Recent weeks have seen an upheaval in political violence in Bolivia following contested elections that saw incumbent Evo Morales win a constitutionally dubious fourth term in office. Morales has since resigned the presidency and sought asylum in Mexico.
One would think this political violence would most affect missionaries in La Paz or Santa Cruz, among the larger cities in the country. However, it is the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission, in the center of the country and also home to Bolivia’s only temple, that has become the most dangerous for missionaries, particularly those from North America. As such, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced yesterday the evacuation of 63 missionaries of North American origin from the Cochabamba mission. Those near the end of their missions will be released whereas others will be temporarily reassigned.
Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff elaborated in a notice to the media:
“The Church is in the process of transferring 63 missionaries from the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission. This is due to growing political unrest as well as the U.S. government’s recent decision to pull non-emergency workers from that country. The missionaries — who are all from North America — are being temporarily reassigned to other missions. A few who are nearing the end of their missions will return home. At this point, in coordination with security professionals, all other missionaries throughout Bolivia are remaining where they are and will continue with limited missionary work in those areas where it is safe to do so. The safety of our missionaries is our highest priority, and we will continue to carefully monitor developments in Bolivia and make further adjustments and decisions as circumstances require. We pray for the people in Bolivia as they navigate this difficult time in their country.”
It is understandable that the Church is quick to be careful in Bolivia. In 1989, two American Latter-day Saint missionaries serving in Bolivia were murdered by the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Zárate Willca, a Bolivia terrorist group that aimed to combat perceived American imperialism in Latin America. American missionaries were removed from the country for a time as a result. The group also attempted to assassinate the U.S. secretary of state.
Bolivia has four other missions and numerous stakes. It is unclear if other missions in the country will be affected by the recent wave of unrest, but reportedly, missionaries in those missions are being asked to limit their work for the time being.