The cautious optimism that greeted the election of Luis Arce as Bolivia’s president has abruptly turned to profound concern. Arce, the socialist technocrat who came to office in the midst of dangerously inflamed political divisions last year, had vowed to “rebuild the country in unity,” including by making the judiciary independent of politics. Yet he just had Bolivia’s previous president, Jeanine Anez, along with more than a dozen former officials, arrested and imprisoned on dubious charges of “terrorism,” “conspiracy” and “sedition” connected to the ouster of her predecessor, Evo Morales.
“We will learn and we will overcome the mistakes we’ve made,” Arce had pledged on the eve of his win last October, following deadly political unrest the year before, when the firebrand Morales was removed from office by the military after a fiercely contested election that Morales’ critics said was rigged. Arce, a former economy minister under Morales, was the candidate of the Movement for Socialism, or MAS, the political vehicle for Morales’ transformative presidency from 2006 to 2019. His promise to heal an impoverished country crippled by partisan and ideological acrimony now rings hollow.
After Morales was forced out of office, Anez, a rightist senator, became Bolivia’s interim president. But she was hardly an example of conciliation and bipartisanship, as her administration was riddled with abuses and often seemed to overstep its interim mandate. She briefly ran in the 2020 election before withdrawing her candidacy. The recently unveiled prosecutions against her and her allies look more like politically motivated vengeance than the pursuit of justice. They are a disheartening and dangerous turn of events for Bolivia, and new protests have already erupted.