President Luis Arce appointed Aviation General Jaime Zabala as Commander-in-Chief of the Bolivian Armed Forces. He also appointed the other military commanders who will replace those who had been appointed by his predecessor, Jeanine Áñez, which the president considers co-responsible for a coup and – some of them – perpetrators of repressive acts that caused more than 30 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
Arce asked the new military command to return to the Armed Forces its institutions and “its place in society”, since in the past these were used “wrongly”, so his current challenge is to get the people to “trust again in that they will respect democratic processes ”. The Bolivian Armed Forces, then commanded by General Williams Kaliman, had an important participation in the overthrow of President Evo Morales on November 10, 2019. Before his departure from power, he was publicly “suggested” to resign. And, as Morales later revealed, they acted behind his back against the social groups that supported him and in favor of the protesters who had been protesting against him for 21 days, demanding the cancellation of the elections he had won due to fraud. In addition, days before, when the president asked them what they could do to face the mobilizations, the commanders replied that nothing, because “they had no bullets.”
Shortly after the change of government and the arrival of Áñez to power, the “massacres of Sacaba, Free and El Pedregal, ”which is what the acts of repression of the protests against the interim government are called, made by which the Arce party, the Movement to Socialism (MAS), wants to prosecute Áñez, his Cabinet and some military and police chiefs whose names have not been fully determined until now, because they are protected as a “military secret.” This trial will be one of the most important points of controversy between the Government of Arce and the military institutions.
In his possession, General Zavala took a phrase pronounced by Arce in his oath speech as president and asked that “the bad be corrected and the good deepened”, in this case in the relationship between the MAS governments and the Armed Forces . In the past, the military received special treatment from Evo Morales, which increased investment in combat equipment, handed over the leadership of civil aeronautics to retired military personnel and appointed many former commanders as ambassadors for the country. However, there were also frictions between the military forces and the indigenous leader over the policies he carried out to indoctrinate the officers in “anti-imperialist” matters and because of the cult he professed to Ernesto That Guevara, the Argentine guerrilla who fought and died in Bolivia in 1967. In one of his last official acts, Áñez Defense Minister Fernando López organized an act of “reparation” to Bolivian ex-combatants in Ñancahuazú, the place where Che was defeated. López also dismantled the “anti-imperialist military school” created by Morales and turned it into a center for studies of military engineering, which he named, precisely, “Héroes de Ñancahuazú.” The Armed Forces stopped using the “Hasta la victoria siempre” that Morales forced them to chant when he was their captain general.
Except for these conflict points, the relationship between the leftist leader and the Armed Forces was good, especially those he had with the Air Force, for which the former president bought several planes and helicopters. General Zabala belongs to this military group.
The new commander affirmed that the Armed Forces were the “sole and indivisible” Bolivian institution in charge of security and defense. Thus, he established the point of view of the military regarding the voices that, within the MAS, have proposed the creation of volunteer “militias” to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2019. This idea was initially raised by the MAS Evo Morales, but he backed off after his words caused a scandal. However, it has not stopped being discussed in public, causing nervousness in the uniformed and repudiation in the political opposition.
Zabala also asked that the “hatred among Bolivians” end and that they work together to confront the pandemic, the economic recession and the political crisis that hit the country simultaneously.
The Arce government is also trying to rebuild its influence over the Police, which contributed much more directly than the Armed Forces to Morales’ removal from power. The new Bolivian Interior Minister, Carlos Eduardo Del Castillo, declared that “never again” and in no government should there be a police riot like the one that precipitated the fall of the MAS in 2019. He also promised to work on recovering the professionalism of the institution in charge of public order.