In a big move that de-escalated the violence that has been plaguing the country, Bolivian Interim President Jeanine Anez has agreed to “pacify” the country, by withdrawing the military from the protest areas and repealing the law that gave the military broad powers in the use of force.
The deal struck with opposition leaders on Sunday is a first, but very big, step in bringing to an end the violence that has both crippled the country and killed over 30 people since the October 20 election. Allegations of vote-rigging and other impropriety against then-incumbent President Evo Morales triggered widespread protests. But the army and the police didn’t deter any protests until after Morales left office.
It was then that Morales allegedly urged his supporters to protest and to blockade key highways and commerce centers. That prodded the military and police to act; and they did so violently. Some of the protest leaders that support Morales claim that it was the army who killed most, if not all of the people. President Anez and the military have denied these charges.
Anez’s agreement with the opposition offers 12-points in return for the opposition leaders to stop the protests. These opposition groups consist of indigenous farmers and trade unions that were loyal to Morales. And while the agreement to stop the protests is significant to the government, it also was beneficial to the same farmers and unions as they, probably more than anyone, suffered the most.
However, the bigger part of the agreement was that the government set forth the legislation, which passed unanimously in the Bolivian Congress, that not only annulled the results of the earlier election but also paved the way for a new one that will not include Evo Morales. (Bolivian law mandates that a president not serve more than two terms, something Morales was flaunting.)
Anez is also meeting with Andronico Rodriguez, head of the coca growers association. Rodriguez was critical of Anez assuming the title of the presidency and cited the constitutional line of concession. However, once the Vice President and Head of the Senate resigned, she was, in fact, the next in line for the office.
After the agreement, Interim President Anez appeared on national television to assure the people of the government’s good intentions and to announce the deal. “It’s due to extreme necessity that the army was deployed,” she said. “It wasn’t to abuse anyone or to show power.”
She announced the withdrawal of the army from the protest areas, but was ambiguous when referring to what will happen if the situation reignites. “If there’s no need for the army to be in the streets, it won’t be,” she said.
The military will remain to guard certain strategically important sites against vandalism and they will also safeguard indigenous and social leaders, free the citizens arrested during the protests and provide compensation to the families of those killed.
One of Morales’ former key supporters was Juan Carlos Huarache, who heads the largest federation of labor unions. When the Organization of American States’ (OAS) audits showed clear election violations, and news of the rigged election became public he and his unions turned against the former president.
During the latest talks, Huarache acted as the chief mediator and embraced the pact.
“From this moment on there will be pacification, social peace, across the national territory,” he said. “We’ve advanced 99%.”
Meanwhile, Bolivian Interior Minister Arturo Murillo cited the audio recordings that the government claims came from Morales. According to the recordings Morales orchestrated the protests that spurred the killings. The current government wants their pound of flesh for that. Murillo stated that Morales should spend the rest of his life in prison.
“This is terrorism and this is sedition,” he said. “We have asked for the maximum sentence … of 30 years in prison.”
Murillo added: “Any terrorist should spend the rest of their life in prison – any terrorist – Evo Morales or whoever. It’s not about whether you’re an ex-president or white or black or a campesino … In fact, it’s even worse when it’s an ex-president. An ex-president should be sentenced twice over because people trust in their president.”
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