ISSN 2330-717X

US Congress Passes Omnibus Spending Bill Calling For State Department To Investigate Claims Of Fraudulent Election In Bolivia In 2019

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The US Congress passed a $1.5 trillion government “omnibus” spending bill that includes language instructing the US State Department to consult independent experts and produce a report on whether fraud changed the results of Bolivia’s 2019 elections, as the Organization of American States (OAS) has claimed. The language also supports the efforts of human rights advocates, including the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts for Bolivia (GIEI, by its Spanish initials), to achieve justice for the victims of the massacres and other egregious human rights abuses that took place in the wake of the 2019 coup in Bolivia. 

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“This is the latest sign that members of the US Congress are not going to let this go, and are determined to hold OAS Secretary General Luís Almagro and other senior OAS officials accountable for repeatedly promoting false accusations of fraud in Bolivia’s 2019 election, which fueled a political crisis that culminated in a military coup followed by numerous violent human rights violations by the coup government,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Director of International Policy Alex Main said.

The omnibus bill includes this language in an accompanying explanatory statement:

Bolivia—The agreement endorses language in the House report under this heading regarding the elections process in Bolivia. Not later than 120 days after enactment of the Act, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations evaluating: (1) the transparency and legitimacy of the 2019 Bolivia general elections by soliciting information from independent, internationally recognized experts; and (2) progress in investigations of responsibility for violations of human rights that occurred during that period.

The House report language that the above provision endorses states the following:

Bolivia—The Committee recognizes the value of uncovering accurate information regarding the elections process in Bolivia, including the 2019 general elections. The Committee urges the Secretary of State to continue to solicit information from independent, internationally recognized experts regarding the transparency and legitimacy of the 2019 Bolivia general elections; the role of the Organization of American States; and the investigations of political and human rights violations that occurred during that time period, and to update the appropriate congressional committees on such information as appropriate.

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The day after the election, the OAS issued a statement saying that there had been a “drastic and hard-to-explain change in the trend of the preliminary results after the closing of the polls.” CEPR was able to quickly show that the OAS had no evidence to support the statement. The OAS later produced a deeply flawed audit of the electoral process, which was used to justify the November 2019 ouster of Evo Morales.

The language in the omnibus bill is the latest sign of congressional interest in examining the role of the OAS in delegitimizing Bolivia’s 2019 election results, and in paving the way for the coup that followed. Bolivia’s democratically elected president, Evo Morales, was forced to flee Bolivia after being pressured by the military to step down, and following numerous threats to himself, his family, and many other high-level officials in his administration. The de facto government that then took office violently repressed pro-democracy protests, including in two notorious massacres in its first two weeks. The GIEI human rights investigators, affiliated with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, concluded that the post-coup de facto government of Jeanine Áñez was responsible for the Sacaba and Senkata massacres, which it noted were racist in nature, among many other grave human rights crimes.

Language that was included in 2022 Senate appropriations legislation directs the US Secretary of State to assess the transparency and legitimacy of Bolivia’s October 2019 elections and to specifically assess the role played by the OAS in those elections. Members of Congress sent the OAS a series of questions about the elections and the OAS’s role, in November 2019, but the OAS never answered them. Congress members Jan Schakowsky and Chuy Garcia have also previously called for an investigation into the OAS role, in an op-ed published by The Hill.

This congressional action comes as a peer-reviewed academic journal is publishing, for the first time, a study refuting claims that fraud affected the 2019 election results in Bolivia. The analysis, by Nicolás Idrobo, Dorothy Kronick, and Francisco Rodríguez, was first published in 2020 and was the focus of New York Times reporting that said the OAS’s claims of fraud in the 2019 elections “relied on incorrect data and inappropriate statistical techniques,” and that the OAS allegations “fueled a chain of events that changed the South American nation’s history. The opposition seized on the claim to escalate protests, gather international support, and push Mr. Morales from power with military support weeks later.”

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro responded to the New York Times article with a 3,200-word press release that made absurd allegations about CEPR, The New York Times (attacking their reporting as far back as 1931), and various scholars at universities whose research and analysis has shown that many of the OAS’s claims about the Bolivian elections are not based on evidence. In addition to Idrobo, Kronick, and Rodriguez’s analysis, researchers at MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab (and their post at the Washington Post site), 133 economists and statisticians, a study by a University of Michigan statistician, and several reports published by CEPR also debunked the OAS’s claims that the election results were determined by fraud.

“The current OAS leadership disgraced itself by its attacks, without evidence, on the validity of Bolivia’s election results in 2019, and in what amounted to support for the post-coup government that followed, even as that government engaged in racist, violent attacks on its opponents and on Bolivia’s large Indigenous population more generally,” CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston said. “It is important that several years later, policymakers in the US, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico, and other countries are determined to hold the OAS accountable.”

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