Sanders, Two Dozen Lawmakers Call for OAS Accountability to Ensure Fair Elections in Bolivia

(Léase la versión en español aquí)

WASHINGTON, September 22 — In a bicameral letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) led two dozen members of Congress in calling on the State Department to pursue a “full, independent review” of the Organization of American States (OAS) regarding its actions last November that contributed to a major deterioration of human rights and democracy in Bolivia.

The members of Congress expressed “deep concern” with the OAS’s “lack of accountability and transparency” regarding the organization’s widely refuted claims of electoral fraud in Bolivia last year. The New York Times reported that these initial OAS claims were “seized on” to “escalate protests, gather international support, and push [President] Morales from power with military support weeks later.” The unelected authorities, quickly recognized by the OAS Secretary General, “have promoted a racist, anti-indigenous agenda and deployed the military to violently repress protests, resulting in the killing and injury of many civilians,” wrote the lawmakers, citing a report conducted by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic.

For months, the OAS has “refused to answer basic questions” from legislators regarding its claims despite the role of Congress in appropriating “the majority of the OAS’s budget,” continued the lawmakers. Given that “the OAS is poised to make a determination of the freedom, fairness, and integrity of the upcoming elections in Bolivia” under an unelected and repressive government, the members of Congress “urge the administration to use its voice at the OAS to advocate for a thorough, independent assessment of the OAS’s statements,” and “ensure that corrective measures are taken to ensure that future OAS electoral observation missions perform their functions in an independent, impartial and professional manner.”

“The Organization of American States’ decision last year to declare Bolivia’s election fraudulent on the basis of questionable evidence helped fuel a crisis of democracy and human rights that Bolivians are experiencing to this day,” said Sanders. “Bolivia’s post-coup government carried out racist violence against indigenous people, imprisoned activists, and threatened political opponents. What more than two dozen of my colleagues and I are demanding is that the United States government take responsibility for what is done with our taxpayer dollars and wield oversight over the OAS. Securing accountability and transparency from the OAS is vital to a free and fair election in Bolivia next month.”

“Since the day after the 2019 Bolivian elections, the OAS has helped direct a false narrative that the incumbent president, Evo Morales, and his party ‘rigged’ the election,” said Schakowsky. “This narrative contributed to political polarization, a military coup, and violent political repression in Bolivia as well as uncertainty for the democracy’s future. With the next election fast approaching, we must finally see accountability and transparency from OAS, and ensure that it carries out its mission independently and impartially.”

“As Bolivia approaches their next election, it is imperative that voting be administered with accountability and free from interference,” said Johnson. “My colleagues and I are calling on the State Department to ensure that the OAS doesn’t repeat their mistakes from Bolivia’s 2019 election monitoring and further erode democracy and human rights in the country. The OAS’s misleading statements threw Bolivia into a political tailspin, forcibly unseating Evo Morales—the nation’s first indigenous president—and ushering in a racist, anti-indigenous administration, and the violent, militarized repression of the civilian protests that followed. This is unacceptable, and the United States should not be abetting actions that undermine democracy.”

“Since President Morales’ forced resignation, Bolivia’s far right has levied harmful anti-Indigenous rhetoric and state violence towards protestors, Indigenous and Afro-Bolivian groups,” said Haaland. “This is an attack on democracy and human rights. Secretary Pompeo must act now—if we wait, Bolivia may be left without a democracy for years to come.”

The letter was also signed by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), Jesús “Chuy” García (D-Ill.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.).

Read the letter here.