Bolivian President Faces Death Threats as Coca Growers Demand Resignation

Bolivian interim president Jeanine Anez speaks during a press conference in La Paz on November 15, 2019. - Bolivia's interim president Jeanine Anez on Thursday ruled out exiled leader Evo Morales from standing in new elections as thousands of demonstrators marched through La Paz in support of the socialist icon …
RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP via Getty Images

Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez canceled plans to visit her hometown of Beni after receiving death threats from drug traffickers, her Minister of the Interior Arturo Murillo told reporters on Monday.

The threats arrived as a 48-hour ultimatum inched further away from when the nation’s coca grower unions issued it, demanding Áñez resign and allow for the restoration of former Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Morales, a socialist who ruled for nearly 14 years, resigned last week after the Organization of American States (OAS) revealed that extensive fraud had resulted in his reelection on October 20. The Bolivian constitution term-limited Morales from appearing on the ballot in this year’s election, but he forced the nation’s Supreme Court to rule in 2017 that imposing term limits was a violation of Morales’ “human rights.”

Following his resignation, Morales – and most of the members of his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party in high offices – fled to Mexico, where he claimed to be the victim of a “coup,” although he chose to step down from his office. Áñez, a solid conservative, took over from her position as deputy Senate president because no one was left above her in the country’s line of succession.

On Monday, Morales, from Mexico, announced that he did not want to run in the elections Áñez promised to schedule to undo the October election – he merely wanted the country to allow him to “serve out” the term he won via fraud in that race. Bolivian presidential terms last five years.

Añez did not appear in a scheduled event commemorating the 177th anniversary of the establishment of Beni state, instead appearing in an event in La Paz, the executive seat of power.

“The president’s life is in danger … there are Venezuelans, Cubans, Colombians involved in all this, there are drug traffickers behind this because they want to return Bolivia to the control of terrorists and drug traffickers,” Murillo, whose title officially translates to “minister of government,” said on Monday. “The question is, will we allow it? No, no we won’t allow it.”

Murillo said law enforcement officials had evidence that “delinquent groups” plotted to harm Áñez, and that they had identified one specific group planning an assassination.

“They want to turn Bolivia into Venezuela,” Murillo said, “[but] we have a firm, courageous president.”

Bolivian police have arrested several Cuban, Venezuelan, Argentine, and Peruvian citizens disguised as disgruntled Bolivians from the countryside demanding the return of Morales, the nation’s first indigenous president. The Cubans faced charges of paying people to riot; the Venezuelans were caught stockpiling explosives; the Argentine, Facundo Molares Schoenfeld, is believed to have been contracted to train Bolivian socialists in terrorist tactics like making improvised explosives.

Murillo’s claims that drug traffickers are acting against the interim government follow threats from the coca growers’ unions of Cochabamba state, the heart of Bolivia’s rural coca communities, to extend their protests if Áñez does not resign. In the capital of Cochabamba, Chapare, coca grower leaders said on Saturday Áñez had 48 hours to resign or they would impose an indefinite nationwide blockade intended to keep regular commerce from occurring, potentially starving out some of Bolivia’s most delicate communities.

Five coca growers died in riots last week during clashes with police, increasing anger towards the interim government.

The protesters also demanded the full withdrawal of military forces from coca regions, freedom for rioters arrested for violent acts against the interim government, and the definitive scheduling of elections within 90 days.

Áñez has promised to organize elections as soon as possible, her top priority as an interim president. Her supporters in Congress have faced significant challenges from Morales’ allies in the MAS party, however, who are boycotting floor and committee debate. Áñez has threatened to use an executive order to schedule elections if the socialists boycott Congressional meetings, preventing the quorum necessary to legislate.

The MAS lawmakers also boycotted the congressional meeting to enact the nation’s constitution and appoint an interim president. They now claim Áñez is illegitimate because she was sworn in without a quorum.

The streets of Chapare flooded with coca grower activists on Monday, according to the Bolivian newspaper El Deber.

Evo Morales began his political career as a coca farmer and, later, a leader of a coca leaf federation. As president, he championed the legalization of coca leaf, used to produce cocaine, internationally – offering some to Pope Francis and presenting United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon with a coca leaf birthday cake.

Multiple reports throughout his tenure have tied Morales with the international drug trade. In 2015, the Spanish news service EFE published evidence, citing a DEA agent, that several officials in Morales’ government were facilitating cocaine trafficking. The Brazilian magazine Veja published a story identifying another whistleblower, Bolivian Colonel Germán Cardona, who told Spanish officials Morales was trafficking cocaine. Earlier, in 2012, Veja claimed that Morales was pushing the nation to produce coca leaf surpluses to turn the remainder into cocaine and sell it at high prices.

Morales banned the American DEA from operating in Bolivia in 2009.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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