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

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AFP) — Supporters of Bolivia’s president rallied outside his palace on Thursday, giving the embattled leader some political breathing space as authorities made more arrests in a failed coup that has shaken the country. A country suffering from economic problems 1 day ago.

The Bolivian government said 17 people had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in an attempted takeover of the government, including army chief General Juan Jose Zuniga and former navy deputy chief Juan Arnaiz Salvador, who were detained the previous day.

The South American country of 12 million people watched in shock and bewilderment on Wednesday as military forces that appeared to turn against the government of President Luis Arce took control of the capital’s main square with armored vehicles, repeatedly rammed a small tank into the presidential palace and unleashed… To tears. Gas on demonstrators

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 “theoretician” of the aborted coup. He added that the alleged conspirators began plotting 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 “fight” as a Spanish verb.


Bolivian President Luis Arce raises his fist surrounded by supporters and media, outside the Government Palace in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Juan Carreta)

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

Analysts say the surge of popular support for Arsi, even if fleeting, offers him a chance to recover from the country’s economic quagmire and political turmoil. In deep competition with the popular former president Evo Moraleshis former ally who threatened to challenge Arce in 2025.

“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.”

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Military police block entry to Plaza Murillo in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Before his arrest late Wednesday, Zuniga claimed, without providing evidence, that Arce ordered the general to carry out the coup attempt in a ploy to boost the president’s popularity. This raised speculation about what really happened. Opposition senators and government critics joined the chorus, describing the rebellion as a “self-coup” – a claim strongly denied by Arce’s government.

“What we saw is very unusual for coups in Latin America, and it raises red flags,” said Diego von Vacano, an expert on Bolivian politics at Texas A&M University and a former informal adviser to President Arce. “Ars seemed like yesterday’s victim and today’s hero, defending democracy.”

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Some Bolivians said they believed Zuniga’s claims.

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

Former lawmakers and officials, especially those allied with Morales, have echoed the same accusations. “This was a trap,” said Carlos Romero, a former Morales government official. “Zuniga 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.

In a statement in Paraguay on Thursday, US Under Secretary of State for Management Rich Verma Zuniga condemned the killing, 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 shaken Arce, whose popularity has waned as the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled, its natural gas exports have declined and its currency’s peg to the U.S. dollar has collapsed.

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

Defense Minister Edmundo Novello told reporters that Zuniga’s coup attempt had its roots in a special meeting on Tuesday in which he fired Arce Zuniga over the army chief’s threats 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 some transgressions,” he said of Zuniga. “We said goodbye in a very friendly way, with hugs. He will always be by the president’s side,” Zuniga said.

Hours later, panic swept through the capital, La Paz. Surrounded by armored vehicles and supporters, Zuniga stormed the government headquarters, sending Bolivians into a frenzy. Crowds swarmed ATM machines, lined up outside gas stations and looted grocery stores.

The country’s divided opposition rejected the coup even before it became clear that it had failed. Former interim President Jeanine Anez announced, She was detained for her role in the 2019 overthrow of MoralesHe said the soldiers were seeking to “destroy the constitutional order,” but appealed to both Arce and Morales not to run in the 2025 elections.

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A supporter of Bolivian President Luis Arce raises his fist in front of the government palace at Plaza Murillo in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

In his speech after the palace storming, Zuniga called for the release of political prisoners including Anez and powerful Santa Cruz Governor Luis Fernando Camacho, who was also arrested for allegedly orchestrating 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 bad, very critical, and it is necessary for me to prepare to raise my popularity,” Zuniga added.

Even if proven false, the accusations of Arce’s involvement have stirred confusion and threatened further chaos.

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

Bolivian officials insisted that the general was lying to justify his actions. Prosecutors said they would seek a prison sentence of 15 to 20 years for Zuniga for “attacking the Constitution” pending further investigation.

But democracy advocates have already expressed doubts about the reliability of any government-led investigation.

“The independence of the judiciary is almost zero, and the credibility of the judiciary is at stake,” said Juan Papier, deputy Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “Not only do we not know today what happened, but we may never know.”

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De Bree reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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