Hours after Bolivia’s former interim president was detained and accused of promoting an alleged coup against her predecessor Evo Morales, the country’s bishops released a statement saying that “the politics of revenge” and a justice system aligned with the ruling political power “do not create confidence in the people.”
“The arrest and prosecution of the former president of Bolivia, Jeanine Añez, along with several of her ministers, without taking into account minimum constitutional guarantees or even the presumption of innocence, confirms the line of action that, unfortunately, we have seen in the judicial system,” warned the prelates.
“The politics of revenge and resentment and a justice dependent on political power, do not create confidence in the people and will harm us all, sooner or later,” the bishops warned in a message released Saturday afternoon.
In the wee hours of Saturday, Áñez and other members of her former cabinet were arrested within the framework of an investigation into the alleged “coup d’état” against then-President Evo Morales in November 2019.
Morales agreed to calls for his resignation and fled Bolivia following the disputed 2019 general election and ensuing unrest. After a temporary exile, spent primarily in Argentina, Morales returned to Bolivia when his ally Luis Arce won a presidential election held last year.
Áñez’ short lived government was not free of controversies: After she took over, protests continued, primarily by those who sought Morale’s return. The government’s response led the chief United Nations human rights office to voice concerns over the use of force in response to the protests.
The bishop’s Saturday message was released by video, with Bishop Ricardo Centellas, president of the Bolivian bishops’ conference, reading from a prepared text.
“We cannot remain passive while citizens who have served Bolivia, with their limitations, are persecuted,” says Centellas, inviting the government to “desist from total control of the power, revenge and persecution.”
The bishop also argues that democracy is only possible when there is an independent justice system that is not subject to the political interests of the ruling government. He said justice implies “respect for the truth.”
“You cannot create a false account of history, inventing the truth and manipulating the conscience of the Bolivians,” he said.
The prelate also said that when those in power act arbitrarily, “democracy dies and the exercise of power becomes imposition of power, which sooner or later will harm the entire society.”
Centallas demanded “in respect of due process, which is part of internationally recognized fundamental rights, the immediate release of the detainees.”
“We cannot remain silent when seeing the increasing political persecution, a memory of sad moments of history, and which don’t build trust, peace and reconciliation among Bolivians,” he said.
On Sunday, Archbishop Sergio Gualberti, archbishop of Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city, also criticized the government’s actions in the context of what he called an “alleged coup d’état” and asked the country’s leaders to “act according to the truth.”
“It is intended to label the people and their representatives who defended the citizen vote and democracy as coup plotters, while the perpetrators of the fraud are presented as victims,” he said. “Democracy demands respect for human rights.”
Gualberti also called on civil authorities to “strengthen democratic institutions and to respect the dignity and rights of each person, preserving the health and life of citizens and building a reconciled, united and peaceful country, on the basis of justice.”
On Monday, Morales went to Twitter to claim that some among the Catholic leadership had sided with “the oppressor.”
“We regret the statements of some leaders of the Catholic Church of Bolivia who side with the oppressor, forget the humble and ask for freedom of coup plotters subjected to justice when they never claimed or mentioned the victims of the Senkata and Sacaba massacres,” Morales wrote.
The Senkata and Sacaba massacrers are two incidents that occurred during Áñez presidency where up to 36 protestors died.
In May, Bishop Eugenio Scarpellini of El Alto asked for justice and compensation in favor of the relatives of the victims.
Asking for peace in Bolivia during the homily of a Mass on the anniversary of the founding of his city, the prelate argued that there cannot be peace without justice, without comfort to family members and also reparation to those who lost loved ones. He also called for medical care and work for those who were wounded.
“I cannot not condemn the irrational violence that was unleashed in our city, in our country,” he said. “Violence always generates deep wounds, which will surely be healed over time.”