The International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague received a petition Tuesday to open a case against socialist former president of Bolivia Evo Morales and several of his senior cabinet members for “crimes against humanity” committed in the aftermath of his resignation in November.
The government of Bolivia filed the charges citing evidence of a “campaign of terrorism” against the Bolivian people intended to ensure Morales returned to power. Morales resigned on November 10 willingly in the aftermath of the publication of an Organization of American States (OAS) report finding that significant fraud occurred in the nation’s presidential election on October 20. According to the OAS, Morales and center-left rival Carlos Mesa were in a dead heat in vote tallies until the election commission redirected the vote count to a mystery private server, which returned a landslide win for Morales.
Morales was constitutionally banned from seeking a fourth presidential term in that election, but his rubber-stamp constitutional court declared in 2017 that he had a “human right” to appear on any election ballot in the country.
Following the publication of the OAS report, Morales resigned and fled to Mexico, claiming the right wing in the country had staged a “coup” against him. In response to his public agitation for the left to force the country to accept him once again as president, organized gangs – many, the Bolivian government asserted, organized by Venezuelan and Cuban foreign agents – began looting, burning, and otherwise destroying parts of the country’s major cities in what the incumbent Bolivian government asserts is a coordinated terrorist campaign.
Morales and nearly every member of his Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party cabinet members resigned, including some charged in the ICC case: former Vice President Álvaro García Linera; former Interior Minister Juan Ramón Quintana; former Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta; and former Minister of Culture Wilma Alanoca. The case also identifies lawmaker Gustavo Torrico as having participated in the attacks. Most of those mentioned fled to Mexico with Morales, where leftist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador embraced them and supported Morales’ claim he was the victim of a coup.
Senate Deputy President Jeanine Áñez was left the highest-ranking person in the country in the aftermath of the resignations and departures. Áñez, a Christian conservative, is now president and leading the charge for trying Morales at The Hague. She is also organizing a special election to undue the damage caused by the October 20 vote in which she is not running as a candidate, undermining claims by Morales that those who took power when he fled did so in a “coup” intended to install conservative leadership.
“There are thousands of people who have had their rights affected during this campaign of terrorism, currently we cannot divulge their identities, as that is part of the petition before the International Criminal Court,” Alfonso Dorado, the attorney representing the Bolivian state in the case, told the Bolivian newspaper Página Siete, stating that he presented to the ICC 51 written testimonies and 18 videos as evidence of the crimes he argues Morales and his team committed.
Dorado listed among the specific crimes Morales and other individuals named in the case allegedly committed “selective assassinations with snipers, ambushes, rape and sexual assault, abduction of hostages, physical and psychological torture, state-sponsored terrorism, and blocking access to basic items of consumption like water to certain cities.”
Bolivian Minister of the Interior Arturo Murillo hinted at the application for an ICC case last month in a press conference in which he revealed that the government had recorded a conversation between Morales and a coca grower union organizer in which he encouraged leftists to blockade all roads into major cities to starve the civilian population until the government agreed to reinstate Morales.
“Brother, don’t let food into the cities, we will really blockade,” Morales can be heard saying in the audio Murillo played to reporters. “When they expelled me from Congress in 2002, they did a blockade. And now, they kick me out of Bolivia; there is a blockade. We will win.”
In a subsequent interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP), Murillo said that he believed that Morales and his Venezuelan ally, dictator Nicolás Maduro, had “murdered many people” and would end up in prison together for their crimes.
“I think the conditions are developing for Nicolás Maduro to join Evo Morales in some prison in The Hague, that is being prepared,” he said. He added that Morales could return to Bolivia, “but nobody is guaranteeing he won’t go straight to jail.”
“Crimes against humanity” is a legal term defined in international courts as a list of acts “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population” that includes many of those listed by Dorado: murder, rape, torture, enforced disappearance, and acts of persecution against a defined group.
The ICC takes criminal cases against individuals for crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and other grave human rights atrocities. It acts independently of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in which plaintiffs and defendants can only be state actors, not individuals.
The ICC case was filed on the same day that Bolivian police arrested two prosecutors, Mónica de la Riva and Ronald Chávez, for their alleged involvement in the fraud revealed by the OAS report. The two, according to police, allowed a member of the nation’s electoral oversight body, who is married to de la Riva, to flee the country after being accused of participating in the fraud.