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HomeLatin AmericaBoliviaBolivian General Arrested After Failed Coup Attempt Against President Arce

Bolivian General Arrested After Failed Coup Attempt Against President Arce

Bolivian forces arrested the army commander who led a coup attempt against President Luis Arce on Wednesday, shortly after rebel soldiers besieged the government headquarters for hours and tried to break down one of its doors.

At the end of a frantic day, General Juan José Zúñiga was arrested outside a military barracks in La Paz and taken to a police vehicle on charges of terrorism and armed uprising, according to the prosecutor’s office. “You’re under arrest, General!” said Deputy Minister of Government (Interior) Jhonny Aguilera, according to state television footage.

Surrounded by about eight armored vehicles, Zúñiga led the uniformed men who tried to break into the presidential palace in downtown La Paz. His men used tear gas against people who tried to approach the building. The officer entered walking through the same door that one of the combat vehicles tried to break down. He left shortly after by the same means.

“We are facing a coup attempt by military personnel who are staining the uniform,” Arce said as he swore in a new Armed Forces high command at the palace, which at that moment was surrounded by Zúñiga’s troops.

After their withdrawal, the president came out to a balcony to address hundreds of supporters: “No one can take away the democracy we have won (…). We are sure: we will continue and we will continue working.”

Both the government and former president Evo Morales, Arce’s former ally and now political rival, had called for mobilizations in response to the military uprising. On his social networks, the former Bolivian president suspended the call after “calm had been restored at the government headquarters.”

The underlying political struggle

Since Tuesday, rumors had been circulating about the probable dismissal of Zúñiga, who had commanded the army since 2022. The officer had expressed his firm opposition to the eventual return to power of Morales, who is vying with Arce for leadership of the ruling party ahead of the 2025 presidential elections.

In an interview with a television channel on Monday, he even assured that he would arrest Morales if he insisted on running for president next year. Hence the surprise caused by his coup attempt against Arce. At the time of his arrest, the general told the press that the president had asked him on Sunday to “prepare something” to boost his popularity.

According to Zúñiga, Arce argued that “the situation is very screwed” and warranted an action that would favor him. Arce and Morales have been engaged in an intense political fight for a couple of years.

Supported by the constitutional reforms he himself promoted, Morales held the presidency between 2006 and 2019, when he was forced to resign, harassed by the crisis that erupted over alleged electoral fraud to obtain a fourth term.

At the end of last year, the Constitutional Court disqualified Morales from being a candidate again, which the former president interpreted as a maneuver against him by his former Minister of Economy.

The government wing of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) proclaimed Arce as its candidate for 2025. Another sector supported Morales’ aspiration, who still has not given up on his ambition despite the judges’ ruling. Arce, meanwhile, has not yet proclaimed his candidacy.

International reaction

Various governments and international entities spoke out during the day. The United States called “for calm” and assured that it “is closely following the situation,” according to a statement from a spokesperson for the National Security Council of the White House.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva condemned “any form of coup d’état” in Bolivia on the social network X. For his part, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “very concerned” about “the allegations of a coup attempt” and called on all actors “to protect the constitutional order and preserve a climate of peace,” his spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, reported.

The Organization of American States (OAS) warned that it “will not tolerate any form of breach of the constitutional order” in Bolivia. The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, immediately came out to denounce the attempt to overthrow one of his major allies in the region.

“To the people of Bolivia, all the support of the people of Bolívar. No to fascism, no to coup-mongering,” expressed the ruler, declaring himself in “emergency and permanent support” with Bolivians.

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