Updated: March 4, 2021
Senior State Department officials on Thursday detailed the U.S. position on upcoming elections in Bolivia.
The interaction happened via a teleconference.
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MODERATOR: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for attending this briefing today. This briefing is going to be on background today, please, and the contents will be embargoed until the completion of this call.
As everybody is aware, Bolivia will have elections on October 18th. This will be the rerun of the fraudulent October 20, 2019 election which resulted in former President Morales fleeing Bolivia. So we think at the State Department that this election is very important to watch.
Today, again on background, we have [Senior State Department Official One] and [Senior State Department Official Two] to give a background briefing on the expected state of the elections and U.S. policy perspective. They should be referred to as senior State Department officials.
With that, I’ll turn it over to [Senor State Department Official One]. And one quick note: I’m going to have to jump off the call early, so [Moderator] will be taking over the Q&A for me. Okay, [Senior State Department Official One].
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks much, thanks much. Good afternoon, everybody. The United States Government continues to support the Bolivian people and their right to choose their own government in free, fair, and transparent elections, and we continue to call on all political actors to respect a credible and peaceful electoral process, and we look forward to working with whomever the Bolivians freely and fairly choose to be their president and to promote democracy, human rights, and prosperity in Bolivia and throughout the region.
Now, this is a critical moment for democracy in Bolivia. A year ago, the Bolivian people defended their democracy when an OAS audit requested by the Morales administration confirmed that the announced election results were the product of massive fraud.
We were there shortly before the 2019 elections and soon after and met many of the young people who took to the streets. They weren’t motivated by left-wing or right-wing ideology, by race or ethnicity or religion. They had come of age with democratic expectations and they expected that their government would respect their rights. When push came to shove, they refused to let anyone take those rights from them.
We supported the efforts of President Jeanine Anez’s transitional administration to govern during this interim period and the efforts she and that interim administration and the national assembly have made to empower the Supreme Electoral Tribunal so that it might establish a strong and credible electoral process.
Now, the Anez administration came together amidst difficult circumstances and has been working to stabilize the country in this difficult time so that it might hold the election that we’re just a few days away now from an election in which all candidates can participate, and that’s going to be a process administered and supervised by an independent electoral tribunal, and that it’s going to be an election in which Bolivia has held its first all-party presidential debate in 18 years. Well, these are all strong signs that Bolivians want a genuine democracy.
We all know this has been a tough year for Bolivia, for the region, and it’s been one of the most challenging years for Bolivia in a long time. And many Bolivians from across the political spectrum have worked very hard to prepare for this process. We’ve seen missteps along the way, of course, and – but they have set themselves up for a positive outcome, and we certainly hope that people follow through peacefully and let the people have their voice.
When President Anez withdrew from this race some weeks ago, she made clear that she considered her decision as in the best interests of the Bolivian people. Now we stand ready to work with whomever the Bolivians freely elect to promote democracy, human rights, and prosperity in Bolivia and beyond.
And now I think a few words from my colleague.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Certainly. Thank you, [Senior State Department Official One]. So I’ll just talk a little bit about what we’ve been doing since that last election. So since January, the Bolivian transitional government and the national assembly worked to establish the new electoral tribunal, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. This group has in turn worked with the international organizations, as well as many domestic parties, to put on a credible electoral process. We’ve worked with the Bolivians and international partners to support these institutions and to help the Bolivian people as they work to ensure that they can make their own voices heard in credible and transparent elections.
Bolivia’s international partners, including the U.S., supported large academic and civil society initiatives to help Bolivian emerging leaders and youth become involved in a process, learning how to observe and analyze the electoral process. We support the efforts of independent international electoral observation missions, including from the OAS, from the EU, from the Carter Center. And then we’ve also supported the Bolivian people in other areas, not related necessarily to elections, in health, disaster response and prevention – which include forest fires last year and this year – economic opportunity, and support for the electoral process, of course.
We’ve met with Bolivia’s leading presidential candidates and their parties and other political and civil society and business players, have urged all of them to counsel their supporters to let the election authorities and observers do their jobs, to maintain peace and tranquility, and to let the electoral process play out and accept the results once they are fully confirmed.
With that, I think we’re going to open it up to questions, or [Moderator] will open it up to questions.
MODERATOR: Yep. If you’d like to ask questions, dial 1 and 0 to get into the queue. Okay, first let’s go to Beatriz Pascual with EFE.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much for doing this call. I wanted to ask you if you think that Luis Arce, the candidate for MAS, if he has the legitimacy to participate in the elections given that the constitutional court is currently investigating some allegations against him. And if he were to win, would the U.S. work with him? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, Beatriz. So there’s two pieces to that, obviously. The first one is we’re respecting the Bolivian authority’s decisions on who is a qualified candidate. Their TSE – I don’t – and the specifics of this case I honestly don’t recall whether it was a TSE or one of the courts that allowed him to run. I think it might have been both. But we respect whatever the Bolivian authority’s decision is on that.
We’re open to work with whoever wins the elections. We want to find someone who wins – sorry, we want to work with someone who is democratically elected. And let me just quote Secretary Pompeo, who spoke, I think it was yesterday, during a press briefing. He said, quote, “We look forward to working with whomever the Bolivian people freely and fairly choose as the president to promote democracy, human rights, and prosperity for Bolivia and for the wider region.” So that would be a yes on that second answer.
MODERATOR: Okay. For our next question let’s go to the line of Anthony Faiola with The Washington Post.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you. Interior Minister Murillo recently went to Washington for meetings which he described as very delicate discussions related to state security. Can you shed some light on those meetings? Who were they with and what specifically did Murillo ask the U.S. for?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So Murillo’s visit was, I don’t know, a week and a half ago or so, two weeks ago or so. He met with various officials. We didn’t involve ourselves in all of those meetings so I can’t tell you all the players that were involved. When he met with us we discussed kind of a broad range of things, from the elections and what we wanted to happen, to a general request for support for Bolivia, to plans that they were asking of the – one of the FEs. I’m not sure if it was the IMF or not – and what was going forward. I don’t know that I would call the discussions at the State Department on delicate security issues, but that may have happened in other places.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next, let’s go to Tracy Wilkinson, LA Times.
QUESTION: Hi. Hi. Thank you. As you know – I came in a little late, so forgive me if you addressed this – but as you know, last year in the election, the United States came under a lot of criticism for sort of jumping to conclusions about the fraudulence of that election before all the evidence was in, and kind of pressuring the OAS through Carlos Trujillo to declare the election fraudulent. So I’m just wondering this time around what you will be doing to sort of avoid that appearance of undue interference. Thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: If I could jump in here, I – with all respect, I actually would challenge the underlying presumption and assertion of the question. But I am quite confident in saying that our message from long before last year’s election, as Bolivia prepared for them, as early as early 2019 and before, was very much along the lines of the same questions or the same line of argument that we’ve been putting forward with some clarity today, which is that people need to have a chance to use their voice, to freely choose their leadership.
The manner in which the prior leadership of the electoral tribunal and the administration of the former president administered the elections in those – at that – last year – came rightly under question for the manner in which they ran it, and rightly raised serious questions about the legitimacy of the count. The Government of the United States and many other observers, both inside and outside Bolivia, came to those – came to that conclusion. And it was the administration of Evo Morales himself that asked for the OAS to take a closer look at the count. And that count, in fact – or that analysis in fact fundamentally confirmed the suspicions that were risen – that arose when the data regarding the outcome of the results of the election stopped flowing on election evening.
So what we’re doing now is very consistent with our views then. We are – we supported Bolivians as they prepare – and the Bolivian electoral tribunal – as they prepare to administer their election. We support observations of that process. We hope for a transparent process, one in which every Bolivian gets to have their voice. And we hope to see what I think all Bolivians hope to see: that their voices are heard, that the votes are counted in an open and transparent manner, and that a government that expresses the will of the Bolivian people takes office.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks. Next let’s go to Enrico Wolliford with Capitol News.
QUESTION: Thank you. Enrico Wolliford. Really following up something that Tracy Wilkinson asked a little earlier on. How can elections be verified and certified after results are in to ensure that those results are indeed credible, transparent, and verifiable – as against a rush into transition of government? Should there not be a period that the OAS or whoever else – the observers – should have a period to double-check and check again before we declare a government?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So I’ll take this one. So in the last case, it was Evo Morales who invited the OAS down. And it wasn’t to verify the elections, it was to look into the process and see whether or not the process itself was legitimate. And I’ll just take this opportunity to say they found on a number of fronts that it was not legitimate, including the mathematical probability, which I know there have been various reports on both sides of that. Another one came out, I think, just today or yesterday from University of Texas saying that it was not likely that that jump would have happened. But there were a bunch of other pieces that went into it as well: extra servers, fraudulent tabulations, et cetera.
I think what your question is asking, though, is whether or not countries should hold off and determine – have somebody, the OAS or the UN or somebody give the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on top of an election. And I – that’s a further bar, I think, than many countries or, frankly, even the OAS is willing to go. I think they want to look in and look at the processes, but not necessarily to give it the checkmark that allows it a transitional – a transition to a new government or the same government to stay in place.
So I’m not sure we’ve seen that, at least not recently here.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The constitutionally established electoral tribunal will make those judgments. That’s a Bolivian matter.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next question, let’s go to Alejandra Arredondo with VOA.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. Thank you for doing this. My question is regarding several human rights group, including Human Rights Watch, have announced that the current government, interim government of Bolivia, has used the justice to prosecute political opposition, including Evo Morales and several other people from the MAS party.
I wanted to ask the question if – what does State thinks of the environment the government has created, if that is enough to have free and fair elections in the country given that the president of the justice system is being used to prosecute opponents. Thank you very much.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you, Alejandra. So obviously, in our conversations with the various parties, which include the government, includes the other political parties, we’re calling on them to promote a free, fair, transparent, peaceful, inclusive election, one that will give credibility to the Bolivian people, to their democracy, going forward. We’ve had these discussions across the board, and we continue to do so up through recent times. We’re talking with our international partners as well to ensure that we’re listening to what they’re hearing and seeing whether they’re going to pass a similar message going forward.
As far as going and looking at various alleged allegations of human rights violations, I know that for some that happened back in, I want to say, December/January period, maybe it was November/December period, there was the plan for – I believe it was a UN – one of the UN human rights committees to go down and have an investigation in – I’m sorry, I’ve lost the date here, but it was going to happen in – I think in the April or May time period, and that was put on hold because of COVID. But I believe we’ve kind of made the case to many of the parties out there of their need to protect and defend this process and to protect and defend the people.
MODERATOR: Okay. Let’s – we’ve had someone get back in the queue, and it’s only one person left in there. If anybody else wants to ask a question, please dial 1 and 0. Let’s go back to the line of Beatriz Pascual.
QUESTION: Hi, sorry. I’m sorry. You mentioned before that the U.S. has met with different political candidates and their parties and have asked them to maintain peace and tranquility. Could you please explain a little bit who have you met with, where the meetings were in Bolivia with the ambassador? A little bit about – more details about those meetings. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: So thanks, Beatriz. We’re not going to get into the details of who and when and all that. I will just broadly say that those meetings have taken place in Washington, they’ve taken place in Bolivia. Sometimes it’s been face-to-face and sometimes it’s been virtual meetings, given the COVID situation, of course.
QUESTION: But could you say you have met with Luis Arce, Carlos Mesa, and Luis Fernando Camacho – with the three main candidates?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We have met with either the three candidates or the high members of their campaigns.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’re diplomats. It’s what we do.
MODERATOR: Okay. One last question with – from Alina Dieste with AFP.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you for doing this. I’d like to know about this bicameral group of U.S. congressional lawmakers sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month urging the State Department to pursue an independent review, they said, of the OAS regarding its actions in Bolivia. I’d like to know if State has answered that letter and if you can comment on that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Certainly, yeah. We did receive that letter and we’ve been looking at some of the claims and allegations within there. We’re in the process of discussing how and whether to respond to that.
I missed a couple of pieces of that, so if you want to open that back up, please go ahead.
MODERATOR: You’d have to rejoin the queue in order to —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, you may have to hop back into the queue because we couldn’t quite hear the full question.
MODERATOR: Moderator, is Alina back in the queue?
OPERATOR: No, she will need to press 1 then 0.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, we have another 10 seconds or so.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, apologies that we couldn’t get to the last bit of that question. Thanks to our briefers for taking their time today to talk to us about these upcoming elections so important to the hemisphere, and for everyone who joined the call. And with that, this ends the call and the embargo on the contents is lifted. Have a great day.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you, all.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you, all.