On March 11th, five months after the forced resignation of former Bolivian President, Evo Morales, Washington based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) released a condemning report detailing several counts of research misconduct, and misrepresentation of data in investigations carried out by the Organization of American States’ (OAS) Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation Group of Auditors. The report, ‘Observing the Observers: The OAS in the 2019 Bolivian Elections’ alleges unethical conduct was carried out by the OAS during investigations and has played a significant role in the events that led to the ex-President’s resignation and forced departure from the country. It also alleges that inaccurate information published by the Group of Auditors’ (GOA) Electoral Integrity Analysis has been used by the transitional government to justify violations of human rights. The report was released four days after Latin American media outlet, Telesur, reported police had fired teargas at school children in the district of Senkata, El Alto, during demonstrations held by Indigenous residents in support of Morales.
In their Electoral Integrity Analysis, the GOA alleged, “the IT systems for both preliminary election results and the final count were flawed and allowed for manipulation.”
Commenting on the GOA’s Electoral Integrity Analysis [referred to as final report], the CEPR claimed, “despite claims to the contrary, the Final Report presents no evidence that the stoppage of the TREP or other IT vulnerabilities resulted in any “intentional manipulation” of the electoral results. The Final Report notes many problems with the management of the elections, but fails to provide any evidence that those irregularities altered the outcome of the election, or were part of an actual attempt to do so.”
The TREP (Transmisiòn de Resultados Electorales Preliminares) is a preliminary, non-binding results transmission system whereby field operators digitally transmit data from voter’s tally sheets to a civil registry to be verified. Once verified this data is made available online to the public; however, is not used as the official count for elections. On the day of elections, shortly after an announcement made at 7:45 pm that preliminary results indicated Morales held a 7.9 percentage point lead over Carlos Mesa with 83.85 percent of votes processed, the TREP stopped. In their Electoral Integrity Analysis, the GOA alleged they found no technically valid reason for the stoppage of the TREP, and attributed the stoppage to an act of “intentional manipulation.”
The CEPR revealed, despite the GOA being aware of monitoring activity being carried out by auditing company, Ethical Hacking, during the election, they failed to include in their analysis that Ethical Hacking sent a maximum alert to the Tribunal Supremo Electoral (TSE) immediately before the decision was made to stop the TREP. During the stoppage, Ethical Hacking investigated the presence of an unmonitored server and concluded “there was no alteration of data.” It is highly likely that this maximum alert led to the stoppage of the TREP.
Additional findings of the CEPR’s report include the use of flawed statistical analyses by the GOA that led to incorrect assumptions within their analysis, the omission of the methodology used in verifying the accuracy and legitimacy of electoral tally sheets by the GOA as part of their analysis, no evidence that problems with the TREP compromised the final official count for the election, and a lack of evidence pointing to the manipulation of election results within the GOA’s analysis.
Bolivia was one of few remaining states in Latin America to be governed by a socialist or communist government, alongside the likes of Venezuela and Cuba. Each of these states are currently the target of U.S. foreign policy strategy to eliminate ‘harmful’ socialist and communist policies, and install neoliberal, democratic regimes. Past U.S. intervention in Central and South America centered around the removal of socialist and communist regimes have often resulted in large numbers of casualties, such as interventions in Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador from the 1950’s to 1980’s.
The U.S. has pledged its support for the interim government, led by Jeanine Áñez, and endorsed allegations put forward by the OAS in the GOA’s Electoral Integrity Analysis.
On March 4th, at the Annual International Women of Courage (IWOC) Awards at the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo awarded Bolivian journalist, Ximena Galarza a Women of Courage Award. Ms Galarza was instrumental in exposing the alleged election fraud of the October 2019 elections.
Five days after the release of the GOA’s Electoral Integrity Analysis, Mr Pompeo also released a press statement on Uruguay’s U.S. Embassy’s website commending the professional work of the OAS, and pledging support for Bolivia’s transitional government.
“The thorough investigation presented by the 36 experts of 18 nationalities underscores that ‘deliberate’ and ‘malicious’ actions were taken to rig Bolivia’s election in favour of former President Evo Morales. We encourage Bolivia’s transitional government to continue its efforts to prepare for free, fair and transparent elections that reflect the will of the Bolivian people as quickly as possible.”
Furthermore, the U.S. has failed to condemn human rights abuses allegedly committed under Áñez’ transitional government. The president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue, Michael Shifter, told the Washington Post in an article published on March 7th, “there is an unwillingness on the level of the Trump administration to hold Áñez to account, so she has a lot of room to do what she wants, including what seems to be the carrying out of vendettas”.
Áñez’ transitional government has been described as a right-wing, anti-socialist, pro-American administration. During her presidency, Áñez has backed the U.S. in recognising Venezuela’s self-appointed interim president, Juan Guaido as the country’s leader. She has also cut diplomatic ties with Cuba, accusing the Communist-run country of showing hostility towards Bolivia. Her government has been accused of detaining hundreds of opponents, crushing journalistic freedom, and cracking down on protesters who remain supportive of Morales and the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party. This crackdown has seen the death of 31 people, according to the national ombudsman. The Washington Post reported Nadia Cruz, Bolivia’s ombudsman, stating her office has grown increasingly concerned of protest becoming criminalized, and charges of “sedition” and “terrorism” being handed out very loosely.
In response to the violent crackdown, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) sent a delegation to investigate the human rights situation in the country between November 22nd and 25th . The IACHR, who acts as an autonomous, consultative body to the OAS, confirmed reports of human rights violations. A preliminary report released by the IACHR on December 10th, 2019 called for ‘an international mechanism to investigate the violence that has been unfolding in Bolivia since October 2019’ that should include ‘an international group of independent experts.’ Thus far, there has been no further talk of such an international mechanism.
The OAS is a regional multilateral organization made up of 35 member states from North, Central and South America, including the U.S.. The organization functions to strengthen solidarity within the region by promoting democracy, human rights, security and development. It is funded by contributions from each member state. From 2017 to 2018, the U.S.’ annual quota for regular fund contributions was set at USD $50.75 million, equaling approximately 59.7% of the organization’s total annual contributions from member states. Statistics from 2019 are not available on the OAS website, however statistics forecast for 2020 indicate the U.S.’ annual quota and percentage for regular fund contributions remain the same as 2017 to 2018. Contributions made by the U.S. to the OAS dwarf all other member states’ contributions. The next biggest contribution quota belongs to Brazil at USD $10.6 million.
The U.S. government’s out sized funding of the organization raises concerns for undue influence within the OAS. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted investigations into U.S. contributions to the OAS, required self- documentation and monitoring of contributions by the U.S., and the level of influence U.S. foreign policy has over strategic goals within the OAS. In February 2018, the GAO released a summary of their findings in a GAO Highlights document, ‘U.S. Share of Assessed Contributions and U.S. Agencies’ Efforts to Monitor Assistance Agreements.’ The report found overwhelming support by OAS member states to implement a system that reduces the maximum assessed contribution by each member state to below 50 percent. OAS member states voted to draft a proposal for such a system at their General Assembly in June 2017. This system is yet to implemented, and the U.S.’ annual quota for contributions continues to exceed that of 50%.
The GAO also found the U.S. had failed to include all key monitoring provisions as required by contribution and assistance agreements. Finally, the GAO concluded the strategic goals of the OAS are predominately aligned with the strategic goals of the U.S. State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This sentiment can be confirmed by a statement in a 2014 Congressional report on issues for congress surrounding the OAS.
“The United States historically has sought to use the OAS to advance economic, political and security objectives in the Western Hemisphere… The organization’s goals and day-to-day activities are still generally consistent with U.S. policy towards the region, but the U.S. government has struggled to obtain support from other member states on some high-profile issues, such as efforts to address the political crisis in Venezuela.”
The U.S.’ eagerness to promote the results of the GOA’s analysis before assessing its accuracy, potential undue of U.S. influence within the OAS, and U.S. support for Áñez’ transitional government coupled with criticism of Morales creates concern regarding the intention behind such actions. Especially considering past U.S. intervention in the region. It is clear the U.S. government supports the installation of a democratic, anti-socialist regime within Bolivia who is supportive of a U.S. agenda in the region. What is not so clear are the lengths the U.S. is willing to go to to achieve this, nor the past actions it has taken to arrive at such a point.
Has the U.S. failed to condemn human rights abuses targeting Morales supporters because they support such suppression? Is it possible the U.S. has used their muscle within the OAS to influence the string of events that unfolded during and after the October 2019 elections? Or could the U.S. be using their influence to block an international investigation into violence within Bolivia as suggested by IACHR to the OAS? What should we expect from the U.S. as the situation continues to unfold?
Initially claiming it would be unfair for her to run as a presidential candidate in upcoming May elections, Áñez has now backtracked, announcing on January 25th, that she would indeed contend. Morales is banned from running for presidency; however, polls indicate the MAS party, led by former Economy Minister, Luis Arce, as appointed by Morales, is leading in a split field against a number of opposition parties, including Áñez’. These polling results present a point of contention with U.S. foreign policy strategy.
Should the MAS party gain victory in the May elections, the U.S. and the OAS must accept this and refrain from taking any actions to reverse such an outcome in the risk of igniting further violence within the country. The OAS plans to send another Electoral Observation Mission to monitor the May election. Should they send a mission, and should any inconsistencies arise throughout the election process, the OAS must conduct an impartial investigation, and report on the matter in an accurate and transparent manner.
In relation to the operations of the OAS, perhaps it would be best for the OAS to follow recommendations made by the GAO to implement a cap on member state contributions to prevent any undue influence within the organization. It may also be worth establishing an independent monitoring body within the OAS rather than relying on member states to self-monitor and report on contributions. An independent monitoring body could more effectively ensure no single state is flexing their muscle within the OAS to achieve foreign policy goals through the organization, particularly when these goals may be at the expense of another state’s security.
Finally, unfolding violence within Bolivia must not simply be swept under the rug and forgotten about now, or after the elections in May. In efforts to remain impartial, the U.S. must hold Áñez and her party to account for the human rights abuses being committed under her administration. The international mechanism to investigate violence sparked since 2019 elections within Bolivia, as recommended by the IACHR, must also be carried out to gain a clear, unbiased account of what actually happened, and which parties are responsible for what.