The Sacaba and Senkata Massacres: How State Terrorism Operates in Bolivia

Mison Verdad

After a few days of gathering information in El Alto, the delegation assigned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for Bolivia, headed by Pablo Abrao, affirmed that “there are no guarantees” for an impartial investigation into the November massacres perpetrated by the armed forces and police that were part of the coup d’état against Evo Morales.

The victims of the massacres in Senkata (El Alto) and Sacaba (Cochabamba) gave testimony of the events to the IACHR, which being the human rights wing of the Organization of American States (OAS), it is paradoxical that a voice is raised in solidarity with those who have suffered the most after the change of regime.

The IACHR rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, Francisco José Eguiguren, said in an interview with CNN that the entity is going to propose “that an interdisciplinary and international group of experts should be constituted,” which should investigate “in depth the events that occurred after the resignation of President Morales and the electoral annulment, which have caused at least two clearly verified massacres, one in El Alto and the other in Cochabamba”.

This initiative was supported by deposed Morales, who has been denouncing the process of persecution and political repression carried out by the de facto government headed by the self-proclaimed senator Jeanine Áñez since his exile in Mexico.

We support @IACHR’s proposal to form an external group to investigate the massacres of the de facto government. This support is urgent because in #Bolivia there is no rule of law that provides guarantees for national human rights organizations, which are besieged by fascist clash groups.

– Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) November 30, 2019

On the other hand, another delegation, from Argentina, went to corroborate the allegations of human rights violations in Bolivia, an investigation that was aggressively torpedoed both by citizens who support the current de facto government and by “minister” Arturo Murillo himself.

The Argentine delegation corroborated, through the compilation of information, testimonies and first-hand data, that “crimes against humanity” have been committed in Bolivia after the inauguration of Áñez.  Quoting  Página/12:

“The delegation spoke of ‘systematic human rights violations’ after having corroborated crimes such as ‘forced disappearance of persons’, ‘situations of torture in public spaces’, ‘rape and sexual crimes’ and ‘lack of procedural guarantees for detainees’, among other crimes that account for ‘the situation of terror’ they found there.

“The delegation said they had evidence of the ‘explicit support’ of foreign countries in the coup d’état that overthrew Evo Morales. We have testimonies of multiple contacts of foreign officials with key actors in the coup, particularly with Fernando Camacho,” they underscored when detailing the particular context in which the human rights violations were unleashed.

“We have verified 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 pressure, 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 collectives,’ they said.

“The interdisciplinary group also placed special emphasis on ‘coordinated massacres against the civilian population’, referring specifically to the repressive attack in Senkata, when the military opened fire on a fuel plant.

In total, the Argentine delegation denounced 11 crimes framed in the violation of fundamental rights recognized by international law.

We share our preliminary statement on the situation in Bolivia. We request maximum circulation:

– Deleg Argentina Solidarity with the Bolivian people (@DelegArgBolivia) November 30, 2019

It is clear that the characterization of massacre applies, in the opinion of the IACHR and the independent group referred to, to what happened in mid-November in the context of the coup in Bolivia.

The facts

On November 15, the self-proclaimed Jeanine Áñez signed a decree authorizing the military to use “all available means” to neutralize the massive demonstrations against the coup.

Article 3 of the so-called supreme decree number 4.078 established: “The personnel of the armed forces participating in operations for the restoration of internal order and public stability shall be exempt from criminal responsibility when, in the performance of their constitutional functions, they act in legitimate defense or in a state of necessity and proportionality, in accordance with Articles 11 and 12 of the Penal Code. Law 1760 and the Code of Criminal Procedure”.

The next article states that the military “must frame their actions in accordance with the Manual on the Use of Force approved by supreme decree 27.977 dated 14 January 2005, and may use all available means that are proportional to the risk of the operations”.

This de facto government decree constructed the “legal” framework for the two greatest repressive acts in Bolivia since Evo Morales was deposed.

It was that same day, November 15, when nine (9) people were massacred with bullets by the armed forces and police in El Alto, coca growers of the original peoples marching in Sacaba (Cochabamba) towards La Paz due to the unconstitutional degradation of the Wiphala, representative flag of the plurinational State, and against the coup d’état and repression.

The number of wounded rose to 122.
The definitive data are from the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo).

The testimonies speak of the terror experienced by the survivors and the wounded, who were unarmed before the military-police front that shot at the crowds of people protected by a decree that was highly criticized by their victims. Most of the victims were part of the union structure of the Coordinadora de las Seis Federaciones del Trópico de Cochabamba.

The next day, November 16, another demonstrator was murdered in Sacaba.

On November 19, in Senkata (El Alto), in front of the Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales Bolivianos fuel plant, military-police repression killed seven people. Sixty were also injured. All by bullet impact.

A video was made viral at the site where a doctor denounces the massacre while helping the wounded, who was then unjustly detained by the government of Áñez due to the audiovisual, a gesture of judicial retaliation. The doctor asked for help and said that “they are killing us like dogs”.

The next day, as part of the same repression operation at the plant, since the official order was to recover the flow of fuel to La Paz, a person was killed by the military-police apparatus. On November 22, another victim was massacred.

Reports and autopsies indicate that the deaths of both massacres were caused by impacts to the head and torso, more than enough to show that they were shooting to kill. Licensed to slaughter.

It must be said that the operation was “successful”, as it neutralized the resistance of the anti-coup demonstrators by force of blood and mud.

Since the beginning of the Bolivian conflict, the Ombudsman’s Office reports that there have been 34 deaths, 832 wounded and 54 detained.

The latest victim of the repression in El Alto was the death of one person on November 27. Ten people died in the Senkata massacre.

On Thursday, November 28, Áñez withdrew Decree No. 4,078, alleging that his government had achieved the “longed-for pacification” of Bolivia.

Government of Facto de Bolivia abrogated a decree that exempted the Armed Forces from criminal responsibility in repression actions

– Larissa Costas (@Larissacostas) November 28, 2019

With this cessation of immunity from official repression, an operation of whitewashing of the massacres culminated that began with the words of the coup apparatus amplified by media allied to regime change. A testimony from Senkata said: “They are killing us and there is no Bolivian channel”.

Media coverage of the crime

What the media projects until the present day is that Morales was a “dictator” who “sought his own coup,” a line of opinion shared both by Infobae columnists and by a certain “left”. The so-called “civil society” leaders, especially the wealthy businessmen of Santa Cruz (Bolivian economic center), along with “young students” and “ordinary people” achieved a propitious climax for the “recovery of democracy”.

The narratives for a regime change do not differ much from the manual if it is a coup d’état tutored by the OAS and the U.S. government. The self-proclaimed Áñez herself thanked CNN “for all the coverage of what has happened in Bolivia,” a confession that evidences the active role of the media in the construction of meaning and perception of events.

This coverage, not surprisingly, only gave voice to the executioner, not to the victim.

In the framework of the Senkata massacre, the armed forces justified the military intervention from the first moment by means of a communiqué, which referred to the Manual on the Use of Force in Internal Conflicts, signed in 2005 by Carlos Mesa, then president, perhaps meaning that the impunity provided by Decree No. 4.078 was not necessary in this case because it was a “Strategic Essential Public Service”: the flow of fuel had to be re-established however it happened.

“We called for maintaining rationality in order to avoid irreversible damage to people, to the public and private property of the sector”: the bloody repression was thus justified with a neolanguage that spoke of “rationality” and “irreversible damage” when the victims were the object of massacres.

In fact, the deaths were excused by the army as necessary to “avoid a greater evil” by citing a technical report. In the media, they repeated that if the advance of “agitators and ardent vandals” had not been contained, a chain explosion could have been generated after the hypothetical affectation of the central gas containers as a result of the shooting, which could have caused thousands of deaths.

Those same media, both Bolivian and international, spoke of “clashes” and “confrontations” between the military-police corps and the unarmed demonstrators, in order to avoid that uncomfortable word called “repression” (if the case were -again- in Venezuela, Cuba or Nicaragua, the terms would be inverted).

These arguments do not stand up to the slightest analysis of the facts, as has been demonstrated by the Ombudsman’s Office, the IACHR and the Argentine delegation.

The silence in the media and social networks around what happened in Sacaba and Senkata is the icing on the cake for the whitewashing of the massacres, which catalyzes the shock of the population as a consequence of the events towards an assimilation of violent death. The fear of murder without impunity transcends the official and media discourse on the psyche of anyone who tries to mobilize within the framework of the post-coup conflict.

The forced departures from the air of TeleSur and RT channels in Bolivia are part of this narrative shield for the criminal cover-up of the de facto government, with the banner of censorship.

That is why the IACHR rapporteur in Bolivia insists: “Despite the fact that official information speaks of deaths in clashes between civilians, we believe that an international investigation is required because we do not internally find guarantees for an impartial and firm investigation”.

Reasons for a massacre

The massacres are often referred to as “irrational,” because for a massacre to occur there is a trigger but not a cause. However, the analysis leads to the conclusion that Sacaba and Senkata were calculated acts, which at least clarify the testimonies and reports of the events.

Just days after the repression in Cochabamba, Evo Morales denounced via Twitter that the coup plotters were seeking to consummate a “state of siege” in Bolivia.

Instead of pacification, they order defamation and repression against brothers in the countryside who denounce the coup d’état. After massacring 24 indigenous people, they are now preparing a State of Siege. It would be the confirmation that by asking for democracy they installed a dictatorship.

– Evo Morales Ayma (@evoespueblo) November 18, 2019

The victims and relatives of the fallen have denounced to alternative media that managed to cover the pertinent testimonies of the ongoing repression, that “they are killing us,” “they are shooting at us like animals,” asking for justice.

They detail how the military fired from helicopters, how the police surrounded the demonstrators and then used their firearms.

This enclosure by land and air is the most vivid expression of the massacres, an image that traces the consummation of a “state of siege” in this Andean-Amazon country.

Added to this is the carte blanche for the “pacification” by Añez, whose repressive objective sheds light on how the power structure in Bolivia is currently being shaped. This new counterinsurgency model, in which every dissident of the de facto government or follower of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) is suspected of sedition and terrorism, would support the massacres in Cochabamba and El Alto.

The murder of the masses for purposes of social control, ordering the political landscape and transmitting fear towards the collective psyche of the population is the step that confirms the establishment of the state of siege in Bolivia, where there are no guarantees under the constitutional context that would protect any form of justice for the victims. Where regime change takes place through drawing blood.

For this reason, the task is not to let the Sacaba and Senkata massacres dissolve in memory, since they represent in their proper measure an X-ray of the current repression in Bolivia.

Translation by Internationalist 360º