I studied International Development with a regional focus on Latin America at St. Mary’s University in the mid 2000s and had Juan Tellez who is an adjunct professor there. It was a shock this morning to read that he is being charged in Bolivia for terrorism and sedition (conduct or speech that incites people to rebel against a state or monarchy). Tellez is a Canadian citizen.
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!”
After the cod fishery collapse in the early 1990s, Cape Breton responded with the creation of New Dawn Enterprises, a Community Economic Development Investment Corporation. Tellez was involved in this work, as well as work with the Canadian Community Economic Development Network. Tellez also taught me about Asset-Based Community Development. I use all of the models that I learned from him as a foundation of my work as a Community Development practitioner. I’m not sure what my work would look like today without those classes.
Another piece of my learning about Latin America is that in the Andes, Indigenous people become “ghosts” upon entering the city. When interacting with the mestizo populations (descendants of those with mixed Spanish heritage), the Indigenous people are not addressed and not seen as worthy of recognition. Despite the odds, Evo Morales, an Indigenous man was elected the president of Bolivia in 2006.
On November 10, 2019, Morales stepped down as president amidst disputes of election tampering by his right-wing opponents. Morales was slated to win the election but a day after stepping down, he was in Mexico in forced expulsion to avoid his assassination and Jeanine Áñez was installed as interim president.
Critics of the Áñez administration say that her unelected government is responsible for the massacre of dozens of Indigenous people in the weeks that followed Morales’s departure as president. They also point to the meddling of the U.S. and media in Bolivia’s affairs that has led to the political turmoil in Bolivia.
Áñez is still the interim president of Bolivia and it is her government that has charged Tellez with sedition and terrorism.
The family of Juan Tellez has issued this statement:
We are so thankful — to everyone who has written, called, tweeted, liked and passed on word of the situation faced by Juan in Bolivia. With your support, suggestions and actions we have succeeded in bringing attention to the situation and today we have confirmation that Global Affairs Canada in Ottawa and the Canadian Consul to Bolivia in La Paz have a file open on Juan’s case and have been in direct contact with him and the family. Aside from the initial summons, Juan has not received the written details of the charges. In the coming days and weeks we will be sharing any developments in Juan’s case, and letting you know what you can do to help keep him safe. If you would like to receive updates please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Floyd is a food security policy analyst with RAVEN and writes for the NB Media Co-op.