Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Bolivian general arrested, charged with coup after dramatic confrontation with president



A Bolivian general was arrested and accused of plotting a coup against the government after trying to storm the presidential palace on Wednesday.

Military units led by General Juan José Zuniga – who was dismissed from his position as commander of the Bolivian army just one day before – occupied the main square in the capital, La Paz, while armored vehicles stormed the palace door and soldiers attempted to storm government offices.

Hours later, President Luis Arce — who had called on the public to “organize and mobilize” in defense of democracy — was seen confronting Zúñiga in a crowded palace lobby, ordering the general to withdraw his soldiers and stand down.

After Zuniga was handcuffed and forced into a police car, a triumphant Arce raised his fist to the huge crowds that flocked to the presidential palace, signaling the defeat of the coup attempt.

His Defense Minister Edmundo Novello later said in a press conference that the government had regained “complete and absolute control” over its army. “We urge residents to let everything return to normal,” he added.

Bolivia has a long history of political instability, with nearly 40 successful coup attempts since 1946. The failed coup attempt comes as the landlocked South American country, with a population of about 12 million, is reeling from an economic crisis. Escalating street protests have sparked in recent months. .

The country has suffered from dwindling foreign currency reserves, especially the US dollar, and shortages of fuel and other basic necessities.

During his arrest, Zuniga claimed – without providing evidence – that he was acting on Arce’s instructions.

“I met the president on Sunday and the president told me that the situation was very bad and that this week would be critical. Therefore, it is necessary to prepare something to increase my popularity. He told me, he asked me: ‘Shall we take out the armored (vehicles)?’” Zuniga told reporters.

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Justice Minister Ivan Lima denied Zuniga’s allegations, saying he was “lying and trying to justify a decision he made and he will have to bring him to justice.”

Juan Carreta/AFP

Bolivian President Luis Arce raises his fist, surrounded by supporters and media, outside the Government Palace in La Paz, Bolivia, on June 26, 2024.

The Bolivian government and international leaders widely condemned the coup attempt.

The Bolivian Attorney General’s Office said it had launched a criminal investigation against Zuniga and “all other participants” involved in the incident. It is unclear where Zuniga is being held.

Earlier on Wednesday, footage from the scene showed armed soldiers occupying Murillo Plaza, a main square in La Paz where the national executive and legislative offices are located.

Armored vehicles were seen storming the doors of Bolivia’s government palace, according to the Associated Press, where former President Morales, a member of Arce’s Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, said on Channel X that a “coup is looming on the horizon.” “.

A video clip also showed some civilians confronting soldiers in Murillo Plaza during the coup attempt.

The latest political confrontation in Bolivia comes as tensions rise over former leftist President Evo Morales’ plans to run for re-election against his former ally Arce in next year’s general elections.

Juan Carreta/AFP

Bolivian police hold detainee Juan José Zúñiga, former commander-in-chief of the army, in La Paz, Bolivia, on June 26, 2024.

Before his arrest, Zuniga addressed journalists in the field, surrounded by soldiers, saying: “We want to restore democracy,” while talking about the economic problems that the country is experiencing. He had previously been fired for threatening to derail Morales’ re-election bid.

He said: “The people have no future, and the army has the courage to look forward to the future of our children and the well-being and progress of our people.”

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He pledged to “release all political prisoners” including former President Jeanine Anez, currently imprisoned for what courts said was her role in the bloody protests that broke out after she came to power in 2019.

Amid this chaos, President Arce announced new military leaders, including General José Sánchez, who replaced Zúñiga as army commander.

The situation appeared to have been defused when Sanchez ordered the soldiers on the ground to return to their units.

Armed vehicles were seen leaving Murillo Plaza shortly after, according to footage broadcast by Bolivian television. Arce also announced new commanders for the navy and air force.

CNN is trying to contact the Bolivia government for comment.

Morales, who publicly broke with his former ally Arce, resigned from his position as president in 2019 after protests escalated over accusations of election fraud; He claimed at the time that he had been forced to step down in a coup.

Gustavo A. said: Flores Macias, a professor of government and public policy at Cornell University, told CNN that the attempted coup reflects widespread discontent in the country.

“What is happening in Bolivia is that broad sectors of society, across social classes, and at all levels, are very dissatisfied with the way things are going, especially on the economic front. We have elections coming up in 2025.”

In that election, Arce and Morales “seemed to be on this collision course. He added that they both aspire to become the next president.

Freddy Mamani, Bolivia’s former deputy foreign minister and an ally of Morales and Arce, told CNN that despite the “undemocratic” nature of “tanks and soldiers in uniform controlling the square… it is necessary to highlight that the Bolivian people are united.” In the face of any coup.”

But, echoing Zuniga’s comments, an opposition lawmaker accused the government of staging a coup in an attempt to rally support.

“What happened today in Bolivia is a really strange situation,” Andrea Barrientos, a senator from the opposition Civil Society Party, told the BBC. “We can confirm that this was a self-coup organized by the government of Luis Arce.”

News of the attempted coup was strongly condemned by international and regional leaders, including Paraguay’s President Santiago Peña, the President of Mexico, and the European Union.

Izar Raldes/AFP/Getty Images

Military forces fire tear gas at people outside the Quemado Palace in Plaza Murillo in La Paz on June 26, 2024.

Chilean President Gabriel Porich said on the X program: “We express our support for democracy in our brotherly country and for the legitimate government of Luis Arce.”

The US Embassy in La Plaz said it was “closely monitoring the situation.”

The Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, condemned the mobilizations “in the most active way” on X Day, saying: “The army must submit to legitimately elected civilian authority.”

Bolivia has suffered from ongoing political crises and constant military intervention, Carlos Solar, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told CNN.

This, combined with the “high degree of polarization among politicians who were unable to effect electoral succession,” undermined democratic governance in Bolivia.

This story has been updated with additional developments.



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