Interview with Teresa Subieta, Human Rights Delegate of the Department of La Paz
On April 14, the daughter of Teresa Subieta was arrested by the coup regime and accused of sexual procurement. Teresa Subieta insists that her daughter is innocent. Mother and daughter
demand an exhaustive investigation that reveals the truth in all its clarity. In the days before the coronavirus quarantine, a delegation from the Caribbean -- from Jamaica and Belize -- and from the Chiapas Support Committee that was founded in Los Angeles, including a person born in Zimbabwe who organizes in the African Diaspora, had the great honor of speaking with Teresa Subieta. These were her words:
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In Bolivia, the United States is now governing us. Why am I saying this? Because the CIA is deeply involved in the coup government of Mrs. Jeanine Añez. And the U.S. state is preparing to back us into a corner and destroy a 14-year "Process of Change" guided by the political party MAS, the Movement toward Socialism. Our Process of Change began long before that, logically. I am a woman who has been in the struggle since I was 17 years old, and I am now 65, so I understand what this process of liberating our peoples' means.
We are in a situation of terrible confrontation. The coup regime is articulated with the most reactionary and fascist right-wing forces in Bolivia. The media have been silenced. Here it seems that we are living peacefully, but outrages are being committed just below the surface. The problem of the Mexican embassy and our asylees is enraging, and it's an aberration with respect to human rights. Even during the Banzer dictatorship from 1971 to 1978 – under which I suffered persecution, was detained, and almost killed – asylees were respected and provided safe passage out of the country. Now the asylees cannot even leave, and the embassy suffers continual harassment; the regime wants to invade the embassy itself.
President Evo Morales Ayma was forced out of office because he had led the transformations in our country together with the mass organizations – including the miners, the peasants, the Indigenous, or Original Peoples. For the first time in our history, a poor Indigenous man became president. Men and women from the popular sectors were elected to our Legislative Assembly, not to take advantage of power as the right-wing has, but to serve the majority. They made some mistakes, as people make mistakes everywhere, but the more important fact is that U.S. imperialism has always wanted to put an end to Bolivia's Process of Change because we were following a path of liberation.
"We have not suffered such outrages even during the Banzer dictatorship."
I am a delegate or defender of the people's human rights in the department of La Paz [that reaches from the Peruvian border toward the center of the country, and from the Andes to the Amazon]. My work, with 18 other people in this office, has been to denounce the atrocities that have been committed in all this time since the coup: The murders of 36 people, including 12 in
El Alto and five in Ovejuyo, a total of 17.
It is said that many more have been killed because there are people murdered and disappeared who were not counted. Indigenous Campesinos among the dead were taken to the countryside to be mourned in their home communities. We are still investigating the correct number of these deaths.
There are more than one thousand wounded by the coup government: 890 who are identified, and we include those who preferred to leave without recording their names. In addition, there are close to 560 people detained because they joined marchers in protest, or were innocent bystanders.
Who caused this violence in La Paz? The middle class of the area called the Southern Zone. It was not really understood by the former government that the position of this middle class had not changed in these 14 years: They are racist, thoroughly discriminatory. And very unhappy for the fact that the Process of Change [initiated by the Movement toward Socialism or MAS, that kept winning elections] was bringing to power the poorest sectors, the Indigenous and peasants, and the more impoverished sectors of the middle classes.
The coup government continues to detain people. They put people in jail on trumped-up charges. They say that the accused are guilty of a breach of official duties, or that people have stolen money. It is claimed they are drug traffickers. They accuse them of committing sedition, or assert they are common criminals; these are the charges they throw against our comrades.
I recently visited a woman in detention who is not even political. She is the wife of a Russian; I believe he is a diplomat. They linked the woman to the previous Minister of the Interior, Carlos Romero, and claimed she is his lover. They're employing these kinds of falsehoods and accusations. They arrested her and she had a pre-embolism, she could not swallow. She should have gone to the hospital but they kept her in detention until she developed pernicious anemia. She is now in the hospital. They are so callous -- to a degree, we did not see during Banzer's dictatorship, which I lived through -- they even have her chained to her bed. She is chained. Only because we made her situation very public did they take the chains off her foot, but they still have her chained by her arm to the bed.
What fools they are, how brutal and cruel they are: violating international treaties and the Constitution, which recognizes the rights of those deprived of liberty.
"We have been persecuted."
There have been very serious problems: The coup regime has attacked the head of the national system of human rights defenders, Dr. Nadia Cruz, as well as a departmental delegate from Cochabamba. They have tried to take over their offices and succeeded in doing so in
Cochabamba. Who, exactly? Those middle classes who are now called 'pititas' because they put up their pitas or cords to block the streets. They say that we are MASistas, from the Movement towards Socialism that governed from 2006 to 2019.
We've been chased by vigilantes, who were joined by individuals from the police and military. With three of the lawyers from our office, we went to El Alto after the Senkata massacre to assist 40 people who had been arrested. The middle classes had put up blockades in the streets because they oppose the Indigenous Campesinos as well as the government of Evo.
It was about 6:30 in the afternoon when we arrived at the police station. We asked about the 40 detainees. The police know me very well, and they told us, "No, they're not here anymore, we've sent them down to La Paz to another police station."
When we first arrived in El Alto, we had seen fires on every street corner that we passed, but we didn't think anything of it until, as we were leaving the police station, we were blocked by the group at the bonfire. At that point, we realized they were civilians -- people like us -- and police, military, and paramilitaries with helmets and sticks wrapped with barbed wire.
"Who are you?" they asked.
And I said to them, "We are from the office of the human rights defenders. Here's my credential."
"Ah! You bastards." Epithets. "Whores, shits. MASistas, you are defending criminals. You're not defending us; you've not defended the police who are already dead." Because yes, there has been a police death, one of the police booths was burned and unfortunately a policeman died. "Get out of here now, we're going to kill you!"
And the cops: "Get them, take their cell phones! Take their wallets, get them!"
When we entered earlier, they didn't do anything to us. They let us in; they didn't even ask us anything. But when we were leaving, "Who are you?"
And I said to them, "I don't understand why we're being treated this way."
They made us walk, insulting us from corner to corner, throwing sticks and stones. Earlier, we had passed corners with very few people, but now more people had appeared, and a man came up next to me with a stick. I thought, "They are going to kill us."
It was terrible. But can you believe the goodness of God and the Pachamama, at the last bonfire they were going to beat us, then as they were shouting, a tall lady recognized me, and she said, "What are you doing here?" It was a lady who had come here to the office, which I received as I received you today.
And I explained: "I've come for the people arrested in Senkata, and look at the state we are in now."
And she says to everyone, "She has helped me. Please calm down."
They answered with the same insults.
This lady with her group kept the vigilantes from attacking, but they kept shouting: "Don't turn around, MASistas!" One of my comrades who was helping me, they beat him on the leg.
So I ask you if this is what happened to the defender of the people's rights, imagine what has happened to young people, ordinary people, peasants. Imagine what they have suffered. When the brothers and sisters from Senkata and from Ovejuyo denounce how they were seized by mobs, beaten and insulted, I believe them. Because I have lived it, too, they are not lying.
Question: This was in El Alto?
In a sector called Ciudad Satelíte, which fancies itself to be like the Southern Zone of La Paz, it's the rich sector of El Alto. They believe themselves to be superior. The national defender of the people's rights, my superior, has been harassed in her own office. The departmental delegate of Cochabamba has been attacked, and even his family was made a target. Right-wing government ministers like [Wilson] Santamaria and [Arturo] Murillo accuse me of being a MASista and a communist.
In terms of our values and our governing framework at the office of the Defenders of the People, we defend the human rights of everybody, but mostly of the vulnerable people from the poorest sectors. Those who cannot get lawyers since here they don't pay, we don't charge them.
Question: With all the threats and harassment, is the government trying to remove the budget or wages of your office?
There is designated funding from the Evo Morales government earmarked for this year that lasts until May. Then there will be a convocation for the human rights defenders office, and the right-wing will fight to get their people in. But they can't because there is still a two- thirds majority of the MAS party in Parliament.
We know the coup regime will cling to power. If they don't win the elections, the United States is sure to do something to prevent the return of the government of the poor.
"Torture is practiced."
I ask that you to help us denounce that this was a civil-military a coup. The right-wing says it is "a transitional government, and that Mr. Evo Morales has resigned and gone happily on vacation." That's a lie. It is an ongoing military coup, Morales was threatened and could have been killed. In effect, they had a pistol at his head, and the same was true for his vice president, Alvaro Garcia Linera, and the Minister of health, Gabriela Montaño. There is political persecution, international treaties are not being respected, and the right to asylum is respected even less for people like the seven authorities who are in the Mexican embassy. And in the case of the woman who I visited in the hospital, it is an outrage that torture is practiced, it is torture! To have a person chained to the hospital bed, chained!
I think that our alternative is that we must win the elections. It is not going to be easy because the CIA is in Bolivia. U.S. imperialism has seized control of the country. When the previous government was in power, they were able to kick out USAID and the CIA. However, the CIA remained in ways that were very well camouflaged.
"In my country, there is a bitter fight."
The U.S. government is now running Bolivia, and the people are enraged by that fact. The reality of class struggle is exceedingly strong. The same is true of the resistance of the Indigenous sectors against the fascists.
The popular classes know that the right-wing used false claims of electoral fraud to implement a systematic plan that the United States is trying to impose on the entire region. The United States has expressed its will, saying, "This is who we are. You will not advance any further. You will not govern yourselves. We own you." They are trying to put an end to the era of popular rule. They are challenging the people, saying, "We'll see if you're strong enough to stand against us, we'll see if you can withstand the power we wield."
It is an unequal fight. But my people are determined to struggle. We have very deep-rooted cultures: the Aymara, the Quechua, the Guaraní, the 36 nationalities that makeup Bolivia. Marxism cannot be imposed like a straitjacket; it has to be understood through our realities so that, from the roots, we will one day see the transformation to a new and more just society.
And the lovely sister from Belize? [She's crying.]
[Teresa Subieta, a diminutive woman, rises and goes to stand directly in front of her, then addresses her with great tenderness:]
I lived through prison during the dictatorship of Banzer [in the era of Domitila Barrios de Chungara and the miners, and the martyred priest Luis Espinal]. From 1976 to 1977, we went on a hunger strike. We were almost disappeared, my husband and I. We had fallen in love at the university. My husband was sent to the prison of Chonchocoro, then to Achocalla, where some houses of adobe and stone are built in a row, maybe five, six houses that lead to a chapel, where they tortured us. They disappeared people there; they killed them, they applied electricity to them as they did to me, in my intimate parts. And the "submarine," hanging by the feet and one's head is submerged in a receptacle of water, the tortured person is beaten with sticks, and in the end, they would kill the prisoner. They finished people off with a bullet.
I was saved because the miners -- the proletarian class of my country -- had gone on strike for
three days, stopped working. In that era, to stop mining was to halt the country's foreign earnings. The government had to give in to the miners' demand for our release. We were ten university leaders. They brought us to La Paz and said we were criminals, and they put us in prison.
My father is a lawyer – I'm an only child – and my father and attorneys from the university filed a lawsuit on the grounds of violation of our constitutional rights. They released us after six months.
So we have to fight. We have to keep fighting because humanity can change, even if I don't live to experience it. I was already seeing a little piece of heaven in Bolivia. A little piece. My Indigenous comrades, my mining comrades, my humble comrades were beginning to move forward.
"My people are determined to struggle."
There was something that surprised me. Do you know what it was? The domestic workers, here there are families who have domestic workers and always, in the time of the colony and of the republic, there was servitude, and the workers were never paid. From 1952 to 1970, they just served and served; they ate and lived in the house of their boss. From 1970 onwards, they were paid, but it was a pittance, fifty bolivianos, which is 7 dollars a month for their work, day and night, day and night. For other workers at this time, the minimum monthly wage was forty or fifty dollars.
Because Evo took office, workers now earn 2,120 bolivianos, which is 300 dollars a month. From fifty dollars to 300 dollars. What a change! Now, workers are respected because the law says you have to pay them that amount.
Fourteen years ago, there were statistics reflecting the death of 65 per thousand women, who died unnecessarily. Of what? Of childbirth. They died from giving birth! With Evo, the government offered the Juana Azurduy bonus. Azurduy was a woman who fought against the colony, against the Spanish in the days of the independence struggles. The bonus consisted of giving a pregnant woman a good diet, plus a cash bonus. She was given health care free of charge, both pre and post-natal. This program has caused infant mortality to drop tremendously.
Before, children in the countryside did not go to school for long. What did Evo decide to do? He gave the Juancito Pinto bonus, which began to redistribute national wealth among the poor. Where did that money come from? From the profits generated by state ownership of natural resources. He gave 200 bolivianos to the children, in return for attending school. He provided school breakfasts and free health care for the children.
But now, with everything we are living through, ciao! To these programs. They do not want to give the Juana Azurduy bonus; they do not want to give the Juancito Pinto bonus. Another bonus went to seniors: I have a cousin who has no retirement pension. But the bonus of 250 bolivianos a month is what helps him survive.
Before, that money lined the pockets of the rich. Since 2006, it has been redistributed to the poor. And the same was true for housing construction, likewise to help with peasant production, and in the process of industrialization and the idea of creating a community-based economy. All this had been advancing, which was not to the liking of the empire. Nor the rich. Because they want everything for themselves.
In our country, after so many years of capitalism, of neoliberalism, for the first time the rural area received drinking water, the countryside now has electricity. In the peripheral neighborhoods of the cities, conditions have been improving. For the first time, our Gross Domestic Product rose and was shared with the poor. We built one of the region's strongest economies, without asking the World Bank, UNICEF, or international banks for loans. There were significant changes in the economic structure.
We are not saying that capitalism disappeared. You are aware that this is no easy task because capitalism is a monster that has been created across years and years. Of course, the CIA, or more broadly, the U.S. empire is very powerful, but I believe that the strength, the will, the struggle, the unity and the organization of our people have to be more powerful still.
(Many thanks to Jenny Bekenstein for the transcript of the interview.)