- The health system and funeral companies are overwhelmed.
- In addition to a third of the transitional government, the president of the central bank, seven deputy ministers, and a dozen parliamentarians are also ill.
- There is debate to further postpone elections, scheduled for September 3.
Six ministers of the interim government of Bolivia, and the President, Jeanine Áñez, have been isolated or hospitalized in recent days for contracting the coronavirus. The last to report their contagion were Karen Longaric, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Oscar Ortiz, Minister of Economy.
Both announced on Monday, while the country is facing the worst of the health emergency. The health system and funeral companies are overwhelmed, and the authorities plan to intervene or expropriate some private clinics and cemeteries. Some analysts have called this measure “a desperate move.”
With 48,187 cases and 1,807 deaths from COVID-19, the controversy over the election date— scheduled for September 3— becomes more acute. In addition to the president and six members of her cabinet (one third of the government), the president of the central bank, seven deputy ministers, and a dozen parliamentarians are also ill.
That includes the President of the Assembly, Eva Copa, leader of the party of ex-president Evo Morales, the Movement for Socialism (MAS). Congressman Julio Jiménez Llanque, of the same political party, passed away a week ago from complications from the infection.
On July 10, the Minister of Health, Eidy Roca, announced that he was COVID-19 positive. The woman showed symptoms and has been temporarily replaced at the head of the ministry, a key place in this situation, by the Defense holder Luis Fernando López.
Despite the pandemic, one of the main presidential candidates, former President Carlos Mesa, said that the executive “is decimated by the coronavirus,” and added that Áñez is blocked by MAS because, in his opinion, Morales’ party controls the legislative and the judiciary.
The former president argues that, at this moment, the country “has two governments,” and called for immediate elections to overcome the lacuna in the government. On his part, the National Unity Front political party boss, Samuel Doria Medina, asked to postpone the vote, owing to the Coronavirus pandemic. This is also the position of the majority of presidential candidates in the country.
Áñez took over from Evo Morales, deposed last November 10, with the mission of organizing for fresh presidential elections. It took her a long time to announce the elections, initially scheduled for May 3, and then postponed due to the pandemic. As a result, she has remained in power until now.
Initially, her transitional government took vigorous containment measures, which kept the number of infections and deaths low. However, these restrictions had to be partially lifted, due to protests that erupted in poorer neighborhoods, where protesters asked to return to work.
The “dynamic quarantine,” in which the country has lived since the end of May, has left the decisions on confinement in the hands of local governments. The city that is currently suffering the worst effects of the pandemic is Cochabamba, where the Interior Minister, Arturo Murillo, has anticipated that the state will “intervene or expropriate” a private clinic and a cemetery to strengthen public services.
Murillo wants to do the same in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the most affected metropolis in the country. The procedure by which the government will implement these initiatives is still not known. To be completely legal, they will require the approval of the legislative assembly, dominated by the opposition, which, however, is currently closed for quarantine.