The Grayzone traveled to rural Bolivia to meet Patricia Arce, a former mayor who was publicly tortured during a US-backed coup in November 2019, and is now a senator-elect from the indigenous-led Movement Toward Socialism party, which won in a historic landslide election on October 18.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Just a few days after the dramatic landslide victory on October 18 of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party founded by Evo Morales, I traveled 3.5 hours from the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, with The Grazyone team of Ben Norton and Anya Parampil, to Chimoré, here in the tropical region of Cochabamba, that’s a base of support for the MAS party.
We attended a gathering of regional party leadership, including the mayor of Chimoré; Senator-elect Leonardo Loza, who is filling the role of Evo Morales in the Senate; and Senator-elect Patricia Arce, who has become a symbol both of the terror and cruelty of the (Jeanine) Áñez coup regime and of the dramatic revitalization of her MAS party.
LEONARDO LOZA: Here we put our luck on the line, mainly the most humble people, the poorest people, the most humiliated, marginalized people, not only today, but for a long time.
And we, these people, we have won. Not with 10%, we have won with more than 25%.
The humble, the poor, the natives of this land, we are the majority.
Sister Patricia knows how we have suffered, in Cochabamba primarily. Every time I spoke, the next day I had a new criminal charge. And I never stopped speaking. I never went silent.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Senator-elect Patricia Arce, thanks a lot for this opportunity to talk to you here in the tropic of Cochabamba. Before we get into the October 18 landslide victory of the MAS party that you represent, I think that it’s important to talk about the events of last November, of the coup, in which you were assaulted in the streets of Cochabamba. Can you tell us what happened there?
PATRICIA ARCE: The 6th of November, for me, marked a very critical stage in my life. It was something very difficult, what happened to me. I never imagined that all of that could happen.
They found me in the mayor’s office. We found out that a mob was coming, of this badly named “Cochala Youth Resistance.”
And the workers in the town hall started to shout that they were setting it on fire. And we got everyone out of the office. And when I left, a mob grabbed me. And they beat me; they punched me.
They threw oil, gasoline, and red paint on me. And they cut my hair.
They made me walk nearly seven kilometers, barefoot. And the whole time they were hitting me.
And I was not able to understand what human beings would do this to another person, who is also equal to them.
That day said a lot for me, because, never in my life had I thought that would happen. Young people, who could be my children, my nephews. I mean, there was no explanation for everything that was happening.
They took me away, to a place called Huayculi. It’s a river. And there, they wanted to make me beg forgiveness; make me denounce the process of change; make me speak badly of the president [Evo Morales].
And, well, I can’t. I can’t do it. I can’t go against my principles. I can’t go against my ideals.
And that is to say that, that 6th of November, for me, it has marked my life, and the life of my children.
And all the while, for the entire year, we have suffered political persecution, legal persecution.
They are making up a ton of cases against me, of “sedition,” of “terrorism,” claiming that I carried out false flag attacks on myself
They have targeted my house. They have taken us out; they have forced us to sleep a night, two nights in a police cell.
They took my youngest child to a center for delinquent youth, as if he were a criminal, claiming it was punishment for us having violated the quarantine, and “crimes against health.”
And there’s more. (Interior) Minister (Arturo) Murillo, in all of his public addresses, he threatens me, saying that he is not going to stop until he sees me inside (prison).
They have made up a ton of cases against me. They have not been able to prove one charge, because they are all fabricated.
And for us, truly, this year has been very, very hard. For all of us. Not only for me, but for all of our sisters with polleras (indigenous dresses). Women, young people. Young people who have lost their lives. Mothers who have lost their children.
And truly, our country will see that, with so many sacrifices, in these 14 years (of the MAS in power) we have built up our country, with a lot of love, with a lot of compromise, with a lot of work. And with a lot of dedication.
To see that, in less than one year, they have destroyed our country.
And it is unfortunate that the OAS (Organization of American States), with (Secretary General Luis) Almagro, has lent a hand in all of this, this pain they have put on the Bolivian people.
Truthfully, it is very, very painful. I don’t think anyone deserves that.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: What do you think, after all of these crimes that you just described, after all of these injustices, what do you think needs to be done now that the MAS party is back in power? A truth and justice commission? Jail for the perpetrators of these crimes that you described? What?
PATRICIA ARCE: Well, we, we have to work a lot first to rebuild our country, to bring back stability, tranquility for our people, so that all of us Bolivians feel free. And so that, so we can all walk the streets, without thinking that someone is going to come and attack us.
We have to work on that, and also we have to make fundamental adjustments to what is justice. Because those people who came to power in the name of transition – for us, coup-mongers – they have used justice to be able to persecute our brothers and sisters. And that, we have to change.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: And the interior minister, who is considered the enforcer of the (Jeanine) Áñez administration, Arturo Murillo specifically?
PATRICIA ARCE: Yes, Mr. Murillo. The only thing I hope is that justice does what is has to do.
We are not demanding revenge. Because we are from a culture of peace, a culture of love, and a culture of work, and of unity.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: How would you say that life has changed here in Cochabamba over the last 11 months, since the coup?
PATRICIA ARCE: It has changed a lot. In these 11 months, we have seen first-class citizens, second-class citizens, and third-class citizens.
The government has only worked for one minority group. And it has been very rough with the majority group.
For those of us who are of indigenous descent, (WHAT?) and that is a product of, as I said, very difficult for us.
We have not had access to healthcare, in this pandemic. They have canceled our school year. Our young ones, they have taken away their right to education.
They have taken away our right to healthcare. And they have also taken away our right to the freedom of expression, because we think differently. We don’t think like they do.
We have been persecuted. And also mistreated, in all of this process.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: After all of this, why did you decide to run for Senate?
PATRICIA ARCE: Well, in the MAS, we don’t decide the positions. It is the social organizations which choose us. We don’t pick ourselves. Is it they who choose us. And us, the only thing we have to do is to meet the demands of the social organizations.
And this opportunity, it is a very big commitment. Because we know that very difficult moments are awaiting us.
The people of Bolivia have again put their trust in the process of change. And for us it is greater responsibility and work to be able to move forward.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: What’s at the top of your agenda after taking office?
PATRICIA ARCE: For me, it is to work, so that not one woman suffers mistreatment. And to also work for the youth. The least protected groups are women and young people.
That is what we are going to look into. So that the youth have direct access to jobs. So that all of the public institutions of the state are obligated to help young people, so they are able to work.
Because when a young professional goes out, the first thing they ask for is experience. And if we don’t offer the possibility to have this experience, where are they going to get it?
It is very important to work on this, and to work to eradicate violence against women.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: What do you think the importance is of indigenous people and women in the MAS party and its success?
PATRICIA ARCE: For us it is very important. Because the indigenous peoples have always been marginalized.
And it is not in the struggle against the process of change. It is the struggle; it has been the struggle, because our leader is indigenous. That’s why.
Here in Bolivia, there was a coup for two reasons: racism, the class struggle, and also for our natural resources, the lithium. Because of that, respect is very important for us.
And this, the triumph of Bolivia does not only reflect Bolivia; rather it reflects all of Latin America, and all of the world.
Women have to play a very important role. We women are capable, of running both a home and a country, of running a municipality. Because we have demonstrated that.
And we want to thank our brother Evo Morales, who gave opportunities to women to fill public positions (in government).
In my country, 50% need to be men, and 50% need to be women.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: On October 18, on the night of this massive victory, when your party won by 25%, what was your reaction?
PATRICIA ARCE: Well we saw that, yes, we are going to win. Because you could feel it in the street. We had so much support from the people.
When we talked to 10 people, eight supported us; they asked us for flags. And we were sure that we were going to win.
And that day was a mix of concern, a mix of fear. Because the same people who had committed the fraud, those from the OAS, they were here. And also they, they were preparing to commit fraud against us.
And the concern was that those groups would once again come out and, with the help of the military and police, they would be able to come out and attack us.
But the conscious people prevailed over everything. And today we have a great victory, with 55%.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well you obviously know that our government, the United States government, has been supporting this unelected transitional coup government, and continues to support it to this day.
PATRICIA ARCE: Yes.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: What message do you have for the American people?
PATRICIA ARCE: Simply to tell them: All peoples deserve respect; all peoples deserve respect for their dignity, for their culture.
We are a multi-ethnic, multicultural country. And we respect other countries.
We would not go to foreign countries to determine the destiny that they are going to give their country. We are very respectful.
And we ask them, those countries that have been part of the coup, that they reconsider. Because we are free. And we can govern ourselves.
We will not allow, we do not want people who get involved in our problems. Because we know what our needs are. And we also know what our strengths are.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Patricia Arce, thanks so much for speaking to The Grayzone.