The members of the Argentine Delegation in Solidarity with Bolivia hereby offer to international public opinion the preliminary conclusions of our observation mission on the situation of human, social, political and cultural rights of the Bolivian people.
It should be noted that the delegation was composed of a multidisciplinary team of prominent professionals and leaders of social movements who conducted visits, interviews and meetings with victims of human rights violations, persecuted politicians and other relevant actors for a thorough understanding of the critical situation in the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
Specifically, testimonies were taken from a hundred people in a safe location in the town of El Alto, private homes of other victims were visited, hospitalized people were visited and meetings were held in different parts of La Paz with political actors and urban, peasant and indigenous social movements. The delegation was unable to carry out all the activities planned because of the explicit threats made by (de facto) Government Minister Arturo Murillo and the actions of civilian shock groups.
After making a preliminary analysis of the information gathered, this delegation affirms the following:
Political Context: Coup d’etat and the de facto government
1. The Plurinational State of Bolivia suffered a coup d’état planned by so-called civic groups, business sectors, police personnel and high ranking members of the Armed Forces with the aim of overthrowing President Evo Morales and establishing a de facto government. This coup had the explicit support of foreign governments including Donald Trump who congratulated the country’s Armed Forces for their actions that disrupted the constitutional order. We also have testimonies of multiple contacts of foreign officials with key actors in the coup, particularly with Fernando Camacho.
2. The promoters of the coup coordinated actions in order to provoke a situation of terror in society and destabilization of the constitutional government with a term of office ending on January 22. The physical and psychological aggressions were aimed at breaking up the governing political-social front in order to first consummate and then consolidate the coup d’état. This process deepened after the disputed elections of October 20 and was completely detonated from a “preliminary communiqué” of the OAS. This communiqué radicalized the coup positions, amplifying the confrontation at a time of high social upheaval. This communiqué was not foreseen in the Agreement signed between the OAS and the Plurinational State. This fact added to the irresponsible declarations of Mr. Luis Almagro leads us to conclude that there was a clear political purpose, alien to the spirit of the electoral audit. It is worth noting that to date the final report on the audit has not been published.
3. This Delegation corroborated that there was a coordinated action directed particularly against the leadership of the social movements grouped in the Unity Pact and the Central Obrera Boliviana. We have extensive documentation on multiple coercions on leaders and family members to adopt positions against their will for fear of losing their lives and freedom. As a result of this strategy of intimidation, the actors in the coup partially achieved their objective of dividing the social resistance against the coup process, first, and the de facto government, later.
4. The resignation of Evo Morales, Álvaro García Linera, Adriana Salvatierra and other officials and governors from different levels of government were a direct consequence of the pressure exerted by the high command of the Armed Forces. Likewise, multiple threats against the rulers, public humiliations, physical aggressions and attacks on family homes were contributing factors. The headquarters of the public and community media were taken over by coup groups.
However, it should be noted that in no case were the legal procedures for declaring such resignations valid complied with, making them non-existent legal acts.
5. In spite of this, the de facto government carried out a manoeuvrer without the slightest vestige of legality to attempt to legitimize new authorities. Thus, Bolivian citizen Janine Áñez proclaimed herself president of the Senate, first, and president of the Plurinational State, later, in parliamentary sessions that did not meet the formal or substantial requirements for that purpose. The act of affixing the presidential sash by the Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces, Williams Kalimán, is eloquent in this regard.
6. From that moment on, the de facto government adopted a policy of clear dictatorial and repressive dyes against the deposed authorities, the political and social leaders related to the constitutional government and all the most vulnerable sectors of the population, particularly that belonging to the original peoples. Likewise, an expansion of authoritarian practices against sectors of other political and social spaces is beginning to be glimpsed. In this context, there have been serious violations of human rights that are already systematic and therefore constitute crimes against humanity.
Human rights violations
We have confirmed that the repressive system set up by the de facto government has caused dozens of deaths, hundreds of arbitrary detentions, thousands of wounded, countless cases of intimidation and torture, rape and other crimes against the physical, psychological and sexual integrity of the victims, who are men, women, children, the elderly and members of vulnerable groups.
This delegation was able to ascertain the existence of the following situations:
1. Massacres perpetrated against the civilian population:
a. Sacaba (Cochabamba) with at least six dead, hundreds injured and arbitrary detentions after the actions of the Armed Forces.
b. Senkata (Ciudad del Alto) with at least nine dead, missing persons, hundreds of wounded and arbitrary detentions, as a consequence of the actions of the Armed Forces.
2. Enforced disappearance of persons
This delegation was able to verify situations of forced disappearances of persons, to which is added a significant number of persons who are supposedly detained in state facilities but whose relatives have not been able to contact them and about whom the de facto government has not provided information regarding their whereabouts.
3. Torture, rape and sexual offences
This delegation was able to verify situations of torture in public spaces and state agencies. We also noted various cases of rape and serious sexual abuse by members of the armed and security forces.
We received testimony on these crimes, in some cases from the victims themselves and in other cases from other witnesses. Fear is installed and the events are very recent, which inhibits the actions of denunciation by the population.
4. Attacks against governors, legislators, officials and their families
This delegation was able to observe a significant number of attacks against public officials and their families by clash groups with intimidation methods that included the destruction of private homes, fires, destruction of family homes, public humiliation and lynchings. The situations surveyed indicate that “liberated zones” have been set aside for vigilante groups. The main shock group was the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista.
5. Selective persecution of social movement leaders
This delegation was able to verify the irruption and destruction of private homes, particularly in the Alto and Chapare areas, carried out by the armed forces with the aim of capturing various social, trade union, indigenous and peasant leaders. In addition to persecution, all these groups have had their most basic rights adversely affected.
6. Blacklisting of political and social leaders and denial of the right to defence
Several witnesses have reported the existence of blacklists. This situation coincides with the public statements of Minister Murillo who said: “There are senators, deputies and deputies, not all of them, a few, that I am going to start publishing their names, that they are making subversion (…). As of Monday I am going to order, I already have lists that the same leaders of several zones are passing me, they are going to begin to stop them with fiscal orders”.
Likewise, we have verified that numerous militants and political leaders, as well as officials of the overthrown government, who are detained, lack any procedural guarantee. In particular, they have been denied the right to private and public defence. In this regard, public defenders have expressed their fear of assuming such defences.
7. Repression of public demonstrations
Several cases of repression by the security forces and the Armed Forces with absolutely disproportionate use of violence were observed. The accounts and evidence collected describe the indiscriminate use of firearms, tear gas, helicopter gunfire, bursts of fire from military vehicles and beatings of demonstrators dispersed by force. Thousands of people were arbitrarily imprisoned and criminalized on the basis of forged police procedures, and prosecuted for sedition and terrorism.
8. Manifest restriction of press freedom
The delegation has contacted journalists from local media who have reported being victims of harassment, threats and restrictions on the necessary freedom to exercise their profession. The international press has also been the victim of harassment. The case of the Argentine journalist Sebastián Moro is particularly grave for this delegation.
9. Promotion of racism and hate speech
We have noted the use of racist and hate speeches by representatives of the de facto government to disqualify opposition leaders and social movements. Discriminatory and stigmatizing practices have been verified against the victims of repression. Other forms of symbolic violence are also significant, for example, the destruction of emblems of indigenous peoples such as the Wiphala flag.
10. Denial of safe conduct for politically persecuted persons with requests for refuge accepted by receiving countries.
We have verified that in various embassies and consular delegations there are people persecuted by the de facto government who have been denied the necessary guarantees to be able to leave the country.
11. Inaction and cover-up by the judiciary
The judiciary is under the de facto government. Victims and family members were coerced to change their statements, including in hospitals as a condition for treatment. We have seen a situation of absolute impediment to access to justice.
It was impossible for this delegation to meet with officials of the judiciary, the public accusation or the public defense, despite repeated requests.
12. Police and parapolice harassment of international human rights delegations, including espionage operations and illegal wiretapping.
This delegation was able to observe, in its own experience, the harassment suffered by various human rights groups. In particular, our delegation was held at Santa Cruz de la Sierra airport, where it was separated from the rest of the passengers and questioned in an isolated place, with police and military presence, in a totally unusual practice with respect to the usual immigration controls.
Some members of the delegation were subjected to an exhaustive requisition for which they were required to undress. After we were allowed to continue towards our connection to La Paz, we were approached by a group of approximately twelve people dressed in civilian clothes, in a corridor of the airport that was curiously deserted in which only members of the security forces who let this group act were present. These people assaulted us verbally and physically and threatened us.
The following day, Government Minister Arturo Murillo, referring to the events of the previous night, said the following: “We recommend to those foreigners who are arriving in the country, made the tame popcorn, to try to set fire to the country, to be careful, we are watching them, we are following them, we are seeing what they are doing”. “In the first false step that they give trying to make terrorism and sedition, they will see it with the police. The police are attentive and have the order not to allow the country to be damaged, there is no tolerance with terrorism, sedition and armed movements.
In the afternoon, a group of Delegation that had gone to visit a senator on hunger strike in the National Assembly, were victims of harassment and harassment by shock groups there were waiting for them.
At all times, during our visit to Bolivia, we have been watched, followed and spied on in all the activities we do.
It should be noted that the armed forces and police had a cloak of impunity for their repressive actions as a result of Supreme Decree 4078 and Brigadier General Luis Salazar Escobar’s circular allowing for the establishment of “military zones”. These and other elements, added to public statements by high officials, leave no doubt to establish the systematic nature of these violations of human rights and state crimes, which is why this Delegation considers that they fall into the category of crimes against humanity.
We call on international human rights organizations and the entire international community to commit themselves to the protection of human, civil, political, social and cultural rights that are threatened by the current state of affairs and that have been systematically violated by the de facto government.
Faced with this situation, the opening of an electoral process in the next one hundred and twenty days, which implies the recovery of the full validity of democracy and the rule of law in the Plurinational State of Bolivia, will only be possible to the extent that the rights that are systematically violated today are guaranteed. In particular, we have received reports of persecution of political, social and trade union activists who refer to harassment and the absolute impossibility of exercising their right of assembly and any activity necessary for participation in that process. For this, the participation of external observers will be indispensable.
The Delegation will draft and release, in the coming days, a full report detailing each of the cases relieved in the framework of our visit.
Translation by Internationalist 360º