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Friday, July 19, 2024

Bolivia government had prior intelligence of coup planning, minister says

The failed coup on Wednesday happened over just a few hours and provoked swift condemnations from world leaders, raising fears that democracy in the Andean nation remains at risk.

La Paz: The Bolivian government had intelligence that a coup attempt could occur before the country’s top military commander and his troops forced their way into the presidential palace this week, a senior government minister said on Thursday.

The failed coup on Wednesday happened over just a few hours and provoked swift condemnations from world leaders, raising fears that democracy in the Andean nation remains at risk.

In an interview with Bolivian broadcaster Unitel, Interior Minister Eduardo del Castillo said that President Luis Arce received reports about “destabilization attempts,” though he cautioned that the government did not know more at the time.

The mobilization of military units on Wednesday saw the country’s military commander gather troops in the main square of capital La Paz, ramming a palace door with an armored vehicle to allow soldiers to rush into the building.
The soldiers ultimately withdrew and police regained control of the square, with Arce slamming the coup attempt and swiftly naming a new top general.

The former commander, Juan Jose Zuniga, was arrested as well as former Navy commander Juan Arnez Salvador, del Castillo said. He later explained that 17 people had been detained so far, but there were “many more who had participated.”

During a Thursday morning session of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in Paraguay, Bolivia’s ambassador said around 200 military officers took part in the short-lived operation led by Zuniga.
Elsewhere, calls for accountability for the attempted coup grew louder.

“I urge the authorities to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of violence and reports of injuries,” said U.N. Human Rights Chief Volker Turk. “Those responsible must be held to account.”

Zuniga had recently said that Arce’s former mentor-turned-political-rival, ex-President Evo Morales, should not be able to run again for president and threatened to block him if he attempted to do so.

The commander had been told on Tuesday evening that he would be stripped of his position as his conduct “was not in line with the Constitution,” according to del Castillo.

He recalled that Zuniga reacted calmly to the news.

“But no one could have imagined that the next day, before the official handover in posts, there would be a failed coup in our country,” he said.

Late Wednesday, Minister of the Presidency Maria Nela Prada told reporters that Zuniga, in his confession to police, said the coup attempt failed because reinforcements did not arrive in time.

As he was being arrested, Zuniga said that he had been instructed to carry out the coup at Arce’s direction in order to boost the president’s popularity, which Prada later denied.

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