Violence, mass protests in Bolivia affect missionaries and Latter-day Saints

Latter-day Saints and missionaries in Bolivia are taking precautions to stay safe during ongoing civil unrest following a violently-contested presidential election.

“All the missionaries are well,” reported Elder Enrique R. Falabella, a General Authority Seventy who presides over the South America Northwest Area, in a Tuesday email to the Church News. “We have opened a chat group with the mission presidents and (Area) Seventies to exchange updated information.” 

Missionaries serving in Bolivia are limiting their proselytizing activities to areas near their homes — and only if the situation is safe, he added.

“All missionaries have food in the homes and are being cared for by the members.”

There were no reports of injuries among Latter-day Saints and no Church buildings have been damaged during the civil unrest.

Bolivia’s former president Evo Morales departed the country on Monday, Nov. 11 — a day after his resignation as president following mass protests and military intervention prompted by allegations of “serious irregularities” during last month’s presidential elections, CNN reported.

Unrest continued in Bolivia Monday with violent clashes and looting throughout the administrative capital of La Paz. Three people have died in the protests and hundreds of others injured. Businesses and homes have been ransacked.

In an effort to stay safe, Latter-day Saints in Bolivia are only gathering for Sabbath-day meetings in areas deemed to be safe.

Police against the reelection of President Evo Morales stand on the rooftop of a police station waving national flags just meters away from the presidential palace, in La Paz, Bolivia, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. Policemen guarding the exteriors of the presidential palace in La Paz retreated to their barracks on Saturday, while officers in other Bolivian cities have declared mutinies and joined protests against President Evo Morales, who has faced two weeks of unrest over disputed election results. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Police against the reelection of President Evo Morales stand on the rooftop of a police station waving national flags just meters away from the presidential palace, in La Paz, Bolivia, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. Policemen guarding the exteriors of the presidential palace in La Paz retreated to their barracks on Saturday, while officers in other Bolivian cities have declared mutinies and joined protests against President Evo Morales, who has faced two weeks of unrest over disputed election results. (AP Photo/Juan Karita) Credit: AP Photo/Juan Karita

“When it’s not secure, members are gathering in their homes,” Elder Falabella reported. “Stake conferences have been canceled so members can avoid having to travel long distances.”

The Church traces its history in Bolivia back to Nov. 22, 1964, when a small group gathered in the interior city of Cochabamba for the nation’s first official Church meeting. Missionaries arrived two days later.

Today, the South American country is home to about 200,000 Latter-day Saints belonging to hundreds of wards and branches. The elegant Cochabamba Bolivia Temple was dedicated on April 30, 2000, by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

In 2014, the Church celebrated its first half-century in Bolivia with a commemorative dinner that included dozens of government and media representatives. Elder Juan A. Uceda, a General Authority Seventy, accepted, on behalf of the Church, a medal and a government resolution recognizing the Church and its members “for its support of those with health needs; for its wheelchair donations; and for other service activities.”

President Russell M. Nelson presided over a Latter-day Saint devotional last year in El Alto, Bolivia, as part of his 2018 five-country South America ministry.

Despite the ongoing civil unrest in Bolivia, Latter-day Saints anticipate better days ahead.

“We hope that peace can return soon,” said Elder Falabella.