Max Radwin reports for InSight Crime:
Since Bolivia’s botched elections in October 2019, numerous high-standing politicians and law enforcement officials associated with the Movement to Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo – MAS) party have fled the country or come under criminal investigation. Here, InSight Crime presents a roundup of prominent MAS figures connected to asylum claims or criminal activity.
The former president is accused of sedition, terrorism and election fraud after last October’s failed elections mired the country in constitutional crisis and violent protests.
Morales was trying for an unprecedented fourth term, which over the years has relied on constitutional loopholes, controversial referendums and Supreme Court challenges. Irregularities denounced by the Organization of American States during the election and final vote count called his win into question, and ignited month-long protests from both sides that resulted in 35 deaths.
Military personnel asked for Morales’ resignation in November. After seeking asylum in Mexico, he organized protests and blockades against the interim government, according to a video publicized by officials.
After moving to Argentina this February, Morales announced his intention to run for a senate seat in Cochabamba—a prolific coca-producing area as well as MAS stronghold—but was deemed ineligible by Bolivia’s Superior Electoral Court (Tribunal Superior Electoral – TSE) February.
No official drug trafficking charge has been issued against Morales under this interim government, but conservative Deputy Tomás Monasterio submitted an official request that the DEA—which Morales expelled from the country in 2008—return to investigate his past involvement.
Álvaro García Linera:
The former Vice President is accused of election fraud. Prosecutors told local media that with Morales, García ordered the Deputy Ministry of Institutional Transparency to “manipulate electoral records.”
García had served with Morales since he took office in 2006. He is currently living in Argentina under political asylum status.
The former Minister of Justice is being investigated for electoral fraud and corruption. Prosecutors said more than thirty former officials have come forward claiming that Arce ordered them to alter and falsify electoral records at odd hours during the election.
Because the interim government has not approved his asylum claim, Arce currently resides in the Mexican embassy in La Paz.
Juan Ramón Quintana:
A raid of Quintana’s home in December uncovered evidence that the head of a Bolivian gold exporting company had paid Quintana to help finance protests against Morales’ ouster.
No longer insulated within a MAS-controlled government, Quintana is the focus of several renewed investigations from his earliest days in office. One has to do with the illegal donation of vehicles to the Abya Yala Foundation, a government contractor. Another involves his participation in a notorious embezzlement case that saw 121 million Bolivian pesos (about $17 million) lost to Indigenous Development Fund “ghost” projects between 2009 and 2013.
Quintana currently resides in the Mexican embassy in La Paz, as the interim government has not approved his asylum claim.
The former economy minister is being investigated for his involvement in the Indigenous Development Fund embezzlement case.
Arce is currently campaigning on the MAS presidential ticket for the May 3 elections.
The former interior minister is being investigated for electoral fraud, corruption and terrorism.
In January, Romero was arrested after failing to appear in court to address irregular contracts with companies that supplied helicopter and airplane parts to the Executive Unit for the Comprehensive Fight Against Drug Trafficking (Unidad Ejecutora de Lucha Integral Contra el Narcotráfico – UELICN).
The former National Director of the Special Forces for the Fight Against Drug Trafficking (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico – FELCN) is being investigated for drug trafficking and corruption.
The investigation comes in response to a November letter published by Bolivian drug trafficker Pedro Montenegro Paz, now extradited to Brazil, that accused Dávila of doing bidding for former President Morales.
“(Dávila) did not rest until he destroyed everything within his reach,” Montenegro wrote, “and for a series of interests creating smokescreens and putting himself at the service of a narco-government tyrant.”
Dávila was tasked with running the country’s top anti-drug agency last February. In that short time, he found himself caught up in numerous criminal scandals. The largest alleged his involvement in the disappearance of 35 kilos of cocaine during a May drug raid. Former colonel and convicted drug trafficker Gonzalo Medina called him “the true drug trafficker” of Cochabamba, but Morales defended his FELCN chief and no investigation was carried out.
It was not until October’s failed elections that voices outside of the drug trafficking world began to corroborate some of the accusations against Dávila. In November, FELCN officials requested his resignation due to corruption and unethical ties to the Morales government.
“Dávila has worked closely with Carlos Romero…and now works underneath ex-authorities in this conflict,” their request said. “We have information that this colonel has always answered to Evo Morales, has always been faithful to the former president.”
The interim government is also investigating the possibility that Dávila was present at Guayaramerín airport when a plane carrying 1.225 metric tons of cocaine departed for Mexico.
The country’s former anti-drug czar is being investigated for his role in granting irregular contracts for UELICN helicopters and airplanes.
Additionally, Cáceres’ longstanding connections to coca-growing networks in the Chapare and influence over the country’s legal coca market in general make him vulnerable to investigations into his involvement in drug trafficking cases that were allegedly buried during the Morales government.
For example, former FELCN National Director Rene Sanabria implicated Cáceres in high-profile drug trafficking activity after being arrested by the DEA in 2011. At that time, the DEA couldn’t build a strong enough case against Cáceres, a DEA agent working the case told InSight Crime, due to its weakened relationship with the country.
Three days after Morales flew to Mexico, Cáceres applied for political asylum in Nicaragua.
InSight Crime Analysis
The reemergence of nearly ten-year-old cases and the ease with which officials have uncovered evidence in support of them suggests that MAS officials turned a blind eye to corruption, if not directly participated in it.
“We cannot allow our youth to be lost to drug trafficking,” said Interior Minister Arturo Murillo, an outspoken proponent of many investigations. “We cannot allow corruption to sink our country. For fourteen years, our country has lived in deep corruption, the free reign of drug trafficking, the free reign of crime.”
Less than a month after Morales’ departure, the interim government announced the creation of the Anti-Terrorist Group (Grupo Antiterrorista — GAT) charged with patrolling the streets for “subversive acts” as well as freeing the country from alleged narco-terrorists.
Critics have pointed to GAT—as well as the astounding 600-plus officials at all levels of the government that are being investigated—as evidence of political persecution. A February congressional declaration criticized the interim government for partaking in “harassment, persecution and intimidation suffered mainly by leaders of social organizations and former authorities.”
Indeed, while reports of official involvement in cocaine trafficking and corruption were rife during Morales’ presidency, this targeted anti-MAS campaign raises questions about whether party officials partook in nearly unchecked criminal activity for more than a decade, or whether the new government is keen to tarnish its political opposition ahead of the general election in May.
Interim President Jeanine Áñez—a vocal critic of MAS who effectively rallied the Bolivian right during the protests—has split support for non-MAS candidates, because former President Carlos Mesa, a moderate, is also on the ticket from last October. He appears to have a chip on his shoulder after losing to Morales, and has made pushing officials to broaden election fraud investigations all but part of his campaign strategy—especially for MAS candidate Luis Arce.
Nevertheless, a February poll showed that MAS still has the most support in Bolivia, with 31 percent. If a non-MAS candidate manages to fend off Arce, then expect investigations to dig even deeper than they have in the last few months. Otherwise, they may fade away like before.