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UN calls for talks to end Bolivia crisis as death toll rises

Nov 18 2019

Al Jazeera and news agencies

Violent confrontations, highway blockades cause supply shortages as Anez moves to revise Morales-era policies.

A Bolivian official said a United Nations envoy is urging the government of the Andean country’s interim president and supporters of self-exiled leader Evo Morales to begin talks on resolving a crisis that has already claimed 23 lives and is causing food shortages.

The official said on Sunday that negotiations proposed by Jean Arnault would involve legislators from Morales’ party, mobilised groups and representatives of interim leader Jeanine Anez and be mediated by the UN and Roman Catholic Church.

Bolivia remains in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic left-wing and former coca farmer, resigned over allegations of vote tampering. legislators have yet to agree on a date for new elections.

Morales fled to Mexico on Tuesday, but his supporters from largely coca-farming regions of the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.

Some have demanded the resignation of Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, who has already begun to revise Morales-era policies even as she says she wants to negotiate with the opposition.

Morales’ supporters have given her a deadline of midnight on Monday to step down and have called for elections in 90 days.

Peter Siavelis, the chair of political science at Wake Forest University in the United States, told Al Jazeera that Anez’s actions had only worsened the country’s already deep divisions.

“Anez has come to power at a moment when what Bolivia needs is reconciliation, negotiation and work between the two sides,” Siavelis told Al Jazeera from New York. “But what she’s done is make a series of symbolic actions that have irritated the rift, made divisions deeper and put people hard and fast into their positions.”

Long queues

Bolivians waited in long queues on the streets of La Paz on Sunday for chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as the highway blockades isolated cities from lowland farms.

Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the Anez government had established an “air bridge” to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass the barricades. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.

Because of the roadblocks, fuel has become scarce and many in the poorer neighbourhoods of La Paz have been forced to cook with firewood.

“I hope things calm down,” said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class district of the capital. “We’re not getting any food or gasoline.”

Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Sunday were calling for a general strike on Monday raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.

Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.

On Friday, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country’s left-wing leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez’s government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales’ resignation.

The Anez administration on Sunday also renamed the state newspaper “Bolivia.” Morales had called it “Change.”

Violent protests on Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales’ supporters, left at least nine people dead, officials said.

The local ombudsman in the region said police used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.

She has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet the opposition to halt protests.

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Related:

What do we know about Jeanine Áñez Chávez?

Buenos Aires Herald

Bolivia’s interim leader was little known until she declared herself president Tuesday night.

Bolivia has a new interim president, lawmaker Jeanine Áñez Chávez, who, until Tuesday night, was the second vice-president of the Senate and little known to most Bolivians.

Her declaration that she was Bolivia’s new leader came on the heels of a legislative session that was boycotted by the Movement for Socialism (MAS), the party of former president Evo Morales.

Áñez was sworn in by her allies, despite lacking quorum, after all other officials in the line of succession had fled. The country’s highest court validated the proclamation shortly after. Áñez, considered a right-wing religious conservative, becomes Bolivia’s 66th president and the second woman to hold the post. Early moves confirm she will seek a significant pivot away from the politics of her predecessor.

Fresh from being sworn in, she posed with a purple Bible and, later, held a leather-bound copy of the Gospels. Morales, a socialist, did away with religious oaths of office. “God has allowed the Bible to come back into the [presidential] palace. May he bless us,” Áñez said.

Her emergency cabinet appointments Wednesday included three women, but nobody from one of Bolivia’s 36 indigeneous groups, ginning up controversy over racist tweets she posted in 2013. The posts — later deleted — described and ridiculed new year celebrations by the Aymara indigeneous community (“Nobody can replace God!”) as “satanic.” In another tweet, she questioned their reasons for going barefoot.

BACKGROUND

The 52-year-old lawyer from the northeastern region of Beni, bordering Brazil, is a longtime critic of her predecessor. Áñez belongs to the Democratic Unity party, led by the governor of Santa Cruz province, an opposition stronghold.

Her career in politics was jump started in 2006 when Áñez was elected to an assembly that Morales called to reform the Bolivian constitution after his ascent to power. She then became a senator in 2010, and was named second deputy leader in line with a tradition that all parties be represented in the top posts.

Before her career in politics, she was a lawyer and campaigned against gender violence. She also worked as a television presenter and station director. Áñez has promised to hold fresh elections as “soon as possible” which, according to the Constitution, must happen within 90 days.

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