After attempted coup in Bolivia: 17 military officers arrested


Lerato Khumalo

Renegade military officers challenge the government. The uprising lasts only a few hours before the ringleaders are arrested. Expressions of solidarity show that the generals have no support.

Following the failed coup attempt in Bolivia, 17 military officers have been arrested. “We will stop this anti-democratic network, we will not rest until all those responsible are brought to justice. It is time to get the coup plotters off the streets and put them behind bars,” said Bolivia’s Interior Minister Eduardo del Castillo at a press conference on Thursday.

The leaders, General Juan José Zúñiga and Vice Admiral Juan Arnez Salvador, are among those arrested. They are due to appear before a court for an initial hearing on Thursday. The Attorney General’s Office accuses them of armed rebellion against the sovereignty of the state and attack on the president, among other things. If convicted, they face up to 30 years in prison.

There were various groups that were responsible for the preparation, organization and coordination of the coup attempt, said del Castillo. Three other reservists are still being sought.

One day after the attempted coup, numerous demonstrators took to the streets in support of the government. They set up roadblocks between the government seat of La Paz and its sister city, El Alto, which is located higher up, as the newspaper “La Razón” reported. “We will not allow democracy to be attacked,” said the mayor of El Alto, Eva Copa. In the industrial city at an altitude of 4,100 meters, the government has numerous supporters among workers and indigenous people.

On Wednesday, a coup failed in La Paz. Renegade soldiers occupied the central square in armored vehicles and entered the government palace. President Luis Arce replaced the entire leadership of the armed forces. The new heads of the armed forces then ordered the withdrawal of the troops.

In Bolivia, generals have repeatedly seized power in coups. In the 1960s to 1980s, the military seized power dozens of times. Since independence in 1825, the country lived under military rule for around 100 years.

Under Zúñiga’s command, soldiers occupied the central Murillo Square in La Paz. The dramatic moments were not entirely without bloodshed: According to the government, nine people were injured. “The commanders of the armed forces (…) not only spread fear and terror, but also used firearms against the life, humanity and integrity of the Bolivian people,” wrote Bolivia’s Interior Minister Eduardo del Castillo on X.

Coup attempt directed against the candidacy of the ex-president?

The motive for the coup attempt was initially unclear. “Enough of the impoverishment of our homeland, enough of the humiliation of the military. We have come to express our displeasure,” said General Zúñiga as he advanced toward the government palace.

Zúñiga later suggested that his coup had even been coordinated with President Arce himself. “The president told me that the situation is very bad. It is necessary to prepare something to increase his popularity,” General Zúñiga said on television before his arrest. “I asked him: ‘Let’s get the tanks out’ and he replied: ‘Get them out’.” The government rejected the account. “Zúñiga’s goal was to take power in the country, against the will of the people,” said Interior Minister Del Castillo.

The coup attempt may have been directed against a renewed presidential candidacy by former head of state Evo Morales (2006-2019). Zúñiga had reportedly said that Morales should not return as president and threatened to stand in his way if he did. Because of these comments, Zúñiga was informed on Tuesday evening that he had to vacate his post, said Defense Minister Edmundo Novillo.

The left-wing head of state Morales – Bolivia’s first indigenous president – resigned in 2019 under pressure from the military after the opposition and international election observers accused him of fraud in the presidential election. Although he has actually been prohibited from doing so in several court decisions, Morales wants to run again in the 2025 presidential election. Morales and his former ally Arce are currently fighting for power in the ruling MAS party.

Bolivia is one of the structurally weakest countries in Latin America. The landlocked country has around 12 million inhabitants and is about three times the size of Germany. Around half of Bolivians belong to indigenous peoples. This makes Bolivia the country with the second largest proportion of indigenous population in Latin America after Guatemala. The poor economic situation has repeatedly led to social protests.