Bolivia: signs of de-escalation following dialogue

Rafael Quispe

Bolivia’s Plurinational Legislative Assembly on Nov. 23 passed¬†an “Exceptional & Transitional Regime Law” that annus last month’s¬†contested¬†elections¬†and calls for new elections to be held within 120 days‚ÄĒwithout Evo Morales as a candidate. The date for the new polls is to be set¬†once new members of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal are appointed.¬†The pact follows talks mediated by the¬†Catholic Church and the European Union¬†between the new government of interim¬†president Jeanine A√Īez¬†and leaders of the ousted Morales’¬†party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), which continues to hold a majority in both houses of the Assembly.¬†(EuroNews, Nov. 25;¬†PaginaSiete, La Paz,¬†AP, Nov. 24;¬†Reuters, Nov. 23)

“We are going to participate in the elections and we are going to do it with young candidates, especially for president and vice-president,”¬†Henry Cabrera, MAS vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies, told Reuters before the new law approved. “We are not going to recycle candidates.”¬†(Reuters, Nov. 21)

But the day before the law was approved, the new regime’s Government Minister Arturo Murillo called a press conference to announce that he is opening a criminal case against Evo Morales on “terrorism and sedition” charges, and would seek a 30-year prison term for the ousted president. Murillo presented as evidence a video recording in which Morales, now exiled in Mexico, appears to be calling on his supporters to “strangle” Bolivian cities by erecting roadblocks to cut off fuel and food. (The Guardian, Nov. 24; BBC News, Unitel, Bolivia, Nov. 22)

The video, supposedly recovered when National Police broke up an indigenous roadblock in Santa Cruz department, is said to show a speaker-phone conversation between Morales and a local supporter on the ground. The supporter¬†is identified as¬†Faustino Yucra Yarwui, a cocalero leader who has been fugutive from narco-trafficking charges since 2016. In the video, the voice purported to be that of Morales can be heard saying: “Brother, don’t let food enter the cities, we’ll block it. It’s a real siege… We are going to win. If the Assembly rejects my resignation, I will try whatever it takes to get back, even if they arrest me.”¬†(PanAm Post, Nov. 26; Los Tiempos, Los Tiempos, Cochcabamba, Nov. 25; Eju!, Santa Cruz, Nov. 22;¬†Los Tiempos, Nov. 20)

Morales responded on¬†Twitter¬†that the government is investigating him on the basis of¬†“manipulated recordings,” while for the “30¬†brothers assassinated in #Bolivia by bullet, there is no investigation, no one held responsible or detained.”

After days of unrest and deadly repression since Morales’ ouster, however, there are signs of de-escalation. As a fruit of the dialogue, leaders of the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, the coca-growers union once led by Morales, agreed on Nov. 26 to dismantle the roadblocks they had been maintaining in the Chapare region since the change of regime two weeks ago. A key concession was the government’s agreement to overturn √Ā√Īez’s Supreme Decree 4078, which exempted the security forces from legal responsibility for acts of repression. (ANF, Nov. 26)

In another sign of de-escalation, lawmaker Rafael Quispe,¬†a traditional Aymara leader from La Paz department and a leading figure in the indigenous opposition to Evo Morales, was sworn in by √Ā√Īez on Nov. 26 as the new leader of Bolivia’s Indigenous Fund (FONDIOC), a body formerly shaken by corruption scandals.¬†Quispe appeared at the ceremony in full Aymara regalia‚ÄĒweating a¬†lluch‚Äôu,¬†traditional bowler-type hat,¬†and¬†poncho, and holding a¬†chicote, or staff of authority, along with coca-leaf and other sacred herbs‚ÄĒsurrounded by a delegation of indigenous leaders from across the Altiplano.¬†(P√°ginaSiete, El Pais, Tarija, Nov. 26)

Photo of Rafael Quispe being sworn in via El Pais, Tarija