LA PAZ – Bolivia’s caretaker government on Thursday repealed a decree that over the past two weeks had exempted soldiers and police from criminal responsibility when taking part in operations to restore order in the violence-racked country.
That executive order had come under harsh criticism from Amnesty International and other global human rights watchdogs, as well as from the Ombudsman’s Office in the Andean nation, where social upheaval since the Oct. 20 presidential election has left 34 dead, many of gunshot wounds during police and military operations.
“We’ve achieved the desired pacification,” interim President Jeanine Añez said in a brief statement at the presidential palace in La Paz.
She said the decree issued on Nov. 14, two days after she took office, was a “constitutional remedy” adopted amid “unprecedented violent actions.”
Añez referred specifically to what she called “days of terror” in the highland city of El Alto, near La Paz, where she said the lives of more than 250,000 people were at risk in what could have been a “tragedy of devastating proportions” at a refinery.
At least 10 civilians died of gunshot wounds during a military and police operation on Nov. 19 in that city of nearly 1 million inhabitants when groups of anti-government demonstrators gathered outside the refinery.
The caretaker government denies that the security forces opened fire, but the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which sent a delegation to Bolivia, and other entities have denounced excessive force in different security operations, including the one in El Alto.
Nine other civilians died of gunshot wounds in a military and police operation in the Bolivian city of Sacaba on Nov. 15.
According to the Ombudsman’s Office, a total of 34 people have died and 832 have been injured in violent incidents since the Oct. 20 election, which has since been annulled.
The violence began on Oct. 21, after longtime leftist President Evo Morales declared himself the winner in the first-round amid accusations of fraud by the opposition.
Morales was forced to resign on Nov. 10 after an Organization of American States audit of the vote found various irregularities in the election process and he lost the support of the armed forces.
On Nov. 11 Morales took up an offer of political asylum in Mexico and the Bolivian army began carrying out joint operations with the police, which had asked for military backing to help quell violent protests amid a power vacuum.
Formerly a deputy speaker of the Senate, the conservative Añez was sworn in as interim president on Nov. 12, while the controversial decree exempting the security forces from criminal responsibility was issued two days later.
Morales’s ouster has been termed a “coup” by different Latin American governments and politicians.
Brazilian former President Luiz Inacio da Silva, an icon of the left in Latin America, said in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian that was published on Nov. 22 – two weeks after he was released from prison in Curitiba, Brazil, where he was serving a sentence for a corruption conviction he says is politically motivated – that the ouster of Morales was a coup and a crime.
But he also told that paper that Morales had made a mistake by seeking a fourth term in office.
Voters had narrowly rejected that possibility in a 2016 plebiscite, but the following year Bolivia’s Supreme Court abolished term limits for all elected officials on the grounds that they violate candidates’ human rights.