Shopkeepers at a plaza in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, attacked a team of journalists and kidnapped them on Monday, threatening not to let them out if they did not delete footage of the shopkeepers violating a coronavirus quarantine.
Bolivia, like many other countries, has imposed a 14-day lockdown to prevent the spread of Chinese coronavirus, limiting the public’s ability to leave their house and shutting down all non-essential businesses. In Santa Cruz, the government has allowed the merchants at the San Antonio market to open only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, as they sell food and other necessary goods.
The team of the national broadcaster Red Bolivisión found a crowded, bustling market operating in San Antonio on Monday, flagrantly violating the quarantine. Initially, some shopkeepers were willing to speak to the reporters, hastily putting away their wares and claiming to be closed for business, despite customers clearly buying items around them. Some of the customers also spoke to the reporters, describing the quarantine as a “barbarity” and noting that they “more or less” bought everything they came to market for.
Once other shopkeepers became aware of journalists filming them breaking the law, they attacked the reporter and cameraman recording them and trapped them in the marketplace, demanding they delete the footage. Red Bolivisión then sent another journalist to the San Antonio market to cover the false imprisonment of his colleague.
Some around the second journalist shouted complaints that, if the markets shut down, they will not be able to afford food.
Elsewhere in the country, Red Bolivisión found that many were using the first weekday of quarantine on Monday to spend time with friends in public – the exact opposite of what President Jeanine Áñez recommended. In San Silvestre, large numbers of people playing soccer flooded a park, angering older residents who are at higher risk of complications if they contract the Chinese coronavirus.
Some, at least, do appear to be taking quarantine precautions seriously. The Bolivian newspaper El Deber found bread in short supply in some of the nation’s metropolitan areas and long lines of people waiting for hours for fresh bread at their local bakeries. Supermarkets, the newspaper noted, did appear to stock plenty of beef, chicken, tomatos, and other food items not as in demand as bread.
“We need firm decisions to save lives, to defend the health of Bolivian families; from Sunday, March 22 on, starting at midnight and for 14 days, a total quarantine will be in place nationwide,” President Áñez announced on Saturday. She ordered all Bolivians to stay at home 24 hours a day.
Bolivia is also banning utility companies, including internet companies, from stopping services to anyone for any reason until the quarantine ends.
On Monday, Áñez reiterated her demand for the nation to “take this quarantine seriously” or “sad days will come.”
“Please, take the lives of your loved ones seriously, be strong, be firm,” Áñez said in a national address. “Bolivian families, there are still many sacrifices to make in this struggle against the virus; there is still time ahead to overcome this challenge and it will not be easy, sad days will come, but I assure you that I give you my word, we will get out of this.”
Despite the acrimonious circumstances in which Áñez became president – after the resignation of longtime socialist strongman Evo Morales and his entire cabinet left the conservative senator the next in the line of succession – Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) Party announced full support for Áñez’s quarantine.
“At this time, all Bolivians have a duty and obligation to accompany and, consciously, abide by the measures [issued] such as staying at home, which is one of the mandatory measures we have to commit to,” Senator Efraín Chambi, the head of the MAS party, said in a statement this weekend.
Bolivia has currently confirmed 28 cases of the Chinese coronavirus and no deaths.
Arturo Murillo, Áñez’s minister of government (the equivalent to the minister of the interior), issued a stern warning to all government officials, local and national, should not take the quarantine as an excuse not to do their jobs remotely. Murillo said Áñez had empowered him to arrest government officials who failed to help during the coronavirus crisis.
“Don’t be shameless, work,” Murillo said on Tuesday. “I have an express order from the president to save lives, not to play around with anybody. Whoever plays around with me – governor, mayor – I will arrest them, I am not playing. The president has ordered me to arrest even a minister who does not work, because we are currently in an emergency, we have to save lives.”
“This is not a ‘please’ situation, this is a situation in which you obey,” he added. Áñez reportedly gave the green light to arrest an official in dereliction of duty for as long as ten years if found guilty of impeding the national response to the outbreak.