The Case of Jeanine Añez

If Jeanine Añez, the former president of Bolivia, were a woman of the left, she would be a “cause célèbre” by now. Because she is a Christian and a conservative (with some of whose ideas, I hasten to add, I do not agree), her recent ten-year prison sentence at the hands of an increasingly dictatorial government led by Luis Arce—a stooge of former president Evo Morales, a close ally of Cuba and Nicaragua—has given rise to less international furor than it should. She is a political prisoner and the case against her (she is accused of having grabbed power illegally in 2019) is grotesque by any standards.

Here are the facts. In 2019, having overturned constitutional and legal constraints in order to run for a fourth consecutive term, Evo Morales committed electoral fraud according to the Organization of American States, the hemispheric body that audited the controversial process. It sparked off massive protests and a violent response by Morales’ allies. In the ensuing chaos, Morales resigned and fled the country. The constitutional line of succession mandated that the head of the Senate assume the presidency.

Since the president and the vice president of the Senate, allies of the fallen government, resigned, the second vice president, Jeanine Añez, became president of the Senate and as such assumed the presidency of Bolivia in November, 2019. Bolivia´s institutions, including the Legislative Assembly and MAS, the party that had lost power, recognized her as the legitimate ruler. As an interim president, she was in charge of presiding over new elections. After some months of delay due to the pandemic, the elections took place the following year. She handed over power to her successor, who happened to be an ally of Evo Morales and a member of MAS. 

Añez’s conduct, whatever you think of her politics, was constitutionally impeccable. For that she has been punished in an act of revenge that has violated constitutional and legal norms. Under the constitution (written by Morales’ MAS), as a former head of state she was entitled to a trial by the Supreme Court; instead she was tried by a lower court and not even allowed to attend her trial. A few days after the sentence, Evo Morales publicly acknowledged that the process was ordered and controlled by his political allies.

Let us remember what preceded the events of 2019. Mr. Morales assumed the presidency in 2006 under a constitution that did not allow the president to run for re-election. Following the “Chavista” script of the populist radical left, Morales changed the constitution and was re-elected in 2009. When he decided to run for a third term, the constitutional tribunal, by now under his grip, ruled that Morales’ first term did not count because it had taken place under a different constitution. A few years later, he decided a fourth consecutive term would be nice. He called for a national referendum with the help of the Legislative Assembly, which passed a law to enable the process.

The Bolivian voters rejected him. That should have ended the discussion, but Morales, through his allies, asked the Constitutional Tribunal to rule that, under international law, he had a “human right” to be re-elected indefinitely. That body, one of many instruments of Morales’ autocratic government, dutifully authorized him to run for a fourth term. By then Morales was unpopular with millions of Bolivians; the possibility of a legitimate victory was remote.

When the first round of the election showed that he was far from an outright victory and would have to square off with former president Carlos Mesa in a second round he was sure to lose, he engineered the fraud that sparked off the crisis.

By any standard, Morales should have been the one tried and sent to prison. Instead, he now boasts openly that his stooges have sentenced Jeanine Añez, who spent fifteen months in prison awaiting trial, to ten years behind bars. 

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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