Bolivia’s bishops lament ‘deplorable’ human rights situation

The inauguration of Luis Arce as president of Bolivia in La Paz, Nov. 8, 2020. Credit: Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile via Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0 CL). / null

La Paz, Bolivia, Aug 31, 2021 / 16:10 pm (CNA).

The bishops of Bolivia expressed Monday their concern “over the deplorable human rights situation in the country and the manipulation of the administration of justice.”

In an Aug. 30 message the bishops said that the “judicial system has become a tool of revenge in the hands of those who hold power” and ignores the “set of rights and freedoms in democracy, typical of a state with the rule of law.”

Jeanine Áñez, who served as the country’s interim president from November 2019 to November 2020, was arrested in March on charges of terrorism, sedition, and conspiracy.

The justice system, the bishops said, ignores “the separation of powers, seriously harming democracy and causes so many citizens to suffer and be defenseless.”

“In a democratic country, it’s unacceptable that between 70 and 75% of the prison population hasn’t been sentenced and has been deprived of their freedom, often in subhuman conditions,” they stated.

“Let’s not forget that the life and dignity of every person are fundamental and inalienable human rights and that we all must respect and submit to the truth of the facts,” they added.

The bishops said in their statement that Áñez’ situation is “especially concerning, as her right to freely defend herself and have due process were obviously infringed, in addition to the merciless treatment she received.”

“You cannot continue to ignore the fundamental rights recognized by our Constitution and ignore the principle of the presumption of innocence; even less so, to use it arbitrarily,” they stressed.

The Bolivian bishops called for a “true reform of the judicial system that restores the transparent, impartial and independent administration of justice” because “only in this way can the rule of law and democracy, the dignity of every person and the good common, unity and true and full development of our society be guaranteed.”

For this to occur, they said a “broad national agreement is required, in which all political and social sectors have representation, with a spirit of dialogue, peace and mutual respect.”

Citizens also have to work together for reconciliation and “to create a fraternal and peaceful climate, setting aside divisions, even verbal violence, and looking for what unites us,” they said.

“We are all called to reconciliation and peace, because what defiles us does not come from the outside but from the heart.”

Áñez, who was the vice-president of the Senate, became interim president following the constitutional order of succession to the presidency when Evo Morales, then-president of Bolivia, fled the country in November 2019 after weeks of protest regarding a disputed election.

According to the electoral commission Morales won on the October 2019 election’s first round, but the opposition claimed fraud. The Organization of American States said Nov. 10, 2019 that there was “clear manipulation” in the election, and that it was statistically improbable that Morales had won by the margin needed to avoid a runoff.

Within hours of the OAS report, Morales resigned, after being encouraged to do so by the head of the Bolivian armed forces. He fled to Mexico, receiving asylum there, and then in Argentina.

Áñez served as interim president for one year until new presidential elections were held in which Luis Arce, a member of the Movement for Socialism, won the presidency.

During Áñez’s administration, the political crisis worsened and, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the country was plunged into an economic crisis.

Morales returned to the country Nov. 11, 2020, the first day of the Arce administration, and Áñez was arrested March 12 by order of the Bolivian Prosecutor’s Office.

Along with Áñez, the former interim Minister of Energy, Álvaro Guzmán Collao, and the former temporary Minister of Justice, Álvaro Coímbra Cornejo, were arrested.

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