Thousands of people from different parts of Bolivia marched this Tuesday in the municipality of El Alto, adjacent to La Paz, against the postponement of the elections ordered last week by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Smaller mobilizations were carried out in other cities of the country. “Elections now”, “democracy, yes; dictatorship, no “and” outside Áñez “sang the protesters called by the Bolivian Workers Central and the Unity Pact, the coalition of unions affiliated to the Movement to Socialism (MAS), the party of former President Evo Morales.
The interim government led by Jeanine Áñez described the protests as “diminished”, but at the same time condemned them and described them as a kind of biological attack by MAS farmers on the urban population. “Not [vinieron a] a march, but they came from the Chapare to infect the town [de La Paz y El Alto]”Defense Minister Fernando López declared on Monday. Along the same lines, the Government Minister, Arturo Murillo, reported that the police forces were looking for “five to ten people highly suspected of covid-19” who had arrived from the Chapare, the Bolivian region of Cocales.
These messages were welcomed favorably on social media by part of the urban middle class, who expressed their rejection of the “irresponsibility” and “cruelty” of the MAS leaders for calling for mass rallies at a time when the country It is collapsed by the pandemic and exceeds 2,500 dead. With this same argument, the Government asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to prosecute the MAS candidate, Luis Arce, for “damage to health”, a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison. The candidate, however, was not listed as the organizer of the marches. Arce is also being prosecuted for one of his actions as Economy Minister during the Evo Morales government. In addition, the permanence of MAS in the electoral career depends on how the Electoral Court resolves the request for disqualification filed against this party for, allegedly, having disseminated its own polls, an activity prohibited by the electoral law.
The MAS has accused the Government of “criminalizing social protest” and has assured that the fight to “recover democracy” is important enough to take risks that, on the other hand, the popular sectors of the population face anyway. Most Bolivians cannot stay home if they want to eat and have to go out to do paperwork or get paid.
The Bolivian health and funeral systems are collapsed and disorganized by infections and internal Administration conflicts. Some basic services, such as the provision of liquefied gas in La Paz and El Alto, have stopped working for these same reasons. Although the interim president has been discharged from the disease, several ministers, governors and mayors are still isolated or have just announced that they have also caught the disease.
In Bolivia there is a shortage of respirators and basic medicines for covid-19, such as azithromycin and dexamethasone. The number of unexplained deaths continues to rise in homes, cars, waiting rooms of hospitals and clinics, and even on the streets. The estimate is that 80% of these deaths are caused by coronaviruses. The infected are, according to official figures, almost 70,000, but the deficiencies in the detection scheme multiply the suspicions that they are much more, since the diagnostic tests available daily are usually lower – sometimes much lower – than the existing demand . At the time of the pandemic, the number of intensive care units and specialized doctors was less than that of an average developing country.
Taking these events into account, but also pressured by the political forces opposed to holding elections this year, the Electoral Court postponed the date from September 6 to October 18, assuring that it will be the definitive one. In response, MAS and the unions decided to organize the marches to put pressure on the electoral authority, too. Although the rejection of the possibility of MAS being disabled was not an explicit demand, it has also been among the demands that have motivated the protests.
Political polarization does not only occur around the date of elections; It also shows the fight between the Áñez government and the MAS-controlled legislature over several other issues. A law highly demanded by the speakers at the concentration that culminated in El Alto is the one that requires private clinics to attend to patients with covid-19 at a price regulated and paid by the State. This law, approved by the Legislative Assembly, has been objected to by Áñez and, therefore, cannot be executed. The opposition majority in Parliament has also considered authorizing the use of chlorine dioxide or “miracle salt” in the fight against the coronavirus. This disinfecting substance has been banned by the health authorities, although it is used among the popular sectors of the population, which demand its legalization through a part of the MAS parliamentary caucus.