On November 10, 2019, individuals allegedly linked to Bolivia’s former ruling party set fire to the home of Waldo Albarracín, the rector of the Higher University of San Andrés (UMSA) in La Paz.
Alongside his position as rector of UMSA, Waldo Albarracín is also a well-known human rights defender, the president of the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy, and an opposition political figure critical of former Bolivian President Evo Morales and his Movement for Socialism (MAS) party.
On October 21, Albarracín participated in protests in La Paz that erupted in response to allegations that Morales had manipulated the results of Bolivia’s 2019 general election. During the protest, Albarracín was struck by a tear gas canister and violently assaulted by unknown individuals.
On November 10, following weeks of nationwide protests, Morales resigned from office at the urging of the country’s military after an audit of the general election by the Organization of American States found “serious irregularities.”
Following Morales’ resignation, both MAS supporters and members of the political opposition suffered violent attacks. On the evening of November 10, Albarracín announced on social media that a mob which he claimed was linked to Morales and MAS had set fire to his home. Albarracín and his family were reportedly unharmed as they had evacuated the premises moments before. The homes of several other journalists, opposition figures, and MAS members, including Evo Morales, were reportedly burned and vandalized in targeted attacks that same night.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the apparently targeted destruction of a scholar’s home in apparent retaliation for his peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. State authorities have a responsibility to respond and prevent such attacks, including by investigating and holding perpetrators accountable. Beyond the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and democratic society generally.