Bolivia Thwarted Coup Attempt: Inside the Turbulence

Bolivian armed forces initiated an unsuccessful coup against the socialist government, igniting a swift but intense political crisis. This situation serves as a significant reminder of the country's turbulent political landscape.

Published June 27, 2024 - 00:06am

4 minutes read
Bolivia, Plurinational State of
Bolivia
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The Bolivian armed forces recently launched an apparent coup attempt aimed at overthrowing the socialist government, a development that quickly unraveled within a few hours.

The coup, spearheaded by former head of the Bolivian army, General Juan José Zúñiga, is the first in Bolivia since 1984 and brings the tally of coup attempts in the nation's history to over 190 since its independence in 1825. On the afternoon of the incident, Zúñiga announced to reporters in Plaza Murillo, La Paz, that the military would seize government buildings and replace the existing administration.

Footage circulating on social media displayed an armored vehicle ramming the gates of the Presidential Palace, followed by soldiers in riot gear entering the premises. Bolivian President Luis Arce was seen facing off directly with Zúñiga, surrounded by his ministers, as he demanded the withdrawal of armed forces. Zúñiga accused the socialist government of undermining democracy, asserting that the military's intervention was in an effort to safeguard it. Explosions could be heard in the background as Zúñiga promised to restructure the political framework and release all political prisoners. Among those he referred to were former right-wing President Jeanine Áñez and her allies, who were imprisoned following the 2019 political crisis that led to the ousting of former President Evo Morales.

In a recorded message, President Arce warned that this coup attempt threatened to dismantle democracy in Bolivia. He called on the Bolivian people and the international community to stand against the coup. Evo Morales, who was quick to denounce the coup, also urged his supporters to oppose the military's actions. Morales pointed out on social media that military personnel and tanks were deployed in Plaza Murillo, and he called on social movements to defend democracy.

The Organization of American States condemned the coup attempt, aligning with Morales and Arce's outlook. Zúñiga, however, remained resolute, vowing the establishment of a new Cabinet.

Arce took swift action to counter the coup, swiftly appointing new commanders for the army and air force. The new military leaders urged the involved soldiers to withdraw, and their call was heeded. Armored vehicles and troops withdrew from their positions surrounding the Presidential Palace, effectively ending the coup attempt, which lasted approximately two hours.

In the aftermath, Morales called for Zúñiga and his co-conspirators to face criminal charges. Zúñiga was dismissed from his position as the head of the army a day before the coup attempt for making disparaging remarks about Morales. This situation has spurred speculation within Arce's Movement for Socialism Party about whether the coup was genuine or orchestrated by Arce himself for political gain.

Given the severity and promptness of the events, various regional leaders, including those from neighboring South American countries, expressed their support for Bolivia's democracy and condemned the coup attempt. Mexico's president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and other prominent figures voiced their solidarity with Arce and denounced the military's actions.

Important to note is the deep-seated political context in Bolivia that paved the way for such an attempt. The nation has been grappling with political and social turbulence in recent years, significantly influencing its political climate as it moves towards the 2025 general elections.

Moreover, tensions between President Arce and former President Morales have been escalating, creating a split within the ruling socialist party. This division has been exacerbated by economic challenges, including depleted central bank reserves and currency pressure, which have fueled public dissatisfaction.

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