Vaccine Mandates Dividing Bolivia, Sparking Protests and Legal Action

Vaccine Mandates Dividing Bolivia, Sparking Protests and Legal Action
A health worker shows a vial of China's Sinopharm vaccine against COVID-19 at a health centre in La Paz, Bolivia, on March 1, 2021. (Aizar Raldes/AFP via Getty Images)
Autumn Spredemann
Protest groups in the Bolivian cities of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and La Paz organized demonstrations against two hardline anti-COVID-19 decrees issued by the ruling Movement for Socialism (MAS) party.
Both mandates, which took effect on Jan. 1, outline vaccination requirements and dictate that residents must be inoculated against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus or present a negative PCR test to enter any public spaces. The MAS announced the decrees on Dec. 28.

Subsequently, opposition parties filed legal action against the government in constitutional courts across the country.

“These [government] orders are in direct violation of Bolivia’s constitution, specifically part two of article 44,” attorney Carlos Choque told The Epoch Times. Article 44 of Bolivia’s constitution explicitly states that no person shall be subjected to scientific or medical experiments without his or her consent.

The decrees came as an end-of-year push to boost the nation’s vaccination rates against the CCP virus. Bolivia has one of the lower vaccination rates in Latin America, with only 40.4 percent of the country’s population registered as fully immunized.

By contrast, 66 percent of neighboring Peru’s population is fully inoculated, while Chile has managed to vaccinate 87.3 percent of its people.

The CCP virus has killed 19,733 people in Bolivia since January 2020, according to World Health Organization data.

Among those supporting the protest movement are six farmers unions in La Paz, which historically have been ardent supporters of the MAS party and President Luis Arce.

On Jan. 3, union leaders, representatives of the evangelical church, doctors, and civic organizers in El Alto filed a popular action appeal against the decrees in the constitutional court of La Paz.

The court will have 10 days to decide whether to accept the appeal, which rejects the required digital vaccination card for entry to areas such as supermarkets, banks, and places of worship.

Union leaders in La Paz also asked for the immediate dismissal of the minister of health, Jeyson Auza, for not consulting with the people before issuing decrees 4640 and 4641. The same group also threatened Deputy Minister of Consumer Protection Jorge Silva, who made a statement on Dec. 26 suggesting jail time up to 10 years for those who violate the mandates.

Silva quickly rescinded his statement the following day due to an avalanche of social pressure and personal threats from farmers unions in El Alto and La Paz.

“So far, representatives from 20 rural provinces in La Paz [department] have said their people won’t comply with the orders,” Choque said.

The decrees also prevent unvaccinated employees who have in-person jobs from going to work.

Regarding the appeal, Dr. Guery Cordero said: “We summon the minister of justice to tell us how is it fair to require a license to buy food? And to the minister of labor, how is it fair that a person, simply because they do not have a card, cannot carry out their work?”

On Jan. 3, members of the women’s activist group Ana Barba—along with the Creemos, a right-wing political alliance, Comunidad Ciudadana, a centrist coalition, and Cruceña Parliamentary Brigade—filed actions against the MAS government in the constitutional court of Sucre.

The parties that filed also claimed violation of their constitutional rights.

“With these impositions of the national government through the Ministry of Health, human freedoms are being violated, trampling the political constitution of the state and international treaties,”  said Pamela Flores, a spokesperson for the movement. “For that reason, we ask for repeal [of the decrees].”

In response to the multiple appeals, the nation’s minister of justice, Iván Lima, said he regretted the protest movements and legal actions. He said they “intend to confuse the population,” the majority of which he said have no issues complying with the orders.

“The argument is there would be a violation of rights to health and international regulations, prohibiting Bolivians from having the vaccination plan the national government has proposed, which is not evident,” Lima said.

He reiterated that those who chose not to receive the vaccine had the option to pay for a PCR test, which costs about $120 and must be obtained within 48 hours, to enter public facilities.

Protesters opposed to the mandate in El Alto swarmed one of the city’s vaccination points on Dec. 28 after the announcement of the decrees. Angry citizens threatened to destroy all the vaccine doses at the facility and physically attacked health care personnel.

On the other side of the country, peaceful marches against the decrees took place at the 14 de Septiembre Plaza in Cochabamba, and also in Santa Cruz, on Dec. 30.

“You can’t tell people they have to be vaccinated or lose their ability to work or buy food. This violates our basic human freedoms,” Santa Cruz resident Alejandro Garcia told The Epoch Times.

Autumn is a South America-based reporter covering primarily Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.
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