July 14, 2024

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After the failed coup attempt, many Bolivians are rallying behind the president, although some are wary

After the failed coup attempt, many Bolivians are rallying behind the president, although some are wary

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Supporters of Bolivia’s president rallied outside his palace Thursday, giving the embattled leader some political breathing room as authorities made more arrests in a failed coup attempt that has rocked the country. economically troubled country 1 day ago

The Bolivian government announced that 17 people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attempted government takeover, including army chief General Juan José Zúñiga and former navy deputy commander Juan Arnaiz Salvador, who had been detained the previous day.

The South American nation of 12 million people watched in shock and bewilderment on Wednesday as military forces appeared to turn against the government of President Luis Arce, taking over the capital’s main square in armored vehicles, repeatedly ramming a small tank into the presidential palace and unleashing tear gas on protesters.

Senior Cabinet member Eduardo del Castillo did not elaborate on the other 15 people arrested, other than to identify one civilian, Anibal Aguilar Gomez, as a key “ideologue” of the failed coup. He said the alleged conspirators began planning in May.

Riot police guarded the palace doors, and Arce – who is struggling to manage the country’s foreign currency and fuel shortages – appeared on the presidential balcony while his supporters took to the streets, singing the national anthem and cheering as fireworks exploded overhead. “No one can take away democracy from us,” he shouted.

The Bolivians responded by chanting: “Lucho, you are not alone!” Lucho, a common nickname for Luis, also means “to fight” as a Spanish verb.

Shortly after the Bolivian government declared the brief attack on the presidential palace a coup attempt, army and navy leaders were arrested and presented as the top officers in Wednesday’s mutiny.

Analysts say that the outbreak of popular support for Arsi, even if fleeting, gives him an opportunity to recover from the economic quagmire and political turmoil the country is experiencing. The president is locked in a deepening rivalry with popular former President Evo Morales, his former ally who has threatened to challenge Arce in the 2025 elections.

“The president’s administration is very bad, there are no dollars and there is no gasoline. Yesterday’s military action would help his image a little, but it is not the solution,” said La Paz-based political analyst Paul Coca.

Some demonstrators gathered outside the police station where the former army general was being held, chanting that he should go to prison. “It’s shameful what Zuniga did,” said Dora Quispe, 47, one of the demonstrators. “We are in a democratic state, not a dictatorial state.”

Before his arrest late Wednesday, Zuniga alleged without evidence that Arce had ordered the general to carry out the coup attempt as a ploy to boost the president’s popularity. That has sparked speculation about what really happened. Opposition senators and government critics have joined the chorus, calling the rebellion a “self-inflicted coup” — a claim Arce’s government has vehemently denied.

Some Bolivians said they believed General Zuniga’s claims.

“They are playing with the intelligence of the people, because no one believes that what happened was a real coup,” said Evaristo Mamani, a 48-year-old lawyer.

Former lawmakers and officials, especially those allied with Morales, echoed the accusations. “This was a trap,” said Carlos Romero, a former Morales government official. “Zúñiga followed the script as he was told.”

Shortly after the military maneuver began, it became clear that any attempt to seize power had no meaningful political support. The uprising ended without bloodshed at the end of the working day. In an unusual scene, Arce violently quarreled with Zuniga and his allies face-to-face in the square outside the palace before returning inside to name a new army commander.

Speaking in Paraguay on Thursday, US Deputy Secretary of State for Management Rich Verma condemned Zuniga, saying that “democracy remains fragile in our hemisphere.”

The short-lived rebellion came after months of escalating tensions between Arce and Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Morales has staged a dramatic political comeback since mass protests and a deadly crackdown forced him to resign and flee in 2019 — a military-backed ouster that his supporters called a coup.

Morales has pledged to run against Arce in 2025, a prospect that has rattled Arce, whose popularity has declined as the country’s foreign currency reserves dwindle, its natural gas exports decline, and the collapse of its currency peg to the US dollar.

Morales’ allies in Congress have made it nearly impossible for Arce to govern. The cash crisis has increased pressure on Arce to eliminate food and fuel subsidies that have drained the state’s finances.

Defense Minister Edmundo Novello told reporters that Zúñiga’s coup attempt had its roots in a private meeting on Tuesday in which Arce fired Zúñiga over threats by the army chief on national television to arrest Morales if he joined the 2025 race.

But Novello said Zuniga gave officials no indication that he was preparing to seize power.

“He admitted to committing some transgressions,” he said of Zuniga. “We said goodbye to him in a very friendly way, with hugs. He will always be by the president’s side,” he said of Zuniga.

Hours later, panic gripped the capital, La Paz. Zuniga stormed the government headquarters, guarded by armored vehicles and his supporters, sparking a state of commotion among Bolivians. Crowds gathered in front of automated teller machines, lined up outside gas stations, and looted grocery stores.

The country’s divided opposition rejected the coup even before it became clear it had failed. Former interim President Jeanine Anez, who was arrested for her role in Morales’ ouster in 2019, said the soldiers sought to “destroy the constitutional order,” but she urged both Arce and Morales not to run in the 2025 election.

In his speech after the palace storming, Zuniga called for the release of political prisoners, including Áñez and powerful Santa Cruz governor Luis Fernando Camacho, who is also detained on charges of organizing a coup in 2019.

Before his arrest, Zuniga told reporters that Arce directly asked him to storm the palace and bring armored vehicles to downtown La Paz.

The president told me: “The situation is very complicated and very critical. It is necessary to prepare something to raise my popularity.”

Even if the accusations against Arce’s involvement were proven false, they sparked confusion and threatened more chaos.

“Was it just a media spectacle put on by the government itself, as General Zuniga says? Was it just military madness? Was it just another example of the lack of control?” Camacho wrote on the social media platform X.

Bolivian officials insisted the general was lying to justify his actions. Prosecutors said they would seek a 15- to 20-year prison sentence for Zúñiga on charges of “attacking the constitution.”

Political experts and Bolivians alike had difficulty understanding Wednesday’s unrest.

“This is the strangest coup attempt I have ever seen,” said Catherine Ledebour, director of the Andean Information Network, a research group based in Bolivia. “Bolivia’s democracy is still very fragile, and it is certainly more fragile today than it was yesterday.”


De Bree reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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