AP EXPLAINS: Bolivian opposition decides whether to resume protests

LA PAZ, Bolivia (HPD) — The leaders of civic groups and citizen platforms critical of the Bolivian government decide Wednesday in a town hall, a kind of mass assembly of the grassroots at the local level, whether to resume the protests they launched last week after almost 15 days of mobilizations and roadblocks in protest against the arrest of an opposition leader.

Santa Cruz, the region considered the economic engine of the country and opposition stronghold, rebelled against the imprisonment on charges of alleged terrorism of Luis Fernando Camacho, governor of that province and opponent of the management of President Luis Arce and that of Evo Morales in the past.

The call to the council is nationwide and meetings are planned in nine cities. In some cases, the civic movements seek to defend Camacho, but in others they are summoned against the Arce government.

The council of Santa Cruz is the one that has signs of becoming massive. Any citizen can attend these meetings to present their position so that the civic leadership can make a final decision on the course of the mobilizations or the opposition strategy to follow.

“We want a council of unity, of struggle that can lead us to long-term measures,” said the president of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, Rómulo Calvo. “Santa Cruz is the foundation of democracy… Because we do not accept authoritarianism, we do not accept that they want to impose a dictatorship in Bolivia,” he added.

Camacho, who is in pretrial detention for four months, faces charges for his participation and leadership in the 2019 social unrest that forced then-President Morales to resign after elections described as fraudulent by the Organization of American States (OAS) in the who was seeking his fourth term.

Next, HPD explains the origin and development of the conflict in the Andean nation.

WHY HAS A NATIONAL COUNCIL BEEN CONVENED?

Leaders of civic movements and citizen platforms critical of the government called for a national council, in which it will be decided whether to resume the days of protests and strikes. Opponents of the government aspire to gather more support in the western provinces of the country, where Camacho has not garnered the same sympathy as in his native Santa Cruz.

According to the Bolivian Electoral Regime Law, the assembly and the council have a deliberative character; Their decisions are not binding, but must be considered by the authorities of the movement that convenes the bases.

The governor of Santa Cruz, leader of the right-wing political force Creemos, the second in Congress, came out precisely from the ranks of a civic movement. Today he exercises his functions as governor from his cell.

The strong protests against the criminal process against Camacho left a balance of 27 institutions on fire, as well as 44 cars. There are more than 100 detainees, 27 of them charged with destruction, according to the Ministry of Government. The roadblocks left that department isolated for more than 15 days and this also affected the supply of food and prices in La Paz, the seat of government.

WHAT IS THE OPPOSITION LIKE WITHOUT THE MOST VISIBLE LEADER?

The opposition in Bolivia is wounded but not defeated. There are leaders from different fronts and they have raised their aspirations after the protests. Now they seriously consider that they have a chance of winning the Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) in the 2025 elections, say analysts.

“The opposition is scared, cornered, fearful but it is not headless,” reflects the political analyst Carlos Cordero. Although, the also professor at the Bolivian Catholic University (UCB) acknowledges that “it is affected, obviously.” Cordero believes that his goal is now in the 2025 elections, “although they will do it clandestinely out of fear.”

Deputy Tatiana Añez, spokesperson for the right-wing opposition force Creemos, has denounced that what the government party seeks is to carry out a “coup against the governorship, using the courts, so that Governor Camacho cannot exercise.”

According to his criteria, “with the use of the same tools they will go for mayors and governors who think differently and are contrary to the MAS,” he added.

For the analyst Paul Coca, the opposition is paying the bills after its mistakes in 2020 when Jeanine Áñez assumes the interim presidency. They could not unite, recalls Coca, to present a single front in the presidential elections that Arce ended up winning with 55%. “The opposition is in its labyrinth from which it seeks to get out,” Coca mentioned.

From parliament, the two opposition forces Comunidad Ciudadana (CC), led by former President Carlos Mesa (2003-2005), and Creemos, led by Camacho, have made complaints of political persecution at the national and international levels. They claim that there are close to 200 political prisoners in Bolivia.

DOES THE ARREST OF THE OPPOSITION PASS A BILL TO PRESIDENT ARCE?

Analysts consulted believe that the Bolivian president has remained in a kind of momentary strengthening among his bases, despite the pre-existing internal struggles between the president and his political mentor, Evo Morales.

Rolando Cuellar, a MAS deputy critical of Morales, assured that the government party received the support of all related social movements and that this is a sign of its strength.

The celebration of the Plurinational Day of the State of Bolivia, last Sunday, served as a thermometer of the social support that Arce’s management still has. The massive concentration in La Paz, seat of government, is interpreted as a contrasting response to the opposition mobilizations from Santa Cruz.

WHY IS CAMACHO FACING TERRORISM CHARGES?

The governor of Santa Cruz is being investigated for alleged charges of terrorism for his participation and leadership in the 2019 social outbreak that followed the failed elections of that year. Then-President Evo Morales was seeking a fourth consecutive term and ended up resigning from office. The OAS pointed out that the elections were fraudulent.

“The definition of terrorism in Bolivian law is so broad and vague that it allows for its arbitrary and political use,” said César Muñoz, associate director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch (HRW).

According to the Bolivian Penal Code, anyone who commits crimes against common security, public health or attacks against means of transportation can be accused of “terrorism; or against the security and integrity of foreign heads of state or other authorities to intimidate or maintain alarm in the population or force a government or international organization to carry out an act or refrain from doing so; subvert or alter the constitutional order or depose the elected government”, among other factual situations such as seizing an airplane.

The government, as the accusing party appearing through the Ministry of the Government, asked to expand the investigation for active bribery and seduction of troops. They accuse Camacho of having made money deposits to soldiers, including a military chief.

After the 2010 protests, which left 37 dead, the then opposition senator Jeanine Áñez took over as interim president.

The MAS, Morales and Arce have closed ranks and maintain that it was a coup, while the opposition defends that it was a social reaction to electoral fraud. Áñez is in a jail in the center of La Paz, accused of having exercised the position “illegally” and in the first instance she received a sentence of 10 years in prison, her defense has appealed.

Morales had been questioned by the opposition for not respecting the results of a referendum prior to the elections. The “no” was imposed on February 21, 2016 with 51% of the former president’s intention to seek re-election. The Political Constitution of the State allows re-election only once.

Despite the response from the polls, Morales went to the Constitutional Court, which empowered him to run “indefinitely” in the elections on the grounds that re-election is a human right, which also generated protests.

JUSTICE OR REVANCHISM?

Camacho’s imprisonment has been interpreted from two points of view. His detractors talk about the criminal proceedings against him for terrorism as justice, while his supporters -and he himself- talk about political revenge.

The political analysts consulted agree that it is about revenge. They remember that during the Áñez administration there were also arrests for the same crime of “terrorism” of several former officials of the Morales government.

The Arce government defends that it is about justice for the lives that were lost.

However, the vice president of the country, David Choquehuanca, admitted on Sunday that justice is politicized. He denounced Machiavellian attacks that “injure, destroy and do not propose anything to heal the deep wounds of the multinational identity” and assured that it is a legacy of the “Republican State.”

The controversy has put the focus once again on a questioned justice system, both nationally and internationally, for lack of independence. António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations Organization (UN), asked Bolivia to guarantee transparency in the judicial processes after Camacho’s arrest.

HOW MUCH HAVE THE BLOCKADES AFFECTED ECONOMICALLY?

The Minister of Public Works, Edgar Montaño, reported a national economic damage of four million dollars. From business sectors they point out that the economic losses are greater.

IS THERE MORE POLARIZATION NOW?

Camacho’s arrest has reignited the polarization. According to political analysts, the country has not yet been able to overcome the political crisis of 2019 and this manifests itself in a polarized society on the verge of overflowing.

“The politicians do not realize that it is obvious that the fight is between them, and with that they seek to confront us among Bolivians. Politicians, Bolivia is one”, settled Juana Soleto, a vendor from La Paz.

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