A bill legalizing a form of toxic bleach as a miracle cure as a COVID-19 treatment has been approved by the lower house of Bolivia's legislature.
It allows for the "production, commercialization and supply of chlorine dioxide solution to prevent COVID-19 and as a treatment for sick patients."
Chlorine dioxide is a type of industrial bleach commonly used as a disinfectant, or to bleach paper products. In recent years a movement of conspiracy theorists and alternative medicine advocates have hailed it as a miracle cure capable of curing virtually any illness.
They call it "Miracle Mineral Solution," or MMS.
The movement is fast gaining influence in Latin America, where countries including Bolivia are struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this week, a key MMS advocate, US citizen Mark Grenon, was arrested in neighboring Colombia on allegations that he has been selling MMS as a COVID-19 cure.
Bolivia's own ministry of health has warned against taking the substance. In a June statement it said that medical regulators in the country had not approved the substance as a treatment for COVID-19 or any other illness.
The statement warned that chlorine dioxide "puts the health of the population that consumes or intends to do so at serious risk."
It cited multiple advisories by the Food and Drug Administration in the US, which says it has recorded reports of "severe vomiting, severe diarrhea, life-threatening low blood pressure caused by dehydration and acute liver failure after drinking these products."
Both houses of the Bolivian parliament are controlled by the left-wing MAS party, which also used to control the presidency.
However, following the ouster of MAS president Evo Morales last year after allegations of election fraud, the presidency is currently held by the caretaker government of conservative Jeanine Añez.
The passing of the bill sets up a confrontation between Añez and Bolivia's legislature weeks before the country's delayed presidential election, scheduled for October 18.
Sergio Verdugo, an Associate Professor of Universidad del Desarrollo Law School, Chile, told Business Insider that under the Bolivian constitution, Añez can either ratify or veto the bill. But if she decides to veto it the legislative assembly can override the presidential veto by an "absolute majority" of legislators present when the vote takes place.
In the meantime the ministry of health has said it will prosecute those producing and selling chlorine dioxide. There are reports across the country of people hospitalized and injured by taking the substance.
The elections were originally scheduled for September 6, but the president delayed them, citing concerns over the coronavirus.
MAS responded by arguing that the pandemic is being exaggerated for political advantage, according to Richard Lapper, a Latin America expert at London's Chatham House think tank.
He told Business Insider: "You have a political class completely divided, and a left-wing opposition arguing it [COVID-19] is a plot, an imperialist plot designed to disarm the Bolivian people and stop the election taking place."
Lapper said that MAS supporters have responded by blockading roads, demanding elections on the original September date. Polls suggest MAS could win, Lapper said.