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Bolivian army chief dismissed after attempted coup

Photo: Aizar Raldes Agence France-Presse Bolivian soldiers and armored vehicles were deployed near the government palace, called Palacio Quemado, in the Bolivian capital of La Paz on Wednesday.

France Media Agency in La Paz

Published yesterday at 5:10 p.m. Updated yesterday at 7:28 p.m.

  • Americas

The head of Bolivia's armed forces was dismissed and arrested Wednesday after massing men and armored vehicles in front of the presidential palace in La Paz, saying he wanted to “restructure democracy,” in what President Luis Arce denounced as an attempt to coup d'état.

General Juan José Zúñiga was apprehended and taken into a police vehicle while speaking to the press outside 'a barracks in the capital.

“You are under arrest, General! “, Interior Minister Jhonny Aguilera told him, according to images broadcast by public television.

He was taken to the Special Force police station fighting crime. The prosecution did not specify the charges against him.

Previously, the general and his men had withdrawn from Murillo Square in La Paz, which they had taken over during the day, positioning armored vehicles in front of the presidential palace.

These soldiers had sowed confusion in the capital by advancing in close ranks through the streets to this square, to which they had restricted access.

Bolivian army chief dismissed after attempted coup

Photo: Juan Karita Associated Press Bolivia's army general commander, Juan José Zúñiga, rides in an armored vehicle in Murillo Square, outside the presidential palace, Wednesday

“Defending Democracy”

Mr. Arce then denounced on the social network X “the irregular movements of certain units of the Bolivian army”. “Democracy must be respected,” said the left-wing head of state.

According to AFP journalists on site, an armored vehicle attempted to broke down a metal door of the Palacio Quemado, the seat of the presidency, and General Zúñiga briefly entered the palace.

Surrounded by soldiers, the person said that “the armed forces are trying to restructure democracy, to make it a real democracy. Not that of a few, not that of a few masters who have ruled the country for 30 or 40 years.”

In a video message to the nation alongside its ministers , Mr. Arce then launched a call for mobilization. “We need the Bolivian people to organize and mobilize against the coup, in favor of democracy,” he said.

Former president Evo Morales (2006-2019) also said on X that “a coup d’état is being prepared”. “Soldiers and tanks are deployed in Murillo Square,” he wrote, calling “for a national mobilization to defend democracy.”

Mr. Arce eventually removed the rebel general and immediately swore in a new command of the armed forces, according to images broadcast live on national television.

Bolivian army chief dismissed after attempted coup

Photo: Juan Karita Associated Press Bolivian soldiers stand guard outside the presidential palace in La Paz on Wednesday

Presidential election of 2025

Rumors had been circulating since Tuesday that General Zúñiga, in office since November 2022, could be dismissed for having exceeded his duties.

In an interview on Monday with a television channel, he had said that he would arrest Mr. Morales if he persisted in wanting to run again in the 2025 presidential election, even though the Constitutional Court had ruled in December 2023 that he could not.

“Legally, he is disqualified, he can no longer be president of this country,” the general had declared.

The military “is the armed wing of the country and we will defend the Constitution at all costs,” he had added.

Bolivian army chief dismissed after attempted coup

Photo: Juan Karita Associated Press Members of the military police block civilians from entering Murillo Square in La Paz on Wednesday

Bolivia's ruling party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), is deeply divided between Mr. Arce and Mr. Morales, once allies and now adversaries in the 2025 presidential election.

Evo Morales is seeking the nomination on behalf of the MAS. Luis Arce has not yet made an official candidacy.

Condemnations of General Zúñiga's action on Wednesday have poured in.

The leaders of Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Colombia called for respect for democracy and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wrote on lover of democracy and I hope that it prevails throughout Latin America.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denounced an attempted “coup in Bolivia” orchestrated by “the extreme right with a military traitor.”

Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, declared that “no form of violation of the constitutional order will be tolerated.”

The United States said “closely” monitoring the situation, calling for calm, according to a White House spokesperson.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116