Bolivia’s former interim President Jeanine Anez has been arrested over the 2019 political crisis that saw her replace predecessor Evo Morales, reigniting tensions in the South American nation.
The conservative politician had faced an arrest warrant on charges of “terrorism”, sedition and conspiracy over an alleged coup after she replaced Morales in November 2019 when he fled the country during widespread protests against his re-election.
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“I inform the Bolivian people that Mrs Jeanine Anez has already been apprehended and is currently in the hands of the police,” the minister of government, Carlos Eduardo del Castillo, wrote on Twitter and Facebook on Saturday.
Castillo congratulated the police for their “great work” in the “historic task of giving justice” to the Bolivian people.
Anez, who was arrested in the early morning hours in her hometown of Trinidad and flown to the capital, La Paz, had tweeted an arrest order she said was issued by the public prosecutor’s office, with the response: “The political persecution has begun.”
She added that she should benefit from immunity as former president.
Upon her arrival in La Paz, Anez told local television that the accusations against her was an “absolute outrage”.
“There is not a grain of truth in the accusations. It is simple political intimidation. There was no coup. I took part in a constitutional succession.”
Bolivian television broadcast images of a heavy police presence around her home in the northern city of Trinidad, as well as of former energy minister Rodrigo Guzman and his justice counterpart Alvaro Coimbra, both listed on the warrant, being arrested.
A former defence minister and others also have been accused.
From a police barracks in La Paz, Anez sent letters to the European Union and the Organization of American States asking them to send observer missions to follow the case.
The government insisted that due process will be followed, and Justice Minister Ivan Lima told state TV the investigation against Anez related to the time she was an opposition senator, not the interim president.
“For that reason constitutional privileges do not apply,” he said.
Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, resigned in November 2019 amid pressure from some of the public, the armed forces and opposition leaders who accused him of stealing an election a month earlier.
He returned from exile in Argentina in November of last year after the candidate from his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party won long-awaited presidential polls.
President Luis Arce, who won 55 percent of the vote in the October 2020 contest and easily avoided a runoff, promised to “rebuild” Bolivia in the wake of a tumultuous year scarred by political turmoil and the coronavirus pandemic.
Anez had earlier withdrawn her candidacy from the presidential race.
Al Jazeera’s Alessandro Rampietti reported on Saturday that while Anez’s arrest did not come as a surprise, “it is profoundly dividing Bolivians”.
“It shows that the new government of Luis Arce, while promising a change in politics in the country, instead seems to be going after its critics and wanting to sort of re-open the rift that came to the surface during the political crisis of 2019 following the elections then of Evo Morales.”
Last month, Bolivia’s socialist-dominated Congress voted to give amnesty to those prosecuted during Anez’s year-long government for acts of violence during the chaos that followed Morales’s resignation.
Dozens of people died and hundreds were injured in the unrest, which saw Morales supporters set up roadblocks around the country.
The protests paralysed the nation, caused food shortages and delayed the transport of critical medical supplies.
Anez, a former lawyer and longtime critic of leftist Morales, had sought to cast herself as the only person able to lead the country out of its post-Morales crisis.
Even as she promised to “pacify the country”, Morales at the time branded her “a coup-mongering right-wing senator”.
He said Anez had “declared herself … interim president without a legislative quorum, surrounded by a group of accomplices”.
On Saturday morning, Morales tweeted that “the authors and accomplices of the dictatorship that looted the economy and attacked life and democracy in Bolivia” should be investigated and punished.
Others have raised concerns about the arrest warrants and charges, however.
“This is not justice,” said former President Carlos Mesa, who finished second behind Arce in October’s presidential vote.
“They are seeking to decapitate an opposition by creating a false narrative of a coup to distract from a fraud.”
The Americas director of Human Rights Watch, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said the arrest warrants against Anez and her ministers “contain no evidence whatsoever that they have committed the crime of terrorism”.
“For that reason, they generate justifiable doubts about whether this is not a politically motivated process,” he tweeted.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ mission in Bolivia also stressed the importance of due process, tweeting that the principle guarantees “every person has an adequate defence and is subjected to a fair, independent and impartial trial”.