Attempted coup in Bolivia fails after president calls on country to mobilize in defense of democracy

Damond Isiaka
6 Min Read


CNN
 — 

Bolivian President Luis Arce stared down a short-lived attempted coup on Wednesday, after calling on the public to “organize and mobilize” in defense of democracy as soldiers and armored military vehicles surrounded government buildings in La Paz.

“We cannot allow coup attempts to take Bolivian lives once again. We want to urge everyone to defend democracy,” Arce said from the presidential residence, Casa Grande, as the attempted coup got under way.

Footage from the scene showed armed soldiers gathered around Murillo Plaza, a main square in La Paz where the national executive and legislative offices are located.

Armored vehicles were seen ramming into the doors of Bolivia’s government palace, according to Associated Press, as the country’s former President Evo Morales, who, like Arce, is in Bolivia’s Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, said on X that a “coup d’état is brewing.”

They were being led by Juan José Zúñiga, the former army chief who had been dismissed from his position just the day before, reportedly for threatening to block a bid by Morales for reelection. He was later detained and was seen being forced into a police vehicle, according to local media.

Prior to his detention, Zúñiga addressed reporters in the square on Wednesday, flanked by soldiers, saying “we want to restore democracy” as he spoke of the country’s economic woes.

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“The people have no future, and the army has the courage to look out for the future of our children, the well-being and progress of our people,” he said, adding that they were “going to free all political prisoners” including Bolivia’s former President Jeanine Anez, currently imprisoned for what the courts said was her role in deadly protests that erupted after her ascension to power in 2019.

In images shown on Bolivian television, Zúñiga then entered the palace hallway and –according to Associated Press – was confronted by Arce who told him, “I am your captain, and I order you to withdraw your soldiers, and I will not allow this insubordination.”

The situation appears to have been defused when Zúñiga’s replacement as army chief, General José Sánchez – who was only appointed Wednesday – ordered the soldiers in the square to return to their units.

“I order all personnel mobilized in the street to return to their units,” Sanchez said from a podium at the presidential palace amid cheers and applause.

Armed vehicles were seen leaving Murillo Plaza soon after, according to footage from State media Bolivia TV. Arce also announced Wilson Guardia and Gerardo Zabala, as new heads of Bolivia’s navy and air force, respectively.

CNN is trying to contact Bolivia’s government for comment.

Tensions in Bolivia have been rising over the next general elections in 2025 over the plans of leftist Morales to run against Arce.

Morales, who publicly split from his one-time ally Arce, resigned in 2019 following mounting protests over accusations of fraud in the elections; at the time, he claimed he was forced out in a coup.

Before his dismissal, Zúñiga had reportedly said Morales should not be able to return as president, and threatened to block him if it happened.

Bolivia’s Attorney General’s Office launched a criminal investigation against Zúñiga later on Wednesday, with the Prosecutor’s Office saying on X that “all the other participants” involved in Wednesday’s events in La Paz would also be investigated.

The Attorney General’s Office said it will make “all the necessary efforts” to identify all persons involved and further investigate the attempted coup d’état and impose the “maximum punishment on those responsible.”

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

Fredy Mamani, former deputy foreign minister of Bolivia and ally of Morales and Arce, told CNN that despite the “undemocratic” nature of “the tanks, the uniformed soldiers and taking the square… it is essential to highlight that the Bolivian people are united in the face of any coup d’etat.”

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

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

The secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), a pan-American organization, Luis Almagro, condemned the mobilizations in the “most energetic way” on X, saying the “army must submit to the legitimately elected civil power.”

The European Union said it opposed “any attempt to disrupt the constitutional order in Bolivia and overthrow democratically elected governments,” adding it stands in solidarity with the Bolivian government and its people, according to a post from European policy chief Josep Borrell on X.

According to state media agency ABI, the military mobilization began around 2:30 p.m. local time.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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