Death toll rises in Bolivia as new elections are proposed

Carlos Valdez
Associated Press

La Paz, Bolivia – Bolivia’s self-proclaimed interim president sent a bill on holding new elections to congress Wednesday amid escalating violence that has claimed at least 30 lives since a disputed Oct. 20 vote and the subsequent resignation and exile of former leader Evo Morales.

Officials raised the death toll by eight a day after security forces cleared a blockade of a fuel plant by anti-government protesters in the city of El Alto, near La Paz.

A woman feed the pigeons at Murillo square in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Bolivia has been in a state of turbulence since a disputed Oct. 20 vote that, according to an international audit, was marred by irregularities.

The public defender’s office and the state Institute of Forensic Investigations said the latest deaths happened in El Alto. People gathered at a Roman Catholic church to mourn the dead said they were fired on by security forces there.

Police and soldiers were escorting gasoline tankers from the Senkata fuel plant to ease food and gasoline shortages in some Bolivian cities. The plant provides fuel to more than two million people in El Alto and neighboring La Paz.

Demonstrators were attempting to blow up the plant with explosives, which could have caused a “massive tragedy,” interim Defense Minister Fernando López said.

Bolivia has been in a state of turbulence since a disputed vote that, according to an international audit, was marred by irregularities. Morales resigned Nov. 10 after weeks of protests against him and pressure from security forces, but his supporters oppose the interim government that took his place.

Interim President Jeanine Áñez on Wednesday sent to the legislature a bill that would allow the scheduling of new elections, without providing a date.

“This bill can be perfected and serve as a basis for consensus,” Áñez said at a news conference. She was referring to the legislators of Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism party, which has a majority in congress.

Congress does not have a fixed deadline to respond to Áñez’s proposal, but it is expected to deal with the matter urgently. Legislators were scheduled to meet Wednesday night.

Bolivia’s constitution says elections must be called within three months of an interim president taking office, which Áñez did on Nov. 12. If the bill is approved by legislators, the date would be set by the new Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

After almost a month of protests first by Morales’ opponents and then by his supporters, fuel shortages are suffocating El Alto and La Paz. Control of the Senkata fuel depot has become the most recent symbol of the struggle between the interim government and the former president’s followers.