Journal De Bruxelles - Bolivia's Jeanine Anez: From president to prisoner

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Bolivia's Jeanine Anez: From president to prisoner
Bolivia's Jeanine Anez: From president to prisoner / Photo: Aizar RALDES - AFP

Bolivia's Jeanine Anez: From president to prisoner

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.

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

On Friday, no longer president and having spent more than a year in pre-trial detention, Anez was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Her crime: an alleged plot -- dismissed as fictional by many -- to oust Morales.

The accusations came despite Anez having overseen fresh elections and relinquishing the presidency a year later to Luis Arce of Morales's MAS party, which romped to power in voting in October of 2020.

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

In March of 2021, 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," Anez said on Twitter at the time.

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

In pre-trial detention, she went on hunger strike more than once. Her trial began in mid-February.

Friday's sentence of 10 years in a La Paz women's prison stemmed from crimes "contrary to the Constitution and a breach of duties" over accusations pertaining to when she was a senator, before becoming president.

Anez still faces charges in a separate, pending case for sedition and other charges related to her short presidential stint.

- Bolivia's second woman president -

As second deputy speaker of the Senate, Anez assumed the presidency in 2019 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 to 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 in March 2020, 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, 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 54-year-old former lawyer and television presenter served from 2006 to 2008 as a 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 arrested.