Bolivia’s new Interior Minister Arturo Murillo has unveiled a new battalion of heavily militarized, black-clad “anti-terror” police aimed at neutralizing what the government claims are foreign groups “threatening” the South American country.
“This anti-terrorist group has a mission of dismantling absolutely all the terrorist cells that are threatening our homeland,” Murillo said, at an official ceremony launching the force. The Interior Minister posed for photos in front of the masked and heavily armed force.
Murillo justified the new creation based on a “grand conspiracy against all of the Americas” he claimed to have uncovered, asserting that the Venezuelan government had colluded with ousted Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera to flood the continent with narco-terrorists and drug runners.
He went on to claim that Venezuelan politicians Nicolas Maduro and Diosdado Cabello “have financed all the terror we have seen in recent times” in Bolivia, referencing the massacres that claimed over thirty lives since the right-wing coup of November 10. Police Chief Rodolfo Montero claimed that the unit is designed to “dismantle the foreign groups who were trained and guided to sow terror among the citizenry.”
Deposed president Evo Morales hit back at the new Interior Minister, stating that, “the coup plotters who seized power in Bolivia are now inventing incredible stories in order to blame others for the state terror they are imposing on others,” noting that the only terrorism in the country is their “blood and fire” attack on the Bolivian people.
Murillo has filed a case at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, against Morales, attempting to convict him of crimes against humanity. Morales faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
While the new government has portrayed the battalion as a counter-terror unit, there are well-founded fears that the force will actually be targeted at foreign journalists and human rights activists that might present a different picture of the country to the outside world than the one the government wants. Murillo recently directly threatened a newly arrived human rights delegation from Argentina. “We recommend these foreigners who are arriving…to be careful,” he said, “We are looking at you. We are following you,” warning them that there will be “zero tolerance” for any “terrorism” or “sedition” they enact. He added that “At the first false move that they make, trying to commit terrorism and sedition, they will have to deal with the police.”
The human rights group responded, “While the de facto government accuses us of being terrorists, we have started what we came to do, take testimony of the different human rights violations that the Bolivian people are enduring.” Murillo was true to his word: the police subsequently detained 14 members of the delegation.
The irony is that it is precisely the new Bolivian coup government and the death squads Murillo controls that have been responsible for grave human rights violations across the country, including two massacres near the cities of Cochabamba and La Paz. Last month the military demanded newly elected president Evo Morales step down, handpicking Senator Jeanine Añez as president, in an action most mainstream media refused to label a “coup.” The move was hailed by the Trump administration but condemned by many of the Democratic Party’s left-wing, including Senator Bernie Sanders. Añez immediately exonerated all security forces of past and future crimes during what she called the “re-establishment of order”, widely understood as granting them a license to kill with impunity. Morales was forced into exile and Murillo began “hunting down” elected pro-Morales officials like the “animals” they were, in his own words.
The new government has also attacked the press, forcing critical international media, like TeleSUR and RT en Español off the air. Meanwhile, an Al-Jazeera anchor was tear-gassed in the face live on air by a member of the security forces. Other journalists have simply been detained and disappeared.
Throughout all this, the Organization of American States and the media have whitewashed events, claiming Morales’ election was fraudulent and supporting the new “interim transitional government.” More than 100 economists, statisticians and academics signed a letter Monday, confirming that, after careful analysis, the results of the October election Morales won were completely legitimate. They claim that the “OAS has to answer for its role” in supporting the coup, contributing to the human rights violations and state terror sweeping the country.
The new move creating an unaccountable armed security force directly aimed at foreign terror will do little to quash fears that Bolivia is heading down the road to a totalitarian dictatorship with no freedom of expression.
MintPress News has been extensively covering the situation in Bolivia. For more, click here.
Feature photo | Armed police stand near the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Juan Karita | AP
Alan MacLeod is a MintPress Staff Writer as well as an academic and writer for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. His book, Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting was published in April.