Bolivian General Arrested and Charged with Coup After Dramatic Clash with President


A Bolivian general who tried to lay siege to the presidential palace on Wednesday was arrested and charged with plotting against the government.

Military units led by General Juan Jose Zuniga – who had been sacked as head of the Bolivian army a day earlier – occupied the main square of the capital La Paz, armored vehicles stormed the palace gates and soldiers tried to enter government offices.

Hours later, President Luis Arce – who had called on the public to “organize and mobilize” to defend democracy – could be seen confronting Zuniga in a crowded palace corridor, ordering the general to withdraw his soldiers and stand down.

After Zuniga was handcuffed and forced into a police car, a triumphant Arce raised his fist to the large crowd that had gathered at the presidential palace, signaling the failure of the coup attempt.

His defense minister, Edmundo Novillo, later told a news conference that the government had regained “total and absolute control” over its military. “We urge people that everything should return to normal,” he said.

Bolivia has a long history of political instability, including military coups, and the South American nation of 12 million has struggled as it grapples with a spiraling economic crisis that has fueled street protests in recent months.

The country is crippled by foreign exchange reserves, particularly the US dollar, and shortages of fuel and other basic necessities.

At the time of his arrest Zuniga alleged — without providing evidence — that he was acting on Arce’s instructions.

“I met the president on Sunday and the president told me, ‘The situation is so f******, this week is going to be important. So, I need to prepare something to boost my popularity.’ So he said to me, he asked me, ‘Shall we take out the shields (vehicles)?’ Zuniga told reporters.

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Justice Minister Ivan Lima denied Zuniga’s claims, saying he was “lying and trying to justify the decision he made, and he must answer to justice.”

Bolivian President Luis Arce raises a fist surrounded by supporters and media outside the government palace on June 26, 2024 in La Paz, Bolivia.

The coup attempt was widely condemned by the Bolivian government and international leaders.

Bolivia’s attorney general’s office said it had opened a criminal investigation against Zunica and “all other participants” involved in the incident. It is unclear where Zunika is being held.

Earlier Wednesday, footage from the scene showed armed soldiers occupying Murillo Plaza, the main square in La Paz that houses the national executive and legislative offices.

As former President Morales, a member of Arce’s Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, said in X, “A revolution is brewing,” armored vehicles were seen crashing through the gates of Bolivia’s government palace, Associated Press .”

The video also shows some civilians confronting soldiers in Murillo Plaza during the coup attempt.

Bolivia’s latest political conflict is fueled by leftist former president Evo Morales’ plans to run for re-election against one-time ally Arce in next year’s general election, with tensions rising.

On June 26, 2024, Bolivian police arrested former general commander of the army, Juan Jose Zuniga, in La Paz, Bolivia.

“We want to restore democracy,” he told reporters in Zuniga Square, surrounded by soldiers, before being taken into custody. He was previously fired for threatening to block Morales’ bid for re-election.

“The people have no future, the army has the courage to look after the future of our children, the well-being and progress of our people,” he said.

He vowed to “free all political prisoners,” including former president Jeanine Anez, who the courts said was her role in the deadly protests that erupted after she came to power in 2019.

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Amid the chaos, President Arce announced new military commanders, replacing Zúnica with Army Chief General José Sánchez.

The situation seemed to calm down when Sanchez ordered the soldiers in the square to return to their divisions.

According to footage from Bolivia TV, the armed vehicles soon left Murillo Plaza. Ars also announced the new chiefs of the Navy and Air Force.

CNN is reaching out to the Bolivian government for comment.

Morales, who publicly split with his former ally Ars, resigned as president in 2019 following growing protests over allegations of electoral fraud; At the time, he claimed to have been forced into a coup.

Cornell University Professor of Government and Public Policy Gustavo A. Flores-Macias told CNN that the coup attempt reflects widespread discontent in the country.

“What’s happening in Bolivia is that broad sectors of society, across social strata, at all levels, are very unhappy with the way things are, especially on the economic front. And we have elections coming up in 2025,” he said.

In that election, Arce and Morales “seemed to have this conflict on the way. Both of them are aspiring to become the next president,” he added.

Soldiers block the street in front of the Presidential Palace, right, and the Legislative Assembly, left, in Plaza Murillo on June 26, 2024 in La Paz, Bolivia.

Freddy Mamani, Bolivia’s former deputy foreign minister and an ally of Morales and Arce, told CNN that despite the “anti-democratic” nature of “tanks, soldiers in uniform and taking the square”…it was important to highlight the solidarity of the Bolivian people. In the face of any coup.”

But echoing Zuniga’s comments, an opposition MP accused the government of staging a coup in an attempt to drum up support.

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“What happened today in Bolivia is a very strange situation,” Andrea Barrientos, a senator from the opposition Civil Society Party, told the BBC. “We can confirm that this was a self-coup organized by Louis Arce’s government.”

News of the attempted coup was strongly condemned by international and regional leaders, including Paraguay’s President Santiago Pena, the President of Mexico and the European Union.

Army troops fire tear gas at people outside the Quemato Palace in Plaza Murillo, La Paz, on June 26, 2024.

“We express our support for democracy in our brother country and for the legitimate government of Luis Arce,” Chile’s President Gabriel Boric said in X.

The US Embassy in La Place said it was “monitoring the situation closely”.

Luis Almagro, secretary-general of the Pan-American Organization of American States (OAS), condemned the mobilizations “in the strongest terms” in X, saying that “the military must submit to legitimately elected civilian authority.”

This story has been updated with additional updates.

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