Bolivia’s former acting president Jeanine Anez was arrested on Saturday on terrorism and rebellious charges for what her predecessor and political rival Evo Morales condemned as a “coup” that struck him.
Police also gathered former ministers who supported the Conservative politician’s guard government, which was in place for a year after Morales fled the country in November 2019 in the midst of controversial elections, media reported.
The arrests came months after Morales returned to Bolivia from exile due to a new election victory in October 2020 for the left-wing MAS party he founded.
The Presidency and Congress are now under the control of MAS.
“I inform the Bolivian people that Mrs Jeanine Anez has already been arrested and is currently in the hands of the police,” Prime Minister Carlos Eduardo del Castillo wrote on Twitter and Facebook.
Castillo congratulated the police for their “great work” in the “historic task of providing justice” to the Bolivian people.
Morales, for his part, demanded in a tweet that “investigators and accomplices” of what he condemned as a “coup” against him be “investigated and punished.”
Bolivian prosecutors issued an arrest warrant on Friday for Anez and others on charges of terrorism, insurgency and conspiracy.
Anez tweeted a copy of the order with the response: “The political persecution has begun.”
She added that the government accused her “of participating in a coup that never happened.”
In the beginning of Saturday, Bolivian television showed pictures of Anez, not handcuffed, arriving at La Paz Airport El Alto together with Castillo and several police officers.
In brief comments to the press, she condemned her arrest as “illegal”.
She was later taken to a government building to be interrogated.
Anez’s former energy minister Rodrigo Guzman and his counterpart to the judiciary Alvaro Coimbra, both involved in the prosecutor’s decision, were arrested on Friday.
Coimbra protested against the “illegal and abusive” arrest of his former colleague Guzman before he was also taken in.
“We have said we will always make ourselves available to the law,” Coimbra told Bolivian television as he was placed in a police vehicle.
Anez, a former senator, took over as chief of staff after Morales left Bolivia. He had lost the support of the armed forces during violent protests against his re-election to an unconstitutional fourth term.
Several Morales allies who held senior positions also fled, leaving Anez as the highest Senate official still standing.
Morales himself was the target of insurgency and terrorism charges in an investigation launched shortly after Anez took power.
But he returned from exile in November last year after his MAS ran to victory in a general election in October 2020 that saw the party’s Luis Arce win the presidency.
Morales has since taken over the party’s leadership.
Last month, Congress voted to grant amnesty to those indicted during Anez’s presidency for violence during the chaos that followed Morale’s resignation.
MAS party member Lidia Patty filed a complaint against Anez in December last year, claiming that she, several of her former ministers, former military and police members and others had promoted the overthrow of Morales, who had been in power for 14 years.
“MAS has decided to return to the style of dictatorship. It is a pity because Bolivia does not need dictators, but freedom and solutions,” Anez tweeted on Friday.
Luis Fernando Camacho, who recently won the governorship election in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz region, is also being prosecuted.
He promised that “Bolivians will not stand still in the face of abuse” and said he had no intention of leaving the country.
Anez, a former lawyer, is a longtime critic of the left-wing Morales, who has branded her a “coup-right senator.”
He has said that Anez “declared himself … interim president without legislative decision-making, surrounded by a group of accomplices.”
Ex-presidents Jorge Quiroga and Carlos Mesa condemned the arrest separately.
“We are in a worse process of political persecution than in dictatorships. It will be executed against those who defended democracy and freedom in 2019,” Mesa said on Twitter.
Quiroga accused Arce of being “a tyrant’s apprentice.”
But Justice Minister Ivan Lima insisted that the system was independent of the government.
“We can not intervene in cases brought by the prosecutor and by justice. These cases must be conducted within the framework of objectivity and independence,” Lima said.
For his part, Senate President Andronico Rodriguez reiterated allegations of a coup attempt, saying, “This is not persecution, this is justice.”
Investigators from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) are in Bolivia to investigate the violence after the 2019 elections.