Bolivia's Jeanine Anez: From president to 'coup' accused

Francisco JARA
·3-min read

Conservative senator Jeanine Anez was unknown to many Bolivians before she stepped out onto the balcony of the government palace in November 2019, Bible in hand.

A longtime critic of her leftist predecessor Evo Morales, she stepped into the presidential vacuum left when he resigned and fled the country amid violent post-election protests.

She promised speedy fresh elections and relinquished the seat a year later to Luis Arce of Morales's MAS party, which romped to power in voting in October of last year.

"I congratulate the winners and ask them to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind," she said at the time.

On Saturday, with Morales back in the country and his MAS party in control, Anez was arrested on charges of sedition and terrorism over what the government claims was a coup attempt against him.

"I denounce before Bolivia and the world that in an act of abuse and political persecution, the MAS government has ordered my arrest," she said on Twitter Friday.

"They accuse me of having participated in a coup that never happened. My prayers for Bolivia and for all Bolivians," she said.

- Bolivia's second woman president -

As second deputy speaker of the Senate at the time, Anez assumed the presidency two days after Morales, a friend of Cuba and Venezuela, stepped down after 14 years in power.

Morales fled to Mexico after three weeks of violent unrest following elections in which he sought an unconstitutional fourth term. As opposition grew, he lost the support of the armed forces.

Anez took up the mantle as Bolivia's 66th president -- and its second woman in the role -- after all the other officials in line to act as interim president had fled.

Facing an uprising by Morales supporters, she called in the police and military to restore order.

The post-election conflict caused about 35 deaths, according the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

In January 2020, Anez announced her candidacy for the presidency, triggering criticism from opponents and allies claiming she was going back on her word to merely stand in until new elections were held.

The coronavirus epidemic arrived in Bolivia under her watch last March, and with it accusations of corruption in the acquisition of ventilators from Spain.

Anez blamed her health minister, and fired him.

In September, she withdrew from the presidential race as opinion polls predicted certain defeat.

- 'Coup-mongering' senator -

When taking over as president, Anez had vowed to "pacify the country." But Morales immediately branded her "a coup-mongering right-wing senator."

She had "declared herself... interim president without a legislative quorum, surrounded by a group of accomplices," he said at the time.

After learning of the arrest warrant against her on Friday, Anez claimed she was a victim of lies and defended her "constitutional" assumption of power in 2019, which she said was necessitated by "electoral fraud."

The 53-year-old former lawyer and television presenter served from 2006 to 2008 as member of an assembly that drew up Bolivia's constitution. She has been a senator since 2010.

She is a member of a minority conservative political group, Democratic Unity, and became second deputy leader of the Senate in line with a tradition that all parties be represented in the top posts.

A proud Christian, Anez posed with a purple Bible at her swearing-in ceremony, seeking to distinguish herself from Morales -- a socialist who had done away with religious oaths of office.

"God has allowed the Bible to come back into the (presidential) palace. May He bless us," she said.

Anez lived in the city of Trinidad, capital of the Amazonian department of Beni, where she was apprehended in the early morning hours of Saturday.

A week earlier, she had sought the Beni governorship in local elections, but came in third.

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