Their reasoning was that the statistical projections calculated by the OAS observation team showed that it would be impossible for the last 5% of ballots to push Morales ahead for a definitive win. While several reputable analysts showed that the push ahead for Morales was consistent with previous election patterns, these reports were ignored. In the spring of 2020, a definitive report was published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) followed by another data analysis published in the fall, both demonstrating that the OAS claims of fraud were false. Yet, in the midst of mounting protests by opposition to Morales in the days following the election, including paramilitary violence, Morales ultimately acceded to a runoff election. Rather than upholding what would have been a regulation-required runoff, however, the OAS intervention opened an opportunity for the opposition to escalate. Just days later, under significant duress, violence, and the defection of the military, Morales was forced to flee the country. Officials following Morales were assaulted, imprisoned, and their houses burned by opposition militia.
With Morales gone, second vice president of the Senate Jeanine Añez installed herself as interim president, an office whose sole charge was to preside over another general election. Añez would end up serving for a year, repeatedly postponing the election, and outright rejecting a mandate by the Assembly to hold new elections within 90 days. Later, when it was already clear that the elections would not take place, Añez remained in office with claims that it was impossible for a transition to take place due to COVID concerns. In November 2019, a Harvard Law survey cited a thirty day period under Añez as containing the second most civilian deaths at the hands of the state since Bolivia became a democracy four decades earlier.
Two days after assuming office on November 14, 2019 Añez issued a decree giving carte blanche protection to state forces wounding and killing protestors. This remained in place for two weeks as federal troops and police used live ammunition on pro-Morales protestors, killing three dozen and wounding hundreds. With this decree, the coup enabled a campaign of violence with paramilitary groups assassinating MAS leadership and civilians including massacres of Morales supporters. Armed men kidnapped Patricia Arce, mayor of Vinto, cutting her hair, drenching her in red paint, and parading her through the streets while they demanded that she renounce support of Morales. Twenty-three civilians would be killed by state forces and 210 more injured before the start of December.
Meanwhile, the White House issued a statement “[applauding] the Bolivian people for demanding freedom and the Bolivian military for abiding by its oath to protect not just a single person, but Bolivia’s constitution.” Upholding the OAS, and ignoring analysis that showed that Morales’ lead was in fact legitimate, on December 9th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a report stating that “[t]he United States commends the professional work of the Organization of American States (OAS) electoral audit mission in Bolivia” insisting again that election irregularities warranted the intervention. Perhaps to appear even-handed, the OAS issued a statement denouncing the violence, and yet never apologized for nor acknowledged their role in instigating the conflict.
A Larger View of Accountability
Finally in October 2020 the long-awaited elections were held. Luis Arce, the MAS party candidate, and a former minister under Morales, won handily, and in early November took office without issue. After months of unchecked violence, it appeared this episode in Bolivian history would soon be forgotten and there would be no recompense for the people brutalized by the Añez regime.
Then, on Saturday March 13, 2021, Añez was arrested and charged with acts of sedition, terrorism, and conspiracy. The former president was jailed pending trial, as were some of her interim ministers. That same day Añez’ verified Twitter account put out a statement calling for the UN and OAS to send observers to Bolivia in response to her arrest, claiming the country was becoming a dictatorship. Despite her role in enabling the extrajudicial killings of pro-Morales protestors, the OAS was quick to defend Añez effectively allowing her to escape culpability for her actions and those of her administration.
Within 48 hours the OAS released a statement expressing concern over the prosecution of coup leaders. The statement cites judicial impartiality in the courts “due to structural problems and, in particular, its composition.” Further the OAS cites “the cancellation or dismissal of different trials against MAS supporters” as proof of partisan misconduct, a position based on the assumption that MAS supporters who were rounded up and incarcerated during the interim government were correctly charged. Evidently, to the member states of the OAS, prosecution for crimes committed while in office is condemnable factionalism while the imprisonment of your opponent’s voters is not. Rather than seeking amends for the wrongful seizure of power and state sponsored terrorism in the country under Añez, the statement further outlined the recommendation that Morales’ government be investigated for “corruption.” The statement of the OAS effectively became a second intervention serving to undermine the judicial process and stage impunity for the violence committed under Añez.
Yet how Añez and her ilk were capable of doing such violence in the first place must be centered to ensure there are none like her in the future. From the moment she took office, President Añez signaled to her supporters that the new government would tolerate and encourage bigotry and violence towards MAS’s largely indigenous base and their traditional practices. Acts of individual violence and hate speech towards indigenous Bolivians during this period were so rampant that even mainstream American media took notice.