Bolivia’s Postcoup President Jeanine Áñez Has Been Brought to Justice

Ex-president Jeanine Áñez has been found guilty for helping to orchestrate the right-wing coup that brought her to power in 2019. The judgment is an essential step to protect the integrity of Bolivia’s democracy.


Former Bolivian president Jeanine Áñez, who took power in the country’s 2019 right-wing coup, photographed on January 3, 2020. (Asamblea Legislativa Plurinacional / Bolivia)

Last month in Bolivia, former president Jeanine Áñez was handed a guilty verdict for overthrowing the elected government in 2019, then led by Evo Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party. She has been sentenced to ten years in prison, which is five years less than the prosecutors demanded. The court found that the coup d’état involved three violations of the senate’s rules, three violations of the Rules of the Chamber of Deputies, and nine violations of the Constitution of the Plurinational State.

Áñez has attempted to claim that the decision was politically motivated, but only the Right agrees with her. “Mrs. Áñez has made full use of due process in the lawsuit to the point of abusing it,” said constitutional lawyer Israel Quino,

and this puts her in a position where she cannot claim — not tomorrow, not the day afterward, and not in any international arena — that the court did not act with all due diligence, because she has exhausted every available judicial recourse to the point of engaging in dubious legal machinations.

Áñez’s attorneys dragged out the legal proceedings for as long as possible. In the last week of the trial, she was even falling asleep in court, turning her camera off unexpectedly, and insisting she was too tired to listen. (The doctors, always at her side, said she was fully capable of doing so.)

At the request of the MAS government, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was present throughout the proceedings to offer oversight. Nonetheless, the Right plans to appeal, alleging that the trial is a mockery.


Popular Demands

For its part, MAS has declared that other major players involved in Morales’s ouster must also be brought to trial. It has identified twelve individuals at the center of the coup. Constitutional law expert Franklin Gutiérrez underscored the point, arguing that Añez “did not act alone. In the thick of it all were other intellectual authors.”

In an effort to resist the court’s ruling, the Right is once again calling for civilian mobilizations — so far, these have been negligible — as well as calling for the defilement of the Wiphala.

In the high Andes, the Aymara ex-congresswoman Lidia Patty — who filed the charges against the coup leaders — is receiving constant death threats. A campesina who proudly wears her full traditional dress, she has called for government protection ever since MAS was voted back into power in October of 2020. After the sentence was handed down, the driver of a car tried his best to run her over. Patty told the network of social movement radios that, “All I seek is justice for the victims of 2019 and not political persecution as the Right maintains.”

The Pact of Unity, which embraces the entire sweep of indigenous movements and represents millions, declared itself in a state of emergency to guard against new coup plans. These forces on the Left compelled the coup regime to hold democratic elections in 2020.


A Perfect Storm

Some of the Right’s favorite heroes face charges in a lawsuit that has just been announced against the paramilitary leaders of Cochabamba. They are accused of exercising uncommon cruelty against indigenous women in the days before the coup regime took power. Parastate forces organized to defend the city from “savage hordes,” as they called them, who were overwhelmingly peasant women and children, marching peacefully. In recent weeks, appalling new evidence has emerged of rapes committed by paramilitaries on that occasion.

At the same time, atrocities committed by the police during the coup era are coming under increased scrutiny, and paramilitary forces who worked hand in glove with the police have been charged with the crimes they perpetrated against indigenous women in 2019.

Public television channels have been filled with Quechua women giving testimony of the attack of November 6, 2019, when paramilitaries directed their blows at people’s faces, aiming to break noses. One woman was bleeding so badly she could not see, she said. Another went in and out of consciousness. The press reported over sixty people injured on that day. Patricia Arce, now a national MAS senator, said last week in an interview that “it was the police who instructed the paramilitaries. They gave them military training.” She herself was bloodied and brutalized by the Cochabamba paramilitaries.

Once she seized the presidential palace on November 12, Áñez absolved the police force together with the army of any injuries they might cause as they secured her rule. She issued a presidential decree known by the poor as “a license to kill.” It was then that the killing began in earnest.


Standoff

International progressives have praised the Bolivian court’s decision as a watershed moment that will help deter future coups in other countries as well. For its part, the Bolivian right has redoubled its efforts to win support from its foreign allies. Reactionary presidents in Latin America along with some prominent far-right Europeans are demanding that the trial be overturned, and the British government is casting doubt on the integrity of Bolivia’s judicial system. Many of the old lies are being recycled, but they are producing some new ones as well.

As has been the case for the past three years, the Right maintains that there was election fraud in 2019 when Evo Morales was seeking reelection. Numerous, painstakingly rigorous investigations — at both the international and national levels — have found that not to be the case, but the Right insists it was middle-class protest that was the motor for regime change.

Similarly, a campaign of deliberate misinformation is taking place with the intention of erasing the memory of Áñez’s violence, including massacres and the torture of prisoners. If such things are mentioned at all in the corporate media, it is only with the intent to blame the victims, suggesting the poor incurred their injuries by their own riotous behavior. Video evidence shows the poor were marching or yelling, not rioting. It was the police who rioted against their elected commander in chief, opening the road to Áñez’s self-proclamation as president.

At stake in this trial are antithetical claims. On the one side, the popular classes are seeking justice for the violence and systematic persecution they suffered under the coup regime. On the other side stand the elite minorities who believe they are under siege by the people organizing to overcome the domination they have endured.

At stake in all this is the question of class. The majority of Bolivians are indigenous and poor, and they are seeking the redistribution of resources as well as the meaningful expansion of Bolivia’s democracy. To simply call the situation “polarized” — that beloved word of the liberal media — evades the reality of a massively popular MAS government, serving to lift up the country’s poor.