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29 Dec, 2022 17:41

Bolivia in turmoil after governor’s arrest

Fernando Camacho of Santa Cruz is accused of involvement in the 2019 coup
Bolivia in turmoil after governor’s arrest

Rioters have set fire to the prosecutor’s office in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the capital of Bolivia’s largest province, in protest over the arrest of governor Fernando Camacho. The national government in La Paz condemned the violence on Thursday and said that the detained politician was alive and well.

The authorities are “respecting [the] constitutional rights and human rights” of Camacho, who has not been harmed, Bolivian Justice Minister Eduardo Del Castillo said on Thursday.

Camacho was detained on Wednesday afternoon, reportedly on a warrant citing his involvement in the 2019 coup that overthrew president Evo Morales. A video making rounds on social media shows heavily armed police surrounding his vehicle and the governor handcuffed on the ground.

The Santa Cruz provincial government quickly denounced the arrest as an “absolutely irregular police operation,” claiming Camacho had been taken to “an unknown location” and that they were holding President Luis Arce personally responsible for his safety.

“The operation to kidnap the governor was carried out in the streets surrounding his home, when he was returning from carrying out management activities,” the governor’s office said.

Camacho’s sympathizers set up roadblocks, torched the provincial prosecutor’s office, and stormed the Viru Viru and El Trompillo airports, fanning out onto the runways and entering several airplanes to check if the governor was on board.

Santa Cruz is the largest and most populous province in the landlocked South American country. Camacho became its governor in May 2021, after getting just 14% of the vote in the 2020 presidential race. The government suspects him of involvement in the 2019 coup, when opponents of Morales – falsely – claimed irregularities in the election and forced the longtime president to flee to Mexico. 

Camacho’s scheduled deposition in the investigation was delayed by a general strike he organized in November. His principal demand was that the government in La Paz reschedule the census to 2023, so it could better reflect the population of Santa Cruz and give the province the appropriate funding and representation.

Morales, who has returned to Bolivia but no longer holds office, called Camacho a “confessed coup leader” accused him of being responsible for the “four deaths, 33 days of looting, fires, human rights violations” and “the worst damage to the economy of Santa Cruz and Bolivia,” resulting from the strike.