A Bolivian general was arrested on accusations of attempting to overthrow the government by leading an assault on the presidential palace. This dramatic event unfolded shortly after his dismissal as commander of the Bolivian army. His military units, supported by armored vehicles, took control of the main square in La Paz and made attempts to breach government offices.

President Luis Arce responded swiftly, confronting General Juan Jose Zúñiga in the palace corridors and ordering him to withdraw his troops. Following tense hours, during which crowds gathered outside the palace in support of the government, Zúñiga was apprehended and taken away in handcuffs by police officers. President Arce, appearing before the assembled crowds, raised his fist in triumph, signaling the failure of the coup attempt.

In a subsequent press conference, Defense Minister Edmundo Novillo reassured the public that the government had restored “total and absolute control” over the military forces. He urged the population to return to normalcy after the tumultuous events.

Bolivia has a troubled history of political instability, marked by nearly 40 attempted or successful coups since 1946. The recent turmoil comes amidst a severe economic crisis in the landlocked South American nation, which has triggered widespread protests in recent months. Issues such as dwindling foreign currency reserves, shortages of essential goods like fuel, and economic hardships have compounded the challenges faced by the government.

During his arrest, General Zúñiga made controversial claims, alleging that he was acting on President Arce’s instructions to boost the president’s popularity. However, Justice Minister Ivan Lima swiftly dismissed these claims as baseless, emphasizing that Zúñiga would be held accountable for his actions under the law.

This incident has sparked concerns both domestically and internationally about Bolivia’s political stability and the future course of its democracy amidst ongoing economic difficulties.

The Bolivian government and leaders from around the world strongly criticized the attempted coup.

The Bolivian Attorney General’s Office has started a criminal investigation into Zúñiga and others involved in the incident. It’s unclear where Zúñiga is being held.

Earlier on Wednesday, videos showed armed soldiers at Murillo Plaza in La Paz, a key area where government offices are located. Armored vehicles were seen breaking into Bolivia’s government palace, according to the Associated Press. Former president Morales, from President Arce’s MAS party, warned of a brewing coup.

Other footage showed civilians confronting soldiers during the coup attempt at Murillo Plaza.

Bolivia’s recent political tension has increased over plans by former president Evo Morales, a leftist, to run for president again against his former ally Arce in next year’s elections.

Before he was arrested, Zúñiga spoke to reporters in a public square, surrounded by soldiers. He said, “We want to bring back democracy,” and talked about the country’s economic problems. Earlier, he had been fired for reportedly threatening to block Morales from running for president again.

Zúñiga also mentioned the army’s responsibility for the future of their children and the country’s progress. He promised to release all political prisoners, including former president Jeanine Anez, who is currently in jail for her role in deadly protests after she became president in 2019.

During the turmoil, President Arce appointed new military leaders, including General José Sánchez to replace Zúñiga as army chief. Sánchez later ordered soldiers to leave the square, calming the situation. Military vehicles were seen leaving the area, and Arce announced new heads of the navy and air force.

Evo Morales, who resigned as president in 2019 amid protests over election fraud accusations, publicly split from his former ally Arce. He claimed he was ousted in a coup.

Gustavo A. Flores-Macías, a government and public policy professor at Cornell University, told CNN that the attempted coup reflects widespread discontent in Bolivia. He noted dissatisfaction across all levels of society, especially with the economy, ahead of the 2025 elections where Arce and Morales are seen as rivals for the presidency.

International condemnation:

Fredy Mamani, a former deputy foreign minister of Bolivia and an ally of Morales and Arce, told CNN that despite the undemocratic actions involving tanks, soldiers, and occupying public spaces, it’s important to note that the Bolivian people are united against any coup attempt.

In agreement with Zúñiga’s remarks, an opposition member of parliament accused the government of orchestrating the coup to gain support.

Andrea Barrientos, a Senator for the opposition Civic Community party, told the BBC, “What happened today in Bolivia is a very strange situation. We can confirm that this was a self-coup organized by Luis Arce’s government.”

The attempted coup received widespread criticism from international and regional leaders, including President Santiago Peña of Paraguay and Mexico’s president.

Chile’s President Gabriel Boric supported democracy in Bolivia and the government led by Luis Arce.

The US Embassy in La Paz is closely watching the situation.

Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), strongly criticized the protests, saying the military should obey the elected government.

Carlos Solar, a Senior Research Fellow at RUSI, told CNN that Bolivia has faced ongoing political crises and military interference.

He also mentioned that political polarization and unsuccessful elections have weakened Bolivia’s democratic governance.

Published: 27th June 2024

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