Protests mount as Bolivia coup regime expels Mexican, Spanish diplomats
A police officer stands at the entrance leading to the residence of Mexico’s ambassador to help make sure nine former officials from the government of deposed Bolivian President Evo Morales, who have taken refuge inside, do not leave the country, in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Bolivia’s interim government is expelling the top Mexican and Spanish diplomats from the country. | Luis Gandarillas / AP

Over the past several days, the coup regime in Bolivia has escalated its campaign against diplomats from Mexico and Spain over their assistance to overthrown President Evo Morales. Flouting international agreements covering diplomatic relations, the Bolivian government has gone from harassing embassy personnel to outright expulsion. Coup “president” Jeanine Áñez on Dec. 30 ordered Mexican Ambassador María Teresa Mercado, the Spanish charge d’affaires, and the Spanish consul to leave the country within 72 hours.

After the results of presidential elections on Oct. 20 showed incumbent President Morales, an indigenous leftist, as having been re-elected, the right wing in Bolivia, the right-leaning leadership of the Organization of American States, and U.S. imperialism started a campaign to discredit the election results and push Morales out of office. “Irregularities” in the electoral process were claimed, although a careful analysis by Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy and Research strongly suggests that the claims were false.

Faced with mounting violence against his supporters, and with a rebellion by some police and military forces, Morales, Vice President Álvaro García Linera, and other Bolivian officials aligned with them resigned on Nov. 11 and sought asylum in the Mexican embassy in La Paz.

Subsequently, Mexico managed to transport Morales, García Linera, and another official to Mexico City where they were given asylum by the left-wing president, Andres Manuel López Obrador. Morales has since moved to Argentina, where he has also been given asylum.

Meanwhile, in a move denounced by Morales supporters as illegal, the coup government in Bolivia selected Sen. Áñez, a figure from the far right, as “interim president.” She appointed a cabinet which did not include a single person from Bolivia’s large indigenous population, which by some criteria is the national majority, and is conservatively estimated at 41%.

Rather than working toward reconciliation with supporters of the Morales government, Áñez and her cabinet members have launched a wave of persecution against Morales supporters and indigenous Bolivians who have mounted large scale protests against the coup. The repression of the protests has led to at least two dozen deaths to date.

The coup government has launched a campaign of vilification against the Mexican government for having given asylum to Morales and the other officials of his government, nine of whom are still living in the Mexican embassy in La Paz. The coup government has refused to allow Mexico to transport the asylees in the embassy to Mexican national territory.

Áñez’ interior minister, Arturo Murillo, accuses Morales of “terrorism” for encouraging protests against the coup, and calls for him to be jailed for the rest of his life. The coup government denounces Mexico for having allowed Morales to speak publicly about the situation in Bolivia and in favor of the protests, which it falsely claims is a violation of the rules of asylum. Mexico responds that giving asylum of this kind is an old national tradition. For example, Mexico saved the lives of many Spaniards after the fascist forces of Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil War in 1939 by giving them asylum.

Bolivian President Evo Morales on Nov. 14, 2019 in Mexico City, just after his arrival in the country following the coup in Bolivia. | Eduardo Verdugo / AP

The campaign against Mexico has now passed beyond mere verbal complaints to physical harassment of and direct threats against embassy personnel. On Thursday last week, Mexico complained of heavy and menacing surveillance of its La Paz embassy residence by Bolivian security personnel, and the automobile of Mexican Ambassador Mercado was stopped. Mexico announced on Friday that it was taking the case of harassment to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, as a violation of international agreements covering the sanctity of diplomatic missions and personnel.

The Spanish government complained that its charge d’affaires, Cristina Borraguero, and its consul in La Paz were also harassed by Bolivian security after they paid a brief courtesy visit to the Mexican ambassador’s residence on Thursday, another probable violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The harassment consisted of preventing the Spanish officials’ automobiles from picking them up at the Mexican residence after the visit. The Bolivian government accuses Spain of conspiring with Mexico to help other Morales government officials reach safety outside the country.

All three have now been kicked out of Bolivia by the coup government. As she was departing Bolivia on New Year’s Eve, Ambassador Mercado said on Twitter she was “proud to serve my country and its principles and tradition of asylum.” The Mexican government said it has no intention of going back on the decision to grant asylum to Morales.

On Dec. 27, the Trump administration showed its hand in the affair by complaining to the government of Argentine President Alberto Fernández that Morales was “abusing” his asylum in Buenos Aires by working with representatives of his political party, the Movement Toward Socialism, on choosing a candidate to back in the yet-to-be-scheduled elections in Bolivia. The Argentine government made clear that it is not going to impede Morales from doing so.

Given the push by the Trump administration to oust left-wing governments in several Latin American countries, activists in the United States and beyond are also mobilizing to demand that the harassment of the Mexican embassy in la Paz be halted, that the nine Bolivian officials in refuge there be allowed to leave the country, and that the Trump administration cease to aid and abet the coup government’s violent and illegal actions.

On Thursday, the International Committee for Peace, Justice, and Dignity, based in the United States, issued a demand that the harassment of the embassy cease and that the nine officials of the Morales government be allowed to leave Bolivia. The nine are Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramón Quintana, Minister of Culture Wilma Alanoca, Oruro state Governor Victor Hugo Vázquez, Director of Communications Nicolás Laguna, Defense Minister Javier Zavaleta, Justice Minister Hector Arce, Minister of Mining Felix César Durazo, Agriculture and Rural Development Vice Minister Pedro Damián Dorado, plus a former minister, Hugo Moldiz.

The International Committee’s statement points out that “denying safe-conduct is a flagrant violation of the Asylum Law, the Geneva Convention” as well as other international laws and agreements, and human rights in general. The hashtag for this demand is #SalvoConductosYa.

The actions of the Bolivian coup government have also been denounced by the government of Cuba, and the call for safe conduct for the people in the embassy has been joined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the American Association of Jurists, Lawyers, and Magistrates, and many other concerned organizations and individuals.

People in the United States can contact the White House, the State Department, and their member of Congress. Messages to U.S. officials should demand that the Trump administration cease and desist from abetting the illegal actions of the illegitimate coup regime in La Paz.

People are also urged to contact the Bolivian embassy in Washington at 3014 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington DC 20008, telephone 202-483-4410; the Bolivian Consulate in Los Angeles at info@boliviala.com; and the Permanent Mission of Bolivia to the United Nations at missionboliviaun@gmail.com. Messages should demand that the harassment of the Mexican and Spanish embassy personnel should cease and that the Bolivian officials in sanctuary at the Mexican Embassy in La Paz should be given safe contact to leave the country.


CONTRIBUTOR

Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.

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