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…
Gustavo Torrico’s comments
Torrico’s controversial on air comments (video) were delivered on October 29, 2019, nine days into protests against presumed electoral fraud in the October 20 elections. He spoke in a cautionary tone in which he attempted to dissuade opposition leaders, particularly runner-up presidential candidate Carlos Mesa, from escalating the protests into an open and deadly confrontation.
Here we will have to see, in this dark panorama that now exists, if mothers and fathers will be willing to lose their children in the street when there are confrontations. I don’t know how many mothers are willing to sacrifice their children, to carry with them that pain, which is so criminal, that is to feel the death of your child, which is even not the same as the death of one’s own parents.
Aquí solo falta ver, en este panorama oscuro que se presenta, si las madres y los padres están dispuestos a perder a sus hijitos en la calle cuando hay enfrentamientos. No sé cuántas madres están dispuestas a sacrificar a sus hijos, llevarse ese dolor tan criminal que es el sentir la muerte de tu hijo, que incluso no es lo mismo que la muerte de tus padres.Agencia de Noticias Fides, “Torrico: Aquí solo falta ver, en este panorama oscuro que se presenta, si las madres y los padres están dispuestos a perder a sus hijitos en la calle cuando hay enfrentamientos,” October 29, 2019.
A minute later, Torrico promised that the base of the MAS-IPSP would also take the streets and defend “our revolution”:
I say before the camera: Do not think that we will remain with out arms crossed. We will defend our revolution against whoever.
Lo digo frente a la cámara: No piensen que nos vamos a quedar con los brazos cruzados, nosotros vamos a defender nuestra revolución contra quien sea.Agencia de Noticias Fides, “Torrico: Aquí solo falta ver, en este panorama oscuro que se presenta, si las madres y los padres están dispuestos a perder a sus hijitos en la calle cuando hay enfrentamientos,” October 29, 2019.
These declarations were quickly taken as threats rather than words of caution. A Youtube video circulating the comments was titled “Gusatavo Torrico threatens youth with death [Gustavo Torrico amenaza de muerte a jóvenes].” The next day a demonstration of mothers denounced Torrico’s comments in a downtown La Paz protest, shouting, “Torrico, coward, don’t mess with my kids.”
Gustavo Torrico previously served as Vice Minister of the Interior Regime, which is to say the person in charge of deploying Bolivia’s security forces.
The threatening interpretation of Torrico’s remarks is certainly plausible, but the threat was not imminent but rather political, and it certainly wasn’t seditious on October 29, when Evo Morales remained the sitting and elected president. The case still rests on reframing of pro-Morales protests (and not tactically similar anti-Morales protests) as terrorism.