UN calls for talks to end Bolivia crisis as death toll rises

Violent confrontations, highway blockades cause supply shortages as Anez moves to revise Morales-era policies.

    Supporters of former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, have taken to the streets following his flight into exile a week ago [David Mercado/Reuters]
    Supporters of former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, have taken to the streets following his flight into exile a week ago [David Mercado/Reuters]

    A Bolivian official said a United Nations envoy is urging the government of the Andean country’s interim president and supporters of self-exiled leader Evo Morales to begin talks on resolving a crisis that has already claimed 23 lives and is causing food shortages.

    The official said on Sunday that negotiations proposed by Jean Arnault would involve legislators from Morales’ party, mobilised groups and representatives of interim leader Jeanine Anez and be mediated by the UN and Roman Catholic Church.

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    Bolivia remains in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic left-wing and former coca farmer, resigned over allegations of vote tampering. legislators have yet to agree on a date for new elections.

    Morales fled to Mexico on Tuesday, but his supporters from largely coca-farming regions of the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.

    Thousands of Bolivians march over disputed election

    Some have demanded the resignation of Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, who has already begun to revise Morales-era policies even as she says she wants to negotiate with the opposition.

    Morales' supporters have given her a deadline of midnight on Monday to step down and have called for elections in 90 days.

    Peter Siavelis, the chair of political science at Wake Forest University in the United States, told Al Jazeera that Anez's actions had only worsened the country's already deep divisions.

    "Anez has come to power at a moment when what Bolivia needs is reconciliation, negotiation and work between the two sides," Siavelis told Al Jazeera from New York. "But what she's done is make a series of symbolic actions that have irritated the rift, made divisions deeper and put people hard and fast into their positions."

    A relative mourns by the coffin of a supporter of Bolivian ex-President Evo Morales killed during clashes with the police in Sacaba, Cochabamba, Bolivia, on November 16, 2019. - The UN rights chief vo
    A woman mourns by the coffin of a supporter of Bolivian ex-President Evo Morales killed during clashes with the police in Sacaba, Cochabamba [AFP]

    Long queues

    Bolivians waited in long queues on the streets of La Paz on Sunday for chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as the highway blockades isolated cities from lowland farms.

    Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the Anez government had established an "air bridge" to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass the barricades. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.

    Because of the roadblocks, fuel has become scarce and many in the poorer neighbourhoods of La Paz have been forced to cook with firewood.

    "I hope things calm down," said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class district of the capital. "We're not getting any food or gasoline."

    Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Sunday were calling for a general strike on Monday raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.

    Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.

    On Friday, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country's left-wing leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez's government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales' resignation.

    The Anez administration on Sunday also renamed the state newspaper "Bolivia." Morales had called it "Change."

    Violent protests on Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales' supporters, left at least nine people dead, officials said.

    The local ombudsman in the region said police used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.

    She has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet the opposition to halt protests.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies