The Bolivian mayor thought she was going to die. It was November 6, 2019, and the municipal building was on fire, set ablaze after a disputed October presidential election and protests that ousted socialist president Evo Morales. Mayor María Patricia Arce Guzmán, 48, a member of Morales’s party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), escaped the smoke and tried to dodge the hostile crowd outside.
Hobbled by a bad knee, she ran through the streets of Vinto, a town in the central Bolivian department of Cochabamba where she’d been mayor since June 2015. She lost her shoes but didn’t stop. “Then they grabbed me and started shouting that I was a murderer,” Arce later told me. And her hours-long ordeal began.
Rioters doused her in gasoline. She also smelled of urine and bleach. Kicked, beaten with sticks, and pelted with stones, the mayor was dragged barefoot to a site where a 20-year-old man, Limberth Guzmán Vásquez, had died in clashes between left-wing supporters of the ousted president and their right-wing opponents. The anti-Morales protesters accused Arce of financing and supporting leftists involved in the violence that claimed the young man. “I thought they were going to kill me, set me on fire,” Arce says.