Amid continuing political and social unrest in Bolivia, the interim interior minister, Arturo Murillo, threatened Sunday to arrest lawmakers loyal to ousted President Evo Morales for alleged acts of subversion and sedition.
The minister announced the creation of a “special apparatus of the Prosecutor’s Office” that will crackdown on elected officials from Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, which controls about two-thirds of the legislature.
Murillo said he would be publishing a “list” of legislators he claims are guilty of “subversion” and that those individuals will be blocked from continuing their duties as representatives and will be subject to arrest starting Monday.
On Thursday, the interim communications minister, Roxana Lizarraga, threatened that the government would arrest journalists, Bolivian and foreign, for supposed “sedition.”
Both ministers were appointed by Jeanine Anez, an ultraconservative senator who declared herself interim president after Morales was deposed in a coup on November 10.
Representatives from the MAS boycotted the vote in which Anez was recognized as interim president, rejecting her government’s legitimacy. Many MAS officials were also under threat of attacks from protestors at the time of the vote and were in hiding.
‘Crimes Against Humanity’
Anez, however, enjoys the support of the military and police forces, who have repressed mass protests from the mainly-indigenous supporters of Morales, sometimes violently.
On Friday, nine people were shot to death by government forces during a major demonstration in the city of Cochabamba.
The killings came after Anez issued a decree exempting military officials from prosecution when maintaining “public order.”
Murillo suggested without evidence that the nine victims, all of whom were reportedly coca growers, might have been killed by their own supporters to generate sympathy.
The minister’s comments outraged opponents of the interim government.
Thomas Becker, an American lawyer with the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard University, told AFP that he interviewed 50 witnesses, all of whom said none of the demonstrators were armed.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an independent part of the Organization of American States, condemned Anez’s decree granting immunity to security forces as a “grave” move that will “stimulate violent repression.”
A reminder that the people being murdered by the Bolivian military in the name of democracy are not just statistics. The family of 34-year-old Juan Lopez Apaza wants the world to know that. pic.twitter.com/d9AcVyxrr8
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) November 17, 2019
Tweeting from Mexico where he has been granted asylum, Morales said the killings were “crimes against humanity” and that they “must not go unpunished.”
Indigenous Bolivians make up between 50 to 60 percent of the country’s population and have been historically marginalized and discriminated against.
Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, is widely beloved in indigenous communities, which have erupted in mass demonstrations following his ouster.
Leaders say that they fear indigenous people will once again be rendered second-class citizens, particularly with Anez currently at the helm of the government.
The interim president has a history of making racist and insulting comments about indigenous Bolivians.
In 2013, for example, she tweeted, “I dream of a Bolivia free of Indigenous satanic rites, the city is not for Indians, they should back to the mountains or the fields.”
During the protests calling for Morales’ resignation, right-wing demonstrators were seen burning the indigenous “wiphala” flag in public, and a group of police officers in Santa Cruz were taped cutting the flag off of the patches on their uniforms.
Indigenous people in Bolivia protested the ousting of President Evo Morales, my latest: pic.twitter.com/nWVHUhj5RE
— Daniel Alvarenga (@_danalvarenga) November 13, 2019
A female indigenous mayor of a small, rural city was also attacked by a right-wing mob, which doused her in red paint and cut off her hair.
Last week, at a rally held by far-right Anez ally Luis Camacho, a speaker referred to the indigenous as “Satans.”
“We have tied all the demons of the witchery and thrust them into the abyss. Satans, get out of Bolivia now,” the speaker shouted.
Immediately after being sworn in as interim president, Anez, a radical Christian conservative, declared that “the bible has returned to the palace,” an apparent shot at Morales and the indigenous, who are largely not Christians.
Though Anez insists that she is only taking power in an interim capacity and that elections will be held soon, she has already fundamentally reoriented the country’s foreign policy in two key areas.
Since taking power, her government has recognized Venezuela’s right-wing opposition leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaido and expelled Cuban doctors from Bolivia, pivoting away from two of the only leftist governments that remain in the hemisphere.
Anez’s opponents have denounced the moves, saying they are undemocratic and that she has no mandate because she’s never received a vote to be president.
Morales’ ouster came three weeks after he won re-election for a controversial fourth term, though the polls were marred by disputed allegations that the results were inflated in his favor.