Bolivia: Conservative Ex-President on Hunger Strike, Denied Transfer to Health Center

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

Former Bolivian President Jeanine Áñez declared herself on hunger strike this weekend and, according to her family, has been denied transfer to a medical facility despite rapidly declining health. Officials did transfer her to a new prison in the early hours of Sunday, outraging supporters.

Áñez is facing dubious charges of “terrorism” and “sedition” for having assumed the presidency in an emergency situation in November 2019. Socialist former President Evo Morales resigned that month after 14 years in power following a report from the Organization of American States (OAS) showing evidence of voter fraud led to his alleged win in the October presidential election. Morales was constitutionally term-limited from running in the race, but successfully sued to be on the ballot, claiming term limits are a human rights violation.

In response to the OAS report, Morales and most of the senior leadership of his party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), fled the country. Áñez, then a conservative senior senator, was the highest-ranking person left in the country on the constitutional line of succession, obligating her to assume the presidency.

Áñez organized a free and fair election last year, in which she did not partake, where MAS candidate Luis Arce emerged as the victor. The MAS government has since declared Morales’ voluntary resignation a “coup” and imprisoned Áñez on charges of organizing the false coup to seize power. Bolivian judges have sentenced her to at least four months of “preventative” time in prison after designating her a flight risk.

Áñez was arrested last week. Sources close to her notified Bolivian media Friday that she had “chosen to cease feeding herself” as a form of protest for her arrest.

“She is on hunger strike. I found her in very bad condition. ‘Why struggle? Why live?’ she told me,” Amparo Carvajal, the head of the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, told El Deber, a Bolivian newspaper.

Áñez’s attorneys demanded the government offer her medical care outside of prison, prompting a weekend tug-of-war among various judges approving and overturning the request for health care. On Saturday, Áñez’s representatives presented to the court presiding over her case testimony from her doctor confirming that, at 53 and with a record of high blood pressure, Áñez faces a high risk of experiencing systemic arterial hypertension that may put her life at risk. One judge, Armando Zeballos, ordered Áñez to be moved to a healthcare facility in light of her medical state, but prison officials refused. Instead, they moved her to another prison in between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Áñez’s daughter, Carolina Ribera, told Bolivian media outlets prior to her mother’s transfer that medical workers in the first prison were treating Áñez’s high blood pressure with short-term medications, not addressing her condition properly.

“What they do is inject her medicine intravenously to lower her blood pressure and in a little while it goes up again and they inject her again,” Ribera said, “that is how they are keeping her and I will continue to demand her transfer to a clinic to be treated appropriately.”

Ribera insists that the Zeballos order to move Áñez to a hospital remains in vigor and no judge has overturned it, meaning the government has chosen to simply ignore it.

The official in charge of Áñez’s transfer, identified by El Deber as Juan Carlos Limpias, insisted to reporters that the late-night transfer was precisely in response to concerns about her health, without clarifying why officials moved her to another prison as opposed to a clinic.

Áñez’s legal team announced Sunday a new request to the United Nations and the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights to intervene, using in part Ribera’s testimony outlining the abuses the former president has faced since her arrest. In addition to violations of her right to medical care, Ribera contended in the complaint to the international institutions that the individuals who arrested Áñez were not law enforcement officers, but rather “civilians with no identification who were sent via direct order from President Luis Arce.”

A Bolivian feminist NGO, the Judicial Office for Women, denounced the socialist government’s treatment of Áñez on Monday as “torture [and] cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment as recognized and prohibited by the Constitution of the State [Bolivia], the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention Against Torture of the United Nations, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Convention [Against] Violence Against Women.”

Among the individual instances of alleged torture described are solitary confinement, lack of due process, and denial of proper medical care.

Arce’s government has avoided any significant statements on the Áñez case at press time. Morales, who returned to Bolivia after Arce won the presidency, attacked not the arrest, but OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro for issuing a statement of concern regarding Áñez’s physical state following her arrest.

Almagro’s declarations are a new attempt against democracy,” Morales claimed, accusing Áñez of participating in alleged “massacres.”

In reality, the violence following Morales’ voluntary resignation was largely the product of Morales, from self-imposed exile in Mexico, inciting violent socialists to take the streets. Mobs of angry radical left agents chanting slogans like “here we go, civil war” flooded Bolivia’s major cities in late 2019, attacking police officers and civilians. Law enforcement authorities recorded a conversation Morales himself allegedly had with a union leader while out of the country in which he instructed the union leader to organize blockades meant to starve urban people.

“Don’t let food into the cities,” the voice allegedly belonging to Morales said.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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