Bolivia Coup Attempt: General detained, army flees palace

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Armored vehicles crashed through the doors of Bolivia’s government palace Wednesday as the president called, led by a top general who vowed to “restore democracy.” A conspiracy attemptThen quickly retreated — the latest crisis in the South American country Facing a political war and economic crisis.

Within hours, the nation of 12 million people witnessed a fast-moving scene in which troops appeared to seize control of President Luis Arce’s government. He promised to stand firm and appointed a new military commander who immediately ordered the troops to stand down.

The soldiers soon retreated, accompanied by a line of military vehicles, ending the rebellion after three hours. Hundreds of people Supporters of Ars He then rushed through the square outside the palace, waving Bolivian flags and chanting the national anthem.

The troop withdrawal followed the arrest of military chief General Juan José Zunica after the attorney general opened an investigation.

Armored vehicles crashed through the doors of Bolivia’s government palace on Wednesday as President Luis Arce said the country was facing an attempted coup, standing firm and urging people to mobilize.

Besides Government Minister Eduardo del Castillo, Zuniga, former Navy Vice Adm. Juan Arnes Salvador said he was arrested.

“What was the goal of this group? The goal was to overthrow democratically elected power,” del Castillo told reporters announcing the arrests.

Late Wednesday, Defense Minister Edmundo Novillo said “everything is now under control.” Surrounded by new military leaders appointed by Arce, Novillo said Bolivia was living in a “failed conspiracy.”

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The apparent coup attempt comes as the country faces months of tensions and political infighting between Arce and his one-time ally, former leftist President Evo Morales, who control the ruling party. That too came in the midst of a severe economic crisis.

These conflicts have crippled the government’s efforts to tackle the economic crisis. For example, Morales’ allies in Congress have consistently stymied Arce’s efforts to secure a loan to relieve some of the pressure.

Zuniga noted that there was a freeze during the rebellion, telling reporters that the military was tired of the infighting and was trying to “restore democracy.”

“We are listening to the people’s cry, because for many years an elite has controlled the country,” he said, “politicians are destroying the country: look at what we are in, what crisis they are in. Inside.”

“The armed forces want to restore democracy and make it a true democracy,” he said.

A rapidly escalating crisis began in the late afternoon as the streets of La Paz began to fill with soldiers. Ars tweeted that the troop deployment was irregular, and he and other political figures soon warned of an attempted coup.

Yet the apparent attempt to oust the incumbent president seemed to lack meaningful support, and even Ars’ rivals closed ranks to defend democracy and reject the uprising.

In a twist, Zúñiga told reporters in comments before his arrest that Arce told the general to attack the palace in a political move. “The president told me: ‘The situation is very bad, very complicated. It is necessary to prepare something to boost my popularity,'” Zuniga said.

Zúñiga sajd he asked Ars “to take out the armored vehicles?” he asked. Ars replied, “Take them out.”

Justice Minister Ivan Lima denied Zuniga’s claims, saying the general was lying and trying to justify his actions and that he would face justice.

Prosecutors will seek a maximum sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison for Zuniga, Lima said via social media site X, for “attacking democracy and the constitution.”

The scene shocked Bolivians, no strangers to political unrest; Morales was ousted from the presidency in 2019 following an earlier political crisis.

As the crisis unfolded on Wednesday, Ars confronted Zunica in a palace hallway, as shown on video on Bolivian television. “I am your captain and I order you to withdraw your soldiers, I will not allow this disobedience,” said Arce.

Flanked by ministers, he added: “Here we are, firmly in Casa Grande, to face any coup attempt. The Bolivian people must organize.

Less than an hour later, Ars announced the new heads of the army, navy and air force amid roars of supporters and thanked the country’s police and regional allies for standing by him. Ars said the troops who rose up against him were “staining the uniform” of the army.

“I am ordering all those mobilized to return to their units,” said newly named army chief Jose Wilson Sanchez. “No one wants the images we see in the streets.”

A short time later, armored vehicles pulled out of the plaza, tailed by hundreds of military fighters, and police in riot gear set up barricades outside the government palace.

The incident drew outrage from other regional leaders, including the Organization of American States, Chilean President Gabriel Boric, the Honduran president and former Bolivian leaders.

Gustavo Flores-Macias, a professor of government and public policy with a focus on Latin America at Cornell University, said it was important for world leaders and organizations to condemn the coup attempt as developments unfolded.

“If we allow the interference of the constitutional order in Bolivia, it will have a demonstrative effect,” Flores-Macias told The Associated Press in an interview from New York. “If it goes well in Bolivia, it could send a signal that it can happen elsewhere.”

Protests have intensified in recent months as Bolivia has transformed from the continent’s fastest-growing economy two decades ago to one of its poorest.

Arce and Morales are fighting for the future of Bolivia’s splinter Movement for Socialism, known by its Spanish acronym MAS, ahead of 2025 elections.

Following Wednesday’s chaos, reports in local media showed Bolivians stocking up on food and other essentials in supermarkets, worried about what might come next.

But addressing supporters outside the presidential palace, the country’s vice president, David Chochuanga, vowed that “the Bolivian people will never again allow coup attempts.”

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Janetsky reported from Mexico City, and Anita Snow contributed to this report from Phoenix, Arizona.

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