Over the last few weeks, Bolivia's civil servants have been falling like dominos. Some have been temporarily relieved of their duties, while others have been dismissed outright. The reasons vary, but they all share a common thread: an appalling lapse in judgment for individuals occupying such key positions.
In March, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) decided to fire one of the officials in charge of managing its social media presence after he posted a message containing a spelling mistake on the eve of regional and local elections, in which opposition candidates gained ground against the governing MAS party in the country's four biggest cities: La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba, and Santa Cruz.
“Do you know where you will be boting?” [sic]. That was the question officially tweeted by the electoral body and also posted on Facebook—a glaring mistake that generated widespread criticism on the Internet.
TSE Vice President Wilfredo Ovando explained to the online newspaper El Deber that once the person responsible for the error was identified, they were formally given notice for having compromised the institution's image. But the repercussions went beyond a mere fumbled keystroke, and it was suggested that the incident had been a deliberate attempt to subvert the electoral process:
“Son funcionarios del Sifde los que se encargan de difundir esa información, lo hemos identificado y se lo ha despedido. No creemos que haya sido un error porque es algo muy elemental, por eso nosotros pensamos que ha sido intencionado y que nos querían dañar“, aseveró la autoridad al medio.
It is officials in Sifde [the Bolivian department responsible for strengthening the democratic process] who are in charge of broadcasting this information; we identified him [the culprit] and he was fired. We don't believe that it was an error because it was something so basic; that is why we believe that it was intentional and meant to harm us,” the TSE authority asserted to the newspaper.
This was not the only controversy linked to social media and the TSE. Spokesperson Dina Chuquimia was temporarily recused from the elections for having retweeted comments by Guillermo Mendoza, the government's mayoral candidate in La Paz.
Chuquimia defended herself against the accusation of violating electoral impartiality, stating that her Twitter account had been “hacked.”
Congressman Amilcar Barral published Chuquimia's retweet, dated March 5, 2015, on his Facebook page. The comment originally made by mayoral candidate Mendoza, which Chuqimia allegedly shared, reads: “We were in different markets in Panpahasi publicizing our platform and listening to all the suggestions and proposals.”
Chuquimia questioned why Congressman Barral would publish a message 20 days after it was originally retweeted and accused him of harassing her via telephone. She indicated that a couple of years ago, Barral had called her continuously requesting the TSE issue resolutions in his favor.
More recently, a cabinet-level blunder caused Bolivian President Evo Morales to remove Jorge Ledezma from the Defense Ministry, after he showed up to deliver aid to Chilean flood victims wearing a vest with the slogan “The sea is Bolivia's.”
Ministro de Defensa boliviano que uso chaleco con frase “El mar es de Bolivia” para ofrecer ayuda a Chile destituido pic.twitter.com/CzqDjSmSgb
— VVSincensura (@VVperiodistas) April 1, 2015
Bolivian Minister of Defense who sported vest with the words “The sea is Bolivia's” as he offered help to Chile is sacked.
Bolivia has been embroiled in a territorial dispute with Chile for decades, having lost crucial access to the sea during the War of the Pacific at the end of the 19th century. Bolivia has taken its neighbor to the International Court of Justice in The Hague in the hopes of resolving the bilateral conflict. Despite nationalist tension following the latest incident, President Morales publicly apologized to Chile and reiterated his commitment to offering humanitarian aid freely and without any political motivation. In the meantime, however, the Chilean Senate passed a motion of protest in which it rejected aid used as propaganda on the part of the Bolivia, accusing the Morales government of “taking advantage of an unfortunate situation” to further its objectives.