of America for decency, dignity, and respect. We amplify poor, unemployed, and working people behind this political moment aching with passion and anxiety toward the uncertainty of tomorrow. We must strategically rally and rise together.”

Boots Riley, Why I am voting for Bernie Sanders: “People are looking for ways to exact power over their own lives. More and more they are realising that in order to do that we need a mass, militant, radical labour movement that can collectively withhold labour as a tool — not only for higher wages and benefits — but as a tool for larger social justice issues as well

“In order to get some of the reforms that Bernie Sanders’ campaign platform calls for — Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, free university and trade school tuition, building 10 million more homes in an effort to address homelessness — it’s going to take movement tactics.

“We are going to have to have strategic, targeted and general strikes to force the hand of the folks who have some of these politicians in their pockets.”

And fellow anthropologists please consider signing this one…

Anthropologists for Bernie Sanders: “As anthropologists committed to a more equitable, sustainable, and just world, we write to express our support for Senator Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the 2020 Democratic nomination. While we believe true social transformation happens primarily through the pressure of social movements, our research also teaches us the importance of leadership that will heed the call of grassroots demands for economic and social justice. We urge people to support Bernie Sanders’ candidacy now, and work to ensure he will be our next president.

“Our discipline exposes us to multiple and varied ways of organizing society, the economy, and social relations. We know from our field experience that no form of inequality or injustice is inevitable, natural, or permanent. Human beings create and re-create their social realities by acting collectively.”

Photos of Senkata massacre victims laid out before a mass table on March 5, 2020

A wounded rural protester dies, becoming the eleventh victim of the Senkata massacre

Emilio Fernández, a young man from Loayza province, became the eleventh known fatal victim of military and police repression of the blockade and protests at the Senkata gas installation in El Alto on November 19, 2019. (There have also been persistent and credible, if unverified, eyewitness reports of security forces removing the bodies of additional dead protesters from the scene at Senkata.) The Senkata massacre remains the deadliest event in Bolivian political conflict since 2008, and the deadliest act of state repression since the 2003 Gas War.

Another victim of the Senkata violence passes away, and now there are 11 deaths

Translation of the article “Otra víctima de violencia en Senkata fallece y suman 11 muertes,” published in the newspaper Opinión (Cochabamba), March 6, 2020.

David Inca, the representative of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of the city of El Alto, yesterday confirmed the death of an eleventh person after the violent events in Senkata in November 2019.

He said that he was aware that one of the injured had died on Wednesday morning [, March 4]. “He was one of the youth who was wounded and returned to his community in Loayza province. He was Emilio Fernández.”

Inca denounced that the wounded did not receive the required medical attention and surgical operations to recover from the damage they suffered after being injured by bullets. “There are other wounded who returned to their community without due attention. The transitional government threatened them that they would go to prison for supposed terrorism.”

Read More »

Bolivian police tear-gas Senkata massacre victims pleading for justice, again.

The Plurinational Legislative Assembly of Bolivia took its sessions to the largely indigenous city of El Alto yesterday in honor of the anniversary of the founding of Bolivia’s second most populous city. Relations between the city and the hard-right interim government of President Jeanine Áñez are still shadowed by the massacre of protesters and bystanders on November 19, 2019, shortly after she took power. (Prior coverage of the Senkata masscre.) During the anniversary procession, mourners marched with a black flag in remembrance of those killed.

A couple dozen Senkata residents, largely family members of those killed protested the lack of accountability for the Senkata massacre by attempting to block the Bolivian Senate’s special session in their part of El Alto. In response, the Bolivian police teargassed them, as the statement from the Defensoría del Pueblo below details. This was the second time that security forces have tear gassed the family members of Senkata massacre victims; the first time was in a politicized funeral march just days after the attack.

Meanwhile, news has broke of the death of an eleventh victim of state repression at Senkata. Emilio Fernández of Loayza province died of his wounds on Wednesday morning.

Statement from the Defensoría del Pueblo

The original statement was posted on the Defensoría website; my translation follows.

Today, [Bolivia’s] Human Rights Ombudsman Office condemns the indiscriminate use of force by agents of the Bolivian Police, who gassed the family members of the victims of the Senkata massacre, which occurred November of last year, and affected a hundred children in the [nearby] July 25 School.

The incidents occurred in the morning, when the Bolivian Senatae attempted to hold a session in the social headquarters of the July 25 neighborhood in the Senkata are of the city of El Alto, in honor of the the anniversary of the municipality. Then, some two dozen family members of last November’s massacre and neighbors of that zone posted themselves outside to call for “trial and punishment for those responsible” for the ten deaths in November.

The union office, inside which the legislators gathered, was surrounded by police troops, before whom the family members [of the Senkata massacre victims] displayed signs pleading for justice. “Justice and Punishment or those responsible for the Senkata massacre. Justice for Ruy Cristina Vásquez,” read one of the signs. Amid their cries, the family members approached the uniformed police to call out for justice for their dead.

The response of the police was tear gas, which they launched upon the demonstrators and which reached the July 25 School, located across from the union headquarters. A hundred children were affected and had to be evacuated amid their cries and even bleeding, because it could be seen that one of them broke out bleeding from their nose. The docents of the school had to set a fire in the patio to dissipate the gas that had penetrated throughout the installation. According to the report from RTP, the troops launched the chemical agents to protect the evacuation of the senators, partisans of the government, who had decided to suspend their session.

The Human Rights Ombudsman Office condemns this indiscriminate use of force and reminds the Ministry of Government and the Bolivian Police that their actions must be within the framework of the [2009] Constitution and the national and international norms for the protection and guarantee of individual and collective rights.

Additionally, it noted that the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) has established that police operatives should have an operational plan that contemplates special attention and safeguard for children and adolescents, among other vulnerable groups. From the perspective of the Office, in this case the security forces did not act in accordance with this recommendation.

The Human Rights Ombudsman Office reiterates to political parties, citizen groups, political and social leaders, as well as to the government its exhortation to guarantee the peaceful carrying out of celebrations of the anniversary of the city of El Alto, as well as the current electoral process.

New arrests in “sedition” case targeting Evo Morales

Departmental legislator Gustavo Torrico and Evo Morales’ legal representative Patricia Pamela Hermosa are the latest people arrested in the interim Bolivian government’s legally dubious effort to prosecute exiled president Evo Morales for the crimes of sedition and terrorism. Torrico, a member of the Departmental Legislative Assembly of La Paz, was arrested last night (February 6) and is expected to be charged with sedition for threatening comments he made in a late October radio interview. Hermosa, for her part, was arrested on February 2 while bringing Morales’ identity documents into Bolivia in order to register him as a MAS-IPSP candidate for Senate. She seems to be under investigation due to telephone records indicating she spoke with Evo Morales in November after his overthrow on November 10. The government has also floated the possibility of subpoenaing Chapare cocalero leader and senate candidate Andrónico Rodríguez in the case.

These moves, on top of the active investigation of at least 592 Morales government officials for alleged financial irregularities, and the recent brief arrests and apparent physical mistreatment of two officials given safe passage out of the country, illustrate a scenario in which judicial actions is being used as an active mechanism of political persecution against members of Morales’ party. The “sedition and terrorism” case is the spearhead of that overall effort.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges & Lawyers Diego García-Sayán has publicly called out the Áñez government: “I am concerned by the use of judicial and prosecutorial institutions for political persecution. The number of illegal detentions is growing. Today it was the turn of former minister Gustavo Torrico. I call for respect of the independence of institutions and for due process.”

García-Sayán published a broader critique in yesterday’s edition of El País in Spain.

Details on Torrico’s October comments follow…

Read More »

Bolivia’s 2020 presidential candidates: A very quick guide

Party/
Alliance
Presidential CandidateVice Presidential Candidate
MAS-IPSPLuis Arce Catacora undefinedundefined
finance minister, 2005–19
David Choquehuancaundefinedundefined
foreign minister, 2005–17
CCCarlos Mesa Gisbertundefinedundefined
president, 2003–05
Gustavo Pedraza Méridaundefinedundefined
planning minister, 2004-05
FPVChi Hyun Chungundefinedundefined
doctor, Baptist pastor
Leopoldo Chui
lawyer, El Alto prosecutor
Juntos
Jeanine Áñezundefinedundefined
interim president
Samuel Doria Medinaundefinedundefined
planning minister, 1991–93
CreemosLuis Fernando Camachoundefinedundefined
Santa Cruz civic movement
Marco Antonio Pumariundefinedundefined
Potosí civic movement
Libre 21Jorge Tuto Quirogaundefinedundefined
president, 2001–02
Tomasa Yarhuiundefinedundefined
rural affairs minister, 2001–02
PAN-BOLFeliciano Mamani
Cooperative Miners Federation
Ruth Nina
police spouses association
ADN
Withdrawn.
Ismael Schabibundefined
Navy admiral
Remberto Siles
Army general

Today, February 3 was the deadline for Bolivian parties to submit their candidate lists for the May 3 general election, which replaces the annulled October 2019 vote. Here is a summary of the parties, their political situation, and their candidates.

Read More »

Jeanine Áñez’s surprising new ally from La Paz

With less than 48 hours remaining before an official deadline to finalize party alliances for the May 3 presidential ballot, two sudden surprises shifted the Bolivian political landscape. First, interim President Jeanine Áñez Chávez announced her own candidacy, reversing her emphatic promises upon assuming office. Áñez had been warning for weeks of the danger of splitting the anti-MAS vote and urging unity over partisanship. Now she will become one of at least ten candidates facing off against the MAS-IPSP candidate, former finance minister Luis Arce Catacora.

On January 10, for example, Áñez tweeted:

We Bolivians have fought for a single cause: to leave tyranny behind; that we have accomplished thanks to the patriotism of the youth, women, and men who went out onto the streets for a free Bolivia. To disperse the vote would be to devalue our struggle!

Tweet from Jeanine Añez Chavez (@JeanineAnez), January 10, 2020.

As late as January 19, the interim president was placing herself above partisan politics in her pleas for unity: “We hope that there will be the political maturity and openness within the political class to see the greater good. What may happen with me is what I am least concerned with, what does interest me is what could happen to Bolivia.” Of course, by then, the negotiations for her candidacy had already begun.

The Demócratas party (Twitter|Wikipedia entry)—formally the Social Democrat Movement, but composed of rightist regional parties and led by Rubén Costas of Santa Cruz —took up her candidacy as their own. Áñez had represented the party (competing as the “Unity Democrats” alliance) as a senator in the 2015-2020 term. Significantly, however, two more political forces have joined in backing her candidacy.

Luis “Lucho” Revilla and Juan del Granado at a press conference celebrating Revilla’s first election as mayor of La Paz, 4 April 2011. (photo: Carwil Bjork-James)

Luis “Lucho” Revilla has governed La Paz as mayor since 2010, a post he succeeded from his co-partisan and human rights lawyer Juan del Granado. The two had both represented the Without Fear Movement (Movimiento Sin Miedo; MSM), a center-left party that allied with Evo Morales’ MAS-IPSP in 2005, and offered support wtih criticism during the 2008 constitutional referendum. The party, always strongest in La Paz department, made a serious effort at recruiting disaffected MAS voters in the 2009 general and 2010 regional election. In 2014, however, it failed to reach the 3% threshold for keeping its legal status and was forced to reorganize in advance of the 2015 regional elections. Revilla’s urban progressive party allied with Felix Patzi’s indigenous socialist Third System Movement (Movimiento Tercer Sistema; MTS) to become the dominant political force in La Paz department: SOL.bo, a tech-oriented acronym for Sovereignty and Freedom (Soberanía y Libertad punto bo). Patzi, whose ideology proposes indigenous communities as the basis of a system beyond capitalism and state socialism, has been governor of La Paz for the last five years. Ever distrustful of Evo Morales’ governing party SOL.bo joined Carlos Mesa’s Citizen Community presidential coalition in 2019.

So it was a major surprise on January 24 when Revilla threw his support behind Jeanine Áñez, in an endorsement that coincided with the Alasitas festival in downtown La Paz. Widespread speculation implies that Revilla expects a Vice Presidential position in return for his endorsement, but the second spot on the ballot has not been announced yet, and Revilla is very loudly proclaiming that he didn’t trade his endorsement for a seat. Almost as loudly as Jeanine Áñez had proclaimed she wasn’t considering running for president.

Read More »