Bolivia’s president denies conspiracy with military


Lerato Khumalo

Renegade military officers are challenging the government in the poor Andean state. After the coup was foiled, they even claimed to have acted on the president’s orders. He denies the accusations.

After the failed coup in Bolivia, President Luis Arce has denied accusations of being in cahoots with the conspirators. The coup plotters acted on their own, the president said at his first press conference after the coup attempt. “I am not a politician who wants to gain popularity through the blood of the people.”

On Wednesday, renegade soldiers occupied the central square of La Paz in armored vehicles and entered the government palace. President Arce stood up to the coup plotters and immediately replaced the entire leadership of the armed forces. The new heads of the armed forces then ordered the withdrawal of the troops.

A total of 17 military officers were arrested after the coup attempt. “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.

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

Before his arrest, Zúñiga had claimed that the coup had been coordinated with President Arce. “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. “I asked him: ‘Let’s get the tanks out’ and he replied: ‘Get them out’.” The government rejected the claim. “Zúñiga’s goal was to take power in the country, against the will of the people,” said Interior Minister Del Castillo.

The motive for the coup attempt is still unclear. It may have been directed against a renewed presidential candidacy by former head of state Evo Morales (2006-2019). According to reports, Zúñiga had 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.

After the first reports of the coup attempt, he even called his rival Morales and warned him, Arce said at his press conference. “We have our differences, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t warn him in the event of a coup,” Arce said. “It was clear that they would come for me first and then him. After all, we are comrades, so I called him so he could take precautions.”

After the failed coup attempt, 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 the workers and indigenous people.