On Friday, former Bolivian President Jeanine Aez was given a sentence of ten years in jail for her role in allegedly unlawfully seizing the office after Evo Morales resigned from his position. The claims against her stemmed from the fact that Morales had resigned from his position.
The trial, which is the most recent chapter in Bolivia’s long-running political turmoil, has raised concerns that the country’s leaders are using the courts to target political adversaries, and that the sentencing represents a larger democratic crisis in both Bolivia, a small country in South America, and the surrounding region.
A warrant was issued for Ms. Aez’s arrest on the charges of terrorism and sedition on March 13, 2021, and she was brought into custody in her birthplace of Trinidad. She was then transported to La Paz. She was also charged with a number of additional charges, and while she was waiting for her trial, she was incarcerated for about 15 months.
On Friday, she was given a sentence by the Tribunal Primero de Sentencia in La Paz on the charges of breaking her duties and adopting resolutions against Bolivia’s Constitution. These charges were brought against her by the Bolivian government.
Ms. Aez’s attorney, Luis Guillén, stated in an interview with The New York Times that he believed the court’s decision was politically motivated and that the current government of Bolivia, which is led by a socialist ally of Mr. Morales, broke the law in their treatment of Ms. Aez while she was detained. Guillén stated that he believed the court’s decision was politically motivated.
Ms. Aez rose to the forefront of Bolivia’s political scene in November 2019, when Mr. Morales, Bolivia’s longtime president, a socialist, and the country’s first Indigenous leader, lost his grip on power and fled into exile in Argentina amid violent protests sparked by his disputed election. Previously, Ms. Aez was a little-known conservative senator.
Ms. Aez came forward and made the pledge to merely serve as a caretaker president during the interim and to arrange fresh elections in which she would not compete for office. But nearly as soon as she became office, she began to make significant changes to Bolivia’s foreign policy. She is a conservative Christian who began a campaign against the leftist followers of Mr. Morales, who throughout his 14 years in administration had emphasised the significance of Indigenous culture. She also brought religious symbols into secular administrative operations.
It did not take long for Ms. Aez, who is now 54 years old, to become exceedingly unpopular with the Bolivian public. The reasons for this range from purported human rights violations to her antagonism of Mr. Morales’ Movement to Socialism party, which continues to be Bolivia’s largest party, and perhaps most significantly, her handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic disruption that followed.
On Wednesday, a group of people opposed to Aez gathered outside the court as prosecutors gave their closing arguments inside. Many of the people in this gathering said that they had been subjected to repression during Aez’s administration. They yelled “no bargaining with blood already spilt” as they demanded that the former leader be given the maximum possible punishment of 15 years in prison.
However, the decision has also raised concerns about the independence of Bolivia’s judicial system, which, according to Cesar Muoz, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, has been used in the past by previous governments on both ends of the political spectrum to exact “vengeance” on their political opponents.
There were claims levelled against the administration of Mr. Morales that it engaged in political persecution of journalists and politicians in the opposition, as well as that it manipulated the court system for political objectives.
According to Human Rights Watch, the administration of Ms. Aez “publicly pressured prosecutors and judges to act to further its interests.” This, according to the organisation, resulted in the opening of criminal investigations into more than a hundred individuals with ties to the Morales government on allegations of committing crimes of sedition or terrorism.
Aez now faces the same charges of terrorism for crimes she is said to have committed before her presidency — and for which Mr. Muoz said there is equally little evidence — in addition to accusations of genocide from her time serving as president under Mr. Arce’s administration. Mr. Muoz said there is equally little evidence.
Most notably, more than 36,000 individuals were detained in El Salvador after the country’s Parliament granted President Nayib Bukele the right to suspend certain civil freedoms in order to clamp down on gang violence. This was done in an effort to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by gangs. In addition, “democratic deterioration” has been observed by the Brookings Institution in the countries of Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Paraguay, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.