Explained: Why was Bolivia’s former president Jeanine Áñez jailed, what is the political controversy surrounding it?

A Bolivian court ruling the former interim President Jeanine Áñez to 10 years in prison on June 10, after finding her guilty of orchestrating a coup that brought her to power in 2019. She was first arrested in March 2021 on initial charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy and has been detained since.

Áñez was convicted on the charges of “dereliction of duty” and of making “decisions contrary to the constitution”, reported Reuters. The court also commanded former Bolivian armed forces Williams Kaliman and ex-police commander Vladimir Calderon to 10 years in prison.

Bolivia has been divided over whether the former President Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader, was overthrown by a coup. Following Morales’ resignation in November 2019, the opposition leader and head of Bolivia’s Senate, Jeanine Áñez, declared herself the country’s interim president. Her critics claim that she played a crucial role in the alleged coup.

Who is Bolivia’s Jeanine Áñez?

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Before assuming the role of president, Jeanine Áñez was a relatively obscure figure in Bolivia’s political landscape. She had graduated with a law degree from the city of Trinidad in Bolivia and then worked as a television news anchor. According to The Wall Street Journal, between 2006 and Áñez served as an established member of the assembly that Bolivia’s current constitution.

A member of the Democratic Social Movement, Áñez served in the Bolivian Senate since 2010. In 2014 and 2019, she was elected as the vice president of the opposition making her the senior-most lawmaker.

Following weeks of protest after allegations of election fraud, President Morales and top members of his cabinet resigned in November 2019. As the remaining highest-ranking member of the Bolivian government, Áñez declared herself the President amidst rising political tensions. She vowed to only be the interim head of state and to hold fresh elections in which she would not stand.

A fierce critic of Morales and his socialist policies, Áñez’s presidency was quickly recognized by the US government. After her election, she appointed a temporary ambassador to the US for the first time in more than a decade in an attempt to improve ties with the country, according to a Reuters report.

Diplomatic relations between Washington and Morale’s government had been fraught since 2008 when the United States placed Bolivia on a counter-narcotics blacklist for allegedly participating in the global drug trade. Morales subsequently expelled its US ambassador.

According to The Washington Post, Áñez began to rapidly consolidate power and appointed a new cabinet, replacing the heads of the armed forces and state-owned enterprises days after assuming the presidency.

Áñez’s regime detained hundreds of political opponents and left-wing critics and began to censor the media. Her government also charged Morales with sedition and terrorism, however various international human rights organisations, these dismissed charges due to lack of evidence and called them politically motivated, reported The New York Times.

A joint report published in July 2020 by Harvard University’s International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights (UNHR) accused Áñez’s interim government of carrying out gross human rights abuses. It claimed at least 23 indigenous Bolivians were killed and over 230 injured by soldiers in the towns of Sakaba and Senkata, during protests against her government in November 2019. This was reportedly the second deadliest month in terms of civilian deaths by state forces since Bolivia a democracy in 1982.

Why was she arrested?

Áñez led the government for a year and left office after Morales’ former finance minister, Luis Arce, became the President after his party Movement for Socialism (MAS) won the November 2020 general elections.

Members of MAS accused Áñez of conspiring with the police and military to engineer the overthrow. In March 2021, the Bolivian police arrested the former interim president from her home in Trinidad on charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy.

Bolivia’s former interim President Jeanine Anez waves to the press as she walks to her sentencing at the Miraflores women’s jail, in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, June 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Following the arrest and judicial proceedings initiated against Áñez, some countries express concern about the independence of Bolivia’s judiciary. On March 27, 2021, the United States said that it was “deeply concerned” about the “anti-democratic behavior and the politicization of the legal system” in the country.

While Morales’s supporters claim Áñez helped oust him in a coup, she has denied the allegations and claims to be a victim of political prosecution. On Feb 8, 2022, Anez said: “I assumed the presidency of Bolivia without asking for it, without looking for it and much less expecting it with the only mission to new elections and pacify a country in convulsion,” as quoted by Al Jazeera.

On June 10, a Bolivian court found Áñez guilty of orchestrating a coup against Morales in 2019.

What is Evo Morales’s role in the current controversy?

The ongoing political controversy unfolding in Bolivia can be traced back to November 2019, when then President Evo Morales resigned and fled to Mexico, claiming that the opposition and military had initiated a coup against him.

A socialist leader, Morales was the first indigenous leader of a majority indigenous country and held the office of President from 2006 to 2019. He continues to be a popular leader, who is considered to have helped bring economic and social stability to Bolivia.

Morales began to face mass protests that lead to counter protests by his supporters, after claims emerged that authorities had manipulated the vote in presidential elections held in 2019, in which he won his fourth term.

The following month, a Washington-based think tank, the Organization of American States (OAS), published a report stating they had found serious irregularities in the polls and that the vote should be annulled.

But another US-based think tank, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, criticizing the OAS findings, claiming there were no anomalies in the elections and warning against “the politicisation of what is normally an independent process of electoral monitoring”.

As the protests grew in November, police forces across the country also joined the movement. The head of Bolivia’s armed forces, Gen. Williams Kaliman, also “suggested” that Morales should resign in light of the social upheaval, as reported by the Associated Press.

By November 10, Morales announced his resignation, claiming the armed forces had joined hands with the opposition to stage a coup against him. On November 9, 2020, he returned after his former finance minister Luis Arce won the presidential election.

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