“We are a people freeing ourselves,” Jhanisse Daza, Bolivian Human Rights Activist
On Sunday, November 10th, 2019, the ex-president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, resigned from his post. His resignation comes as a result of a 20-day, nationwide protest that erupted after the OAS (Organization of American States) released a report finding irregularities suggestive of electoral fraud. What led to Morales resignation has deeper roots, as the interview that follows, details. Latina Republic was contacted on Sunday by the Human Rights Foundation. We were invited to connect with human rights activists in Bolivia who had testimonies to share about the struggles of a country fighting for democracy. What follows in an interview with Jhanisse Daza, a human rights activist and co-founder of Rios de Pie. Daza argues that the international press has been wrong about much of what has been reported on Bolivia in recent days. She states that Morales’ resignation is not the result of a military coup, but the outcome of Bolvia’s people coming together from all walks of life who were joined by police and the military in defense of the integrity of the people’s votes. Morales ruled for 13 years, nine months and 18 days. He resigned this Sunday amid growing opposition. What happened? The answers and views below, are Daza’s.
Latina Republic: Are you Bolivian yourself?
Yes, I am Bolivian, I have always lived in Bolivia. My whole family is Bolivian. I have been lucky to study abroad. Thank you so much for reporting on Bolivia.
Latina Republic: What is the climate in your country following yesterday’s resignation of ex-president Evo Morales?
Last night was a difficult night for us, pro-Morales supporters attacked the homes of human rights defenders, journalists like Casimira Lema, who works for an independent television channel, Television Universitaria. She did a very thorough investigation to expose the fraud in the elections. She is like a hero to us, and last night protesters vandalized her home and burnt parts of the home.
Protesters have gone all over the city burning public buses.
Yesterday was a day of victory for Bolivia. The police and the military decided not to shoot the people and to join in the march. It was the coming together of all parts of society that made Morales resign. Sadly, this transition has ended in what we didn’t want, a lot of violence. We are all waiting to see what will happen today.
Latina Republic: Who will rule in the meantime?
According to the succession steps outlined in the constitution, the next president would be Jeanine Añez, who would lead transitionally until the holding of elections, but for this to happen, we will need the legislative assembly to accept the resignation of Evo Morales, and outline the steps for the next elections, which should take place within the next 90 days. We also need a new electoral body.
Part of problem is that two of the six members of the electoral tribune have been handpicked by the president. This unfair system has made it quite easy for the electoral body to be told what to do by the executive branch.
Beyond that, what I see as urgent is for the pro-Morales groups to stop attacking civilians, because yesterday aside from the violence in Cochabamba and in La Paz, snipers were shooting at the buses carrying peaceful protesters headed to La Paz to march. A day ago, a group of girls were kidnapped and abused.
Latina Republic: Can you tell us about your organization, Rios de Pie?
Ríos de Pie is a citizen-led organization that supports democratic processes through peaceful protest. We have gained national strength through “sentadas,” peaceful sit-downs. In Bolivia, people are accustomed, when angry, to target a building, or an institution, or to give into insults. We advocate something different. The act of sitting outside in silence is a peaceful way to show discontent. Some international accounts claim that we have been violent in protesting electoral fraud, but it has been quite the opposite.
Latina Republic: How can peace return to Bolivia?
First, I would say that Morales must call on his support base to stop attacking citizens.
Second, the legislature has to meet and tell us who will be the new interim president. It may be Jeanine Añez, but we need them to confirm it.
Third, the people needs to know when the new elections will take place and that a new electoral tribunal will be set up. For this last step we will need the participation and accompaniment of the international community. Otherwise it will not matter if we hold new elections if we keep a fraudulent system. What we need is a neutral electoral body that is transparent and that the citizenry can trust. We want to be assured that our votes will be respected.
Latina Republic: Evo Morales and many international accounts label what is happening as a military coup. What is your opinion in this matter?
Morales resignation is not the result of a military coup. We are a people freeing ourselves. I want to put a lot of emphasis on this. The military has done nothing. They have not attacked the population. In fact, when asked by the central government to contain us, they have refused to attack us.
The police have also refused to attack us and have joined us in the march.
The reports that say that the military have forced Morales out show that people don’t know Bolivia, and don’t understand what we have done as a country.
What do you see as the immediate and long-term goals for Bolivia?
The immediate goals are the separation of powers. We need to separate the judicial body from the electoral body, the legislative branch and the executive branch all need to be separated to ensure a true democracy. This will be the challenging task for the transitional government.
The long term goals include justice for political prisoners, freedom of expression, environmental rights and women’s rights.
We are concerned with how the international community describes what has happened in Bolivia. We don’t want our narrative to be misconstrued.
What do you know that the international community does not understand?
During the crisis caused by the fires of the Amazon, Bolivia lost more than 6 million hectares. Rios de pie worked with firefighters when the government did not offer support. This may seem as irrelevant but I think this catapulted everything that is happening now. Large sections of our country been burnt.
We grew tired of asking the government to declare a national state of emergency and the government refusing.
Without enough technology or even knowledge, we joined our firefighters and put out the fires while the government covered our mouths and refused to let us ask for help.
Why did the government refuse to declare a national emergency?
Because we were in electoral times. A declaration of national emergency would have implied that much of the state budget would have been directed to putting out the fires. And they wanted to campaign. At the same time, what caused the fires in Bolivia to grow to such magnitude was a law that Evo Morales passed, which said that controlled fires could be used to expand the agricultural production area within forested areas.
This law was passed on July 9 th, and two weeks later the fires broke out. To deal with this environmental crises we worked a lot. Our firefighters were unsupported for almost 40 days. Their example inspired us. If the firefighters could work tirelessly for 40 days without water, without shoes, as their shoes melted, and 6 firefighters died, what could we do for our country?
One of the firemen who died was a brother of one of our organization’s members. This topic is very close to us. If they fought fires for 40 days, we could peacefully protest in the streets for two weeks.
What are the lessons learned?
Bolivia’s social conscience has risen tremendously. I am very proud of my country. What Bolivia has done is something that even we thought would be impossible.
When we learned yesterday that Evo Morales had resigned, strangers on the street, started hugging each other and crying.
That is Bolivia. We are not who the headlines say we are. We are the firefighters, the defenders of the environment, the fighters for freedom of speech, we are groups like ours, knowing that standing up for what is right involves risks, yet we hold firm.
This afternoon, following violent outbreaks, the vicepresident of the Bolivian Senate, Janine Añez plead with the people for peace in Bolivia: “Let the violence cease, no matter what side it may be from. We cannot be mistreating ourselves. I ask you for the love of God to stop the violence. The Bolivian flag means unity.” Añez pledged to call elections so Bolivians can have a president, elected by the people, on January 22, 2020.