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LATIN AMERICA | 22-08-2021 08:44

Bolivia ex-leader Áñez tried to 'take her own life' in prison, says lawyer

Bolivia's former interim president, right-wing leader Jeanine Áñez, tried to "self-injure" herself in the prison where she is being held and has "scratches" on her arm, but her health is stable.

Bolivia's jailed former president Jeanine Áñez attempted to take her own life in prison on Saturday, her lawyer said, a day after prosecutors charged her with "genocide" over the 2019 deaths of protesters.

Áñez has been jailed since March, originally on charges – trumped up, according to her defenders – of staging a coup against her predecessor and rival, former president Evo Morales. 

One of Áñez's lawyers, Jorge Valda, said the former leader, despondent over her legal situation, had "attempted to take her own life... an attempt in which, thank God, she failed."

Bolivian officials had announced Áñez tried to harm herself, with Interior Minister Eduardo del Castillo saying she had suffered only "scratches" on her arm in the attempt early Saturday and is in stable condition.

The opposition deplored the government's treatment of Áñez and called for her release.

Former centrist president Carlos Mesa said official explanations of her injury were "not serious" and demanded an end to her "political jailing."

Áñez's family has repeatedly asked the government to transfer the 54-year-old to a hospital for treatment of hypertension and other conditions. That request has been denied, as have her lawyers' requests that she be granted home detention.

The conservative leader took power in November 2019 after Morales resigned and fled the country following weeks of violent protests over his controversial re-election to an unconstitutional fourth term.  The indigenous fled the country after an election audit by the Organisation of American States (OAS) found evidence of fraud.

After the election, at least 37 people died in violence that flared between supporters and opponents of Morales, as well as between protesters and the security forces.

Most of the deaths came in clashes between Morales supporters and security forces after the socialist leader's flight.

The specific accusation against Áñez relates to two incidents in November 2019 in which a total 22 people died. 

Attorney General Juan Lanchipa said Friday he had presented documents against her in which the incidents were "provisionally classified as genocide, serious and minor injury and injury followed by death." 

After Morales resigned, Áñez – as the most senior parliamentarian left – was sworn in as interim president, but her political opponents denounced this as a coup d'état.

Under Áñez's administration, Bolivia held peaceful, transparent elections in October 2020 in which Morales's leftist protege Luis Arce stormed to a landslide victory. He subsequently vowed to pursue those he accused of staging a coup.

Áñez, arrested in March on accusations of leading a coup, also faces charges of terrorism, sedition and conspiracy. 

Bolivia's opposition has decried the lack of separation of powers in the country, saying the courts, electoral body and pubic prosecutor's office are all loyal to Arce, who is also a member of Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party.

"First of all, we need to reform the Judiciary because it is not independent or autonomous," said centrist lawmaker Alejandro Reyes. "As long as there is no judicial reform, we cannot do anything."

However, the case is unlikely to go to court, as for that to happen, the supreme court must ask congress for authorisation to hold Áñez responsible for what happened.

Authorisation could only be given by a two-thirds majority, and although MAS controls Congress, it does not enjoy a sufficiently large majority.

While MAS lost the presidency for a year to Áñez, it never gave up control of congress.

– TIMES/AFP

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