Bolivia arrests multiple high-ranking military and intelligence officials following failed coup

Damond Isiaka
4 Min Read


CNN
 — 

Bolivia has arrested more than a dozen high-ranking military and intelligence officials following a failed attempt to unseat the country’s president in a coup allegedly led by its former army chief.

Military officials first held meetings in May to plot the coup attempt on Wednesday, which involved mobilizing armed forces toward the capital’s main square and seizing power “by force,” according to a report sent to CNN by the Bolivian government.

The meetings were led by former army chief Gen. Juan Jose Zúñiga and former navy commander Gen. Juan Arnez, with Zúñiga’s civilian personal adviser allegedly devising the “strategy” of the coup, the report claims.

All three men are among 17 people arrested so far in connection with Wednesday’s events – most of them members of the military, the report says. Other top officials arrested include military intelligence chief Julio Buitrago.

The coup attempt, which was condemned by the Bolivian government and international leaders, comes as the South American country of roughly 12 million people struggles with an economic crisis and political instability that has fueled mass street protests.

Military police officers stand guard outside Quemado Palace at Plaza Murillo in La Paz on June 26, 2024.

On Wednesday, military units led by Zúñiga – who was fired as commander of the Bolivian army just a day earlier – occupied La Paz’s main Murillo Plaza as armored vehicles rammed the presidential palace door and soldiers tried to break into government offices.

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

Arce, who has been in power since 2020, later declared victory to crowds in front of the Quemado Palace after Zúñiga was handcuffed and forced into a police car.

As he was being arrested Zúñiga alleged – without providing evidence – that he was acting on Arce’s instructions. Justice Minister Ivan Lima denied Zúñiga’s claims, saying he, “lies and tries to justify himself about a decision he took and over which he will have to answer to justice.”

Multiple Bolivian military members are escorted by police following their arrest in La Paz, Bolivia on June 27, 2024.

Arce’s defense minister Edmundo Novillo later told a news conference the government had regained “total and absolute control” over its military. “We urge the population that everything goes back to normal,” he said.

Bolivia, which has seen almost 40 attempted or successful coups since 1946, has been wracked by dwindling foreign currency reserves, particularly the US dollar, and shortages of fuel and other necessities. Tensions have also been rising over plans by leftist former president Evo Morales to challenge one-time Arce ally in next year’s general elections.

The investigation into Wednesday’s events will continue until all “participants” in the coup are identified, according to the Bolivian government report.

It also says the country’s Air Force commander was involved with planning the failed coup, but no one of that description is included in the list of arrests.

CNN has requested clarification from the government and asked if those arrested have legal representation.

CNN’s Tara John and Stefano Pozzebon contributed reporting.

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