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Former St. Mary’s professor faces terrorism charges in Bolivia

Christina Tellez and her father Juan Tellez. Photo courtesy of Christina Tellez.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Juan Tellez, a Canadian citizen and an adjunct professor at the Department of International Development Studies at St. Mary’s University is facing charges of sedition and terrorism in Bolivia. 

Tellez, now the Mayor of Betanzos, is a member of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) Party, the party that was led by Evo Morales until he was ousted in a coup.   

His daughter Christina Tellez is asking that the Canadian government pressure Bolivia’s right wing and unelected government to halt its persecution of Tellez and many other political leaders and human right defenders. 

He became the mayor of the rural town of Betanzos in 2015, where he initiated irrigation projects, built schools, made education more accessible, Christina tells the Nova Scotia Advocate. 

“After Evo Morales was ousted and Janina Áñez came to power, and after the postponement of the elections for the fourth time, there were widespread protests,” Tellez says. “My father has been accused of terrorism and sedition in relation to these protests, however, he was not involved in in those protests. Although he has been charged he has not been informed of the exact nature of the charges.”

Juan Tellez was not the only one to be charged. So far 600 former MAS officials and their families are under investigation, and more than 100 members of the MAS party have already been detained.

“Our family is concerned that this type of persecution and intimidation tactics will continue to escalate, especially as we’re drawing closer to the October 18 elections. It’s hard to know exactly what will happen. We’re especially worried  because he is also an insulin-dependent diabetic. Being incarcerated in Bolivia, where jails don’t have the responsibility to provide medicine means that it could potentially be life threatening,” Christina says. 

Christina’s father moved to Halifax with his Canadian wife and family in the early nineties to do his Master’s in Community and International Development Studies at St. Mary’s. He later joined the faculty as an adjunct professor and remained active in the community at large, initiating an asset mapping project in East and North Preston, and got involved in Cape Bretons New Dawn Enterprises and the Canadian Community Economic Development Network. 

“Tellez is one of the professors that I remember the most. His work was and is heavily informed by on-the-ground community practice. At that time, a major triumph of Tellez’s was the electrification of his home community in the mountains of Bolivia. He was so enthusiastic about this work, his students would say after class empathically, with raised hands, “And we brought the lights to Junta Pita!”, writes Amy Floyd, a former student, in the New Brunswick Media Coop.

Canada has been criticized for its support of the coup that deposed Evo Morales, and its assertion that the election was fraudulent has been disproven. Canada’s support was conditional on fair and free elections, to be held as soon as possible. Now, 10 months later and after several delays, elections are scheduled for October and polls suggest that MAS could well win a majority in the first round. 

However, that is assuming that the elections will indeed be fair and free, and Christina and many others doubt that will be the case, given the Áñez government’s record, that includes two massacres of MAS supporters in November 2019 carried out by police and military forces. Canada, by the way, has remained silent on these human rights abuses as well.

You can join a webinar, BOLIVIA: Canada’s Silent Role in Bolivia’s Democratic Crisis, on Tuesday, September 22, 2020 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm ET. Juan Tellez will be one of the panelists.

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  1. Do you know if Amnesty International Canada is involved in this? Thanks for the thorough report of a very sad, precarious situation

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