In Bolivia you have to be careful with what you say and do, if you don’t want a judge to accuse you of “sedition and terrorism” to put you behind bars. This was the case with Argentine and Venezuelan journalists who visited the country to report on the massacres. But the accusation is also directed at those whom the media have targeted. This is the case of former Deputy, former Government Deputy Minister, and current member of the National Assembly, Gustavo Torrico who, through Paris-La Paz contact, told us he practically takes his imminent arrest for granted.
Indeed, since the coup d’état of 10 November, events have taken on a whirlwind appearance that sweeps everything in its wake. The regime relies on a machinery of media propaganda, combined with judicial actions of preventive detention, against anyone who has been part of the governments of Evo Morales. In 14 years of a process of change with broad popular support, the list [of detainees] could be long… And the Añez regime did not rest during the Christmas holiday period.
The accusations of “sedition, terrorism and the financing of terrorism” against Evo Morales, the Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramón Quintana and the La Paz Deputy, Gustavo Torrico, are based on statements taken out of context. The IACHR declared that in Bolivia “there is no guarantee of judicial independence.” That is why it is necessary to hear the voices from Bolivia itself that explain what the social and political evolution has been like since the coup.
By Alex Anfruns*
Alex Anfruns: How did you personally experience the coup d’état?
Gustavo Torrico: It was a traumatic moment after the police mutiny, which removed the guard from Plaza Murillo, leaving the centre of power such as the Presidential Palace and the headquarters of the Plurinational Assembly, unprotected, which until Friday (8th November) had been guarded by the police. In that square were the social movements that support the government of President Morales. Already informed that a police mutiny would occur, and in order to avoid a confrontation between two groups of civilians with catastrophic results, the President ordered the withdrawal of his supporters. The day before, the Armed Forces, which had reported total control of the police rebellion, “suggested” the President’s resignation.
Alex: Were there numerous threats and aggression against members of your party and representatives of institutions? Who were the main actors?
Gustavo: True, there was a witch-hunt of social leaders and a chase for political leaders. The most emblematic case is that of Gerardo García, the current Vice-President of the MAS (Spanish acronym for Movement Towards Socialism, Evo’s political party) who was sent to San Pedro prison under the fashionable crimes of “sedition, terrorism and financing of terrorism”.
The paradox was that paramilitary groups disguised as “resistance committees” and with police protection were the main perpetrators of the abuses against any citizen with indigenous features, calling them Masistas (MAS supporters). The same happened with the Armed Forces, which allowed these paramilitaries to act as a spearhead of their own operations
Alex: What political activity have the MAS Assembly members had during the last month and a half in this unusual situation?
Gustavo: The majority of the Assembly members have had an attitude that is too submissive to the force deployed by the paramilitary groups, which to this day stand at the doors of the Assembly to offend them physically and verbally. They operate under the protection of the police, who turn a blind eye to this abuse. Moreover, they allow them to enter the premises.
Alex: Can you cite the most significant changes made by the Añez government?
Gustavo: Despite the constitutional mandate that limits them to only being authorized to call elections, they have dedicated themselves to taking over the state apparatus as if it were an elected government for a whole period. They have resumed relations with the Zionist government of Israel, as well as with the United States including the exchange of ambassadors. They have expelled the Cuban doctors who were collaborating in the field of health. On the other hand, they have tried to show Evo’s government as if it had been the worst thing that happened to the country.
Alex: There has been harassment against people who denounce the coup, even affecting the work of journalists and the Ombudsman’s Office. What can you tell us about the climate of political persecution in your country?
Gustavo: Speaking or uttering phrases such as ‘coup d’état’, ‘usurpation of power’ etc. are straightforwardly classified as “sedition or terrorism”. The signals of TeleSUR and RT were taken off, as were more than 57 community radio stations, thus establishing almost a single radio and television system, in which MAS members have almost no participation.
Our representatives are crucified before they even appear in court. State offices are broken into by paramilitaries with police protection so as to force officials and authorities to resign. Any person who has been a functionary as secretary or assistant is arrested…
Alex: The media have unleashed an aggressive campaign against you. What are you specifically accused of and what context do the facts or statements refer to?
Gustavo: The newspaper El Diario placed a headline that reads “Torrico threatens to kill young people” deliberately decontextualizing a statement of mine in a television radio program called “Polémica”, where I called on parents to reflect and take care of their sons and daughters who were confronting the police. This was made viral in the whole of the media without any of them asking for a counterstatement or a clarification from me. It is due to this intentional handling of the press, the reason why I am being persecuted and being accused of “sedition terrorism and financing terrorism”…
For my part, I made my appearance before the prosecutor’s office on Monday, December 23, indicating my home address and procedural address, but the prosecutor did not deign to consider it. Instead, he issued a summons that was delivered in a strange building not in my neighbourhood and therefore was not of my knowledge. Now the prosecutor stated that he has issued an arrest warrant against me without considering that as a member of the Assembly I enjoy a state of immunity: I cannot be arrested or criminally prosecuted for my statements, opinions, etc. neither during my term of office nor even after it (Articles 151 and 152 of the Political Constitution of the State).
Alex: Taking into account the current situation, how do you evaluate the possibility of new elections in Bolivia?
Gustavo: Personally, I believe that they are not interested in holding elections with a MAS that has been strengthened. So there are two ways left for them to continue in this effort to usurp power from the people and to impose Neoliberalism again.
The first is to try to remove our name so as to abolish our legal status, which they know would have dire consequences. And the second, if this did not work, when they are defeated in the election, would be to try to not recognize the results, going back to their original plan: the Balkanization of the State.
Interview by @AlexAnfruns – first published in French here.
Translation into English by Francisco Dominguez
* Alex Anfruns is a journalist based in Brussels. He is editor in chief of the monthly magazine Le Journal Notre Amérique and collaborates regularly as an analyst with TeleSUR.