The First Sentencing Court of La Paz sentenced this Friday the former president of Bolivia Jeanine Añez to 10 years in prison for the crimes of “resolutions contrary to the Constitution” and “breach of duties”, in one of the several processes that justice Bolivian follows the 54-year-old politician, who has been in prison for more than a year. The trial referred to Añez’s actions after the resignation of Evo Morales in 2019 and her subsequent proclamation as president, actions that the prosecution considered a “coup d’état”.
For the Bolivian ruling party, the sentence “sets a precedent so that a coup d’état is never again attempted in Bolivia.” On the other hand, the opposition unanimously rejected the outcome of a trial that the party of former president Carlos Mesa called “one of the most shameful examples of management by the Public Ministry and the Judicial Branch in favor of obscure interests of the government party.” Together with Añez, the former Commander of the Armed Forces, Williams Kaliman, and the former Police Chief, Yuri Calderón, who are fugitives, were sentenced to ten years. Other former military commanders received sentences between two and four years.
The decision of the judges was known in a virtual session. The trial was only semi-face-to-face and the determination of when there should be physical meetings and when there should not be a matter of dispute between the defense and the judges. The former president was not allowed to attend court, allegedly due to security concerns. On June 9, she participated “online” in the last argument hearing from the prison where she is being held. She was reported drowsy from the medications she had been given to alleviate the stress of the procedure. Her daughter, who accompanied her, and her defense attorneys insisted that she was not fit to continue the trial, but the court took advice from the prison doctors and, although it ordered a recess, it heard the presentation of arguments until final. Subsequently, the defense denounced “cruel and degrading treatment” to the press. Government lawyers believe that these complaints are aimed at preparing the presentation, in the future, of an appeal before an international court.
Añez: “I was a consequence of everything that happened in 2019”
To hear the last words of the accused, the judges visited them in their jails. Before them, Añez pointed out: “I have been accused of crimes that I have not committed, invented, only to please political power. I have been denied the right to justice. This is how they have treated a woman, mother, former president, innocent. Because all of Bolivia knows that those crimes for which they are accusing me, I have not committed. All of Bolivia knows that [solo] I was a consequence of everything that happened in 2019. He also stated that he had “the government, but not the power.” And he confirmed that the legal battle will continue: “We are not going to stay here. We are going to appeal internationally.”
The defense objected to requesting such a high penalty for charges of an administrative nature. But the main observation of Añez’s legal team, as well as the opposition politicians who support her, is that the illegal acts for which she is accused have been divided into several groups and, therefore, in several different processes. This is why, in this case, the prosecution was able to prosecute Añez before an ordinary court, arguing that the crimes she charged her with were committed before she was president of Bolivia. In this way, the accusation eluded the constitutional obligation to prosecute the former presidents in a trial of responsibilities, a special process that must begin in the Legislative Assembly with the favorable vote of two thirds of the parliamentarians. The government of President Luis Arce does not have sufficient support for this and has preferred to avoid negotiating with the opposition parliamentary forces, who initially did not want to prosecute Añez, but later changed their minds to try to give the former president a process in better conditions. than the one he had. As a result, the main crimes that, according to the prosecution, were Añez’s responsibility, such as acts of repression of protests against her government in which more than 30 people died and 85 were injured, have not been included in this trial. . And they will not be judged as long as the correlation of parliamentary forces does not change.
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The complicated and not always coherent legal strategy of the ruling party has ended up confusing its own bases. Before the verdict was known, the powerful Pact of Unity, the structure of unions and social movements of the Movement to Socialism (MAS), threatened to take over the judicial institutions and mobilize if Añez was not sentenced to the maximum sentence (30 years of prison) for his management of the Government, ignoring that this was not what was being analyzed in the trial.
A third group of questions about the process that has just ended refer to its unusual characteristics: its speed, since it has barely lasted a year when similar processes usually take three or four times as long in Bolivia. One of Añez’s defense attorneys, Luis Guillén, called it an “express trial.” To achieve this record, the trial court limited the evidence and the witnesses presented by the defense, demanding that they all refer to the short period of time in which the investigated events occurred, which was also denounced by the defense as an indication of bias. . According to this legal team, by not considering the context of what was prosecuted, the debate on the alleged fraud in the October 2019 elections was eliminated as the origin of the political crisis that culminated in the fall of President Evo Morales and his replacement by Añez. .
The court determined what happened between November 10, 2019, when Morales resigned, overwhelmed by the protests against him, by the mutiny of the police and by the disloyalty of the Armed Forces, and November 12, the day on which Jeanine Añez became president. It ruled that the then second vice president of the Senate acted against the Constitution and failed to fulfill her duties as a public official. What was appropriate was to convene a parliamentary meeting with a quorum in which the resignations of Morales, Vice President Álvaro García Linera and the presidents of the chambers of senators and deputies were discussed, and then it was decided who should lead the Executive. Instead, Añez, with the support of the military and police chiefs, proclaimed herself president in a parliamentary session without a quorum.
The defense, for its part, recalled the difficult circumstances that existed in those days when the police were mutinous and there was violence in the streets. He accused the MAS of having ordered the resignation of all legislative authorities and of having prevented the Assembly meeting from having a quorum, and pointed out that Añez, who was the country’s highest authority at the time, took office by constitutional succession to prevent a “vacuum of power” disastrous for the country.
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