21 Participants in Bolivian Coup Arrested

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent has years of experience and training in open source intelligence gathering and journalism. He specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs, with a broader interest in European politics. Trent serves as the Latin America Desk Chief for Atlas News.

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Four participants in a failed coup in Bolivia on Wednesday were arrested by authorities on Friday, bringing the total number of detainees up to 21, according to Minister Eduardo del Castillo. The minister stated that one of those detained was the driver of an armored vehicle that broke down the doors of the Presidential Palace, while another was an officer who allegedly gave orders to soldiers amid the coup.

Perusing Plotters

These arrests follow that of former Commanding General of the Bolivian Army Juan Jose Zuniga who led the coup and sought to depose President Luis Arce. Zuniga was captured shortly after the failed gathering of soldiers at Murillo Square, the heart of Bolivia’s Congress. Officials have estimated nearly 200 soldiers participated in the failed coup and have begun investigations in order to ascertain their whereabouts.

Following Zuniga’s arrest, authorities interrogated the general in an effort to better understand the specifics revolving around the coup. When interrogators asked the general why the coup failed, Zuniga easily responded, stating in his reply that the coup largely failed because “the units from Viacha took a long time to arrive, the personnel from the Navy and the Air Force were also unable to arrive, as it was decided that the operation would be carried out on Wednesday, June 26 at 11:00 AM.”

General Zuniga, the leader of the failed coup, apprehended by authorities. (Photo – Juan Karita/AP)

During his arrest, Zuniga claimed the coup was in actuality orchestrated by Arce who had allegedly ordered the general to storm the Presidential Palace in order to improve his popularity among voters ahead of looming elections for the country.

“The president told me: ‘The situation is very screwed up, very critical. It is necessary to prepare something to raise my popularity’,” the general told those at the scene of his arrest.

A faction within Arce’s party, The Movement for Socialism (MAS), has seemingly corroborated this story with a number of figures theorizing the attempted coup was in reality a failed self-coup by Arce. If true, this move could be a window into MAS’ internal division, notably the current crisis regarding former president Evo Morales and President Arce.

Morales has stated that he plans to run for a fourth term as president in Bolivia’s 2025 General Elections, an announcement that sparked the failed coup. Morales previously held office from 2006-2019, winning a controversial third term in 2019, which was made possible through a ruling by the Bolivian Supreme Court, which at the time was dominated by those loyal to the then-president.

Ultimately, Morales resigned shortly after taking office following widespread protests against his third term, a resignation which Morales claimed to be forced and, in actuality, a “coup.” Following Morales’ resignation from office and subsequent flight to Mexico, the acting government announced another election for the presidential office. This election was won by fellow MAS party member, Luis Arce, who took office in 2020. Critics accused Arce of being a puppet for Morales, a claim the president denies to this day.

Former President Evo Morales. (Photo – Juan Karita/AP)

Morales announced that he planned to run for a fourth term in office last year, setting the former president on a direct collision course with Arce, who plans to pursue a second term in office. Arce’s popularity has been mixed across Bolivia, with the president holding around a 45 percent approval rating according to a 2023 poll by Statista. The decline in Arce’s approval rating has largely been attributed to the economic repercussions from the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lock downs across the world.

If Arce truly organized the coup, the president’s popularity, and possibly his freedom, is at stake. However, others have theorized the general’s claim was an effort to secure his own safety and security, placing the blame firmly on the shoulders of Arce. Despite Bolivia’s victory over the coup, many questions remain unanswered while economic despair and political discontent may lead to deadly consequences in the leadup to the 2025 elections.