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Arrest of former Interim President Jeanine Áñez triggered mass protests. Police 13 March arrested Áñez, along with former cabinet ministers Rodrigo Guzmán and Álvaro Coimbra on charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy during 2019 political crisis, which led then-incumbent President Morales to resign and Áñez to declare herself interim president; authorities 11 March also issued arrests warrants for former general and ex-police chief who had both urged Morales to resign. Áñez 15 March transferred to prison for four-month pre-trial detention. Tens of thousands of Áñez supporters same day protested across country, including at least 40,000 in country’s largest city Santa Cruz. Organization of American States 15 March said “judicial mechanisms […] have been transformed into instruments of repression by the ruling party”. Thousands 18 March demonstrated in capital La Paz in support of govt and President Arce, asked for “justice” for what they consider “coup d’Etat” against Morales in 2019. Court 20 March extended Áñez’s pre-trial detention to six months. In letter posted on Twitter, Áñez 23 March accused police and govt of “abusive” actions, said she had been denied proper medical treatment while in detention.
After tense electoral campaign, general elections – which returned Movement toward Socialism (MAS) to power – held largely peacefully 18 Oct. MAS, party of former President Evo Morales, retained majority in both houses of Congress, while Luis Arce, its presidential candidate, secured victory with 55% of vote. Peaceful voting preceded by hostile pre-elections climate. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Bolivia 2 Oct recorded at least 30 acts of violence against MAS sympathisers, other opposition parties as well as journalists between 6 Sept and 2 Oct. In country’s largest city Santa Cruz, around 5,000 people 20 Oct protested against MAS victory, accused party of fraud. Right-wing Creemos party supporters same day set up vigils near electoral tribunal departmental centres in Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and Chuquisaca departments. Morales 29 Oct said he will return to Bolivia 11 Nov, after judge 26 Oct annulled arrest warrant against him for alleged sedition and terrorism. Outgoing parliament 29 Oct approved motion recommending that outgoing interim President Jeanine Áñez and 11 of her ministers face justice for responsibility in late 2019 violence, which left around 30 dead.
Risk of violent escalation around 18 Oct general elections rerun remained high amid govt crackdown on opposition. Court 7 Sept ruled exiled former President Morales ineligible to run for Senate in Oct. Govt 9 Sept asked International Criminal Court to launch investigation into alleged “crimes against humanity” by opposition supporters during Aug protests. NGO Human Rights Watch 11 Sept accused govt of “abusing the justice system” to pursue Morales’ supporters and denounced terrorism charges against former president as “politically motivated”. Interim President Jeanine Añez 18 Sept dropped out of presidential race, citing need to unite vote against Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS); move follows large-scale Jubileo Foundation poll 16 Sept which found 40.3% of Bolivians plan to vote for MAS presidential candidate Luis Arce. Meanwhile, several attacks targeted party supporters. Notably, unidentified assailants 17 Sept threw stones at right-wing Creemos party member in Oruro city; others 20 Sept pelted centrist Comunidad Ciudadana member with rocks in capital La Paz. Three top cabinet ministers 27 Sept resigned, reportedly because they oppose privatisation of regional electricity company in Cochabamba city.
Nationwide protests against third postponement of presidential election turned violent. Following late-July govt decision to delay polls for third time, indigenous and labour groups aligned with former President Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) party and led by Bolivian Workers’ Centre (COB) union early Aug erected over 75 road blockades across Bolivia; authorities justified postponement from 6 Sept to 18 Oct by need to avoid Sept projected peak in COVID-19 infections. After talks between COB and electoral authorities broke down 9 Aug, clashes erupted between protesters and armed individuals on blockade sites in La Paz and Cochabamba cities 10-11 Aug, leaving dozens injured. Interim govt 11 Aug deployed military to protect oxygen transport into cities for COVID-19 patients. Morales, exiled in Argentina, next day called for dialogue and lifting of blockades; COB by 14 Aug dismantled majority of blockades but some indigenous groups continued to demand resignation of interim President Áñez. Áñez 13 Aug signed new electoral law, which sets election date to 18 Oct and rules out further postponements. Two trade union headquarters in La Paz, including that of COB, were attacked with explosives 14 Aug; govt 17 Aug announced arrest of six members of anti-Morales group Resistencia de los Pititas. Justice ministry 20 and 24 Aug filed two criminal complaints against Morales over alleged sexual relationships with two minors. Unidentified assailants 26 Aug broke into Bolivian Ombudsman’s office in alleged attempt to attack Ombudsperson Nadia Cruz; UN next day called on interim govt to protect institution.
Amid public discontent, presidential election delay sparked renewed mobilisation against govt. Thousands 14 July protested interim govt in capital La Paz, defying COVID-19 restrictions; demonstrators voiced grievances over mass layoffs and govt health and education policies. Supreme Electoral Tribunal 23 July postponed presidential election from 6 Sept to 18 Oct, citing virus-related health crisis; exiled opposition leader and former President Evo Morales same day accused govt of unconstitutional move to “gain more time”. Influential union Bolivian Workers’ Centre (COB) 28 July marched in second-largest city El Alto against election delay, accusing govt of using pandemic to extend its powers; COB next day declared indefinite general strike and countrywide mobilisation; COB 30 July met with electoral authorities.
Govt increasingly relied on security forces to enforce COVID-19 quarantine and political tensions continued between interim govt and Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party of former President Morales. Defence Minister Luis Fernando López 4 April announced wider use of military to control compliance with COVID-19 quarantine; Interim President Áñez 14 April extended quarantine until 30 April. After Áñez closed all borders in March in attempt to curb spread of virus, thousands of Bolivians remained stranded in border towns in Chile awaiting authorisation to enter Bolivia; military 8 April fired tear gas to repel at least 300 people trying to cross border near Chilean border village of Colchane. As police tried to return to their post in Chapare province (after having left area in late-2019 following confrontation with coca growers in aftermath of Morales’ resignation), residents in Shinahota town 16 April violently expelled them; interim govt next day accused Morales of masterminding attacks. Attorney General 15 April ordered preventive detention of MAS figure Faustino Yucra for alleged terrorism and sedition. Electoral tribunal 25 April asked Congress to choose date between 28 June and 27 September for general elections rerun.
Authorities postponed general elections rerun due to disruptions caused by COVID-19 pandemic, while political tensions continued between interim President Áñez and Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party of former President Morales. After Áñez 21 March declared 14-day quarantine until 4 April in attempt to contain spread of coronavirus, Supreme Electoral Tribunal suspended presidential and legislative elections, originally scheduled for 3 May. Interim govt 17 March closed borders to non-residents and suspended all international flights in attempt to curb COVID-19 spread. MAS-dominated Legislative Assembly6 March passed motion of no-confidence against Defence Minister Luis Fernando López after he repeatedly refused to appear before chamber as part of parliamentary investigation into late 2019 post-electoral violence. Áñez dismissed López 9 March but swore him in again next day; MAS accused Áñez of “stepping on constitution”. Attorney General 6 March widened investigation against Morales over alleged terrorism to include fourteen MAS leaders.
Political tensions continued ahead of 3 May general elections rerun. After former President Morales, in exile in Argentina, early Feb registered as Senate candidate, Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) 20 Feb barred him from running on grounds that he does not reside in country. Morales 21 Feb denounced U.S. interference and “blow to democracy”, said he would appeal to Constitutional Court and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). TSE 20 Feb approved presidential candidacy of Morales’ party Movement toward Socialism nominee Luis Arce. Interim President Áñez 21 Feb demanded IACHR remove two members of its Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts created in late 2019 to investigate recent violence and human rights violations, Juan Méndez and Patricia Tappatá Valdez, claiming they are sympathetic to Morales. Attorney General 19 Feb opened criminal proceedings against Morales for alleged electoral fraud during Oct 2019 presidential election. Judge 2 Feb ordered six-month pre-trial detention of Morales’ legal representative on terrorism charges.
Political tensions continued but unrest in streets appeared to subside as electoral court formally called for new elections. Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) early Jan set general election rerun for 3 May. Constitutional court 15 Jan approved extension of mandate of national and local authorities, including president, deputies and senators until inauguration of new govt. Former President Morales, leading Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party’s electoral campaign, 19 Jan named former economy minister Luis Arce as MAS presidential candidate, and former FM David Choquehuanca for VP, after TSE late Dec dismissed requests to stop MAS from participating in election. Indigenous activists expressed discontent, and demanded Choquehuanca leads ticket. Judicial authorities 20 Jan launched investigation against Arce and other MAS leaders for alleged corruption. Interim President Jeanine Áñez 24 Jan announced her candidacy in presidential election after having ruled out running, sparking criticism from allies and opponents; after asking all ministers to resign for “new stage of democratic transition”, Áñez 28 Jan unveiled new cabinet, replacing three ministers. Interim govt 17 Jan deployed army in several cities and regions known to be Morales’s strongholds ahead of planned protests by indigenous groups on occasion of Plurinational State Day 22 Jan, also day that should have seen new govt take office following last Oct general elections; indigenous groups protested against interim govt notably in El Alto city and Chapare province but no major clashes reported. U.S. 23 Jan said it would send ambassador to Bolivia for first time in a decade. Interim govt 24 Jan cut diplomatic relations with Cuba in response to Havana’s alleged “constant hostility”.