“Democracy must be respected”: Assault on Bolivia’s presidential palace fails

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Soldiers stormed Bolivia’s presidential palace Wednesday afternoon in what the government called a coup d’etat attempt, years after an election ended a far-right government established by military intervention. The group retreated later Wednesday afternoon, with the government maintaining control of the building.

President Luis Arce, who won power in a 2020 election after left-leaning President Evo Morales was toppled in a 2019 military coup, denounced the strike and demanded that democracy be respected.

“We denounce irregular mobilizations of some units of the Bolivian Army. Democracy must be respected,” Arce wrote on X, the platform owned by Elon Musk, who took partial responsibility for the previous Bolivian coup.

Per Bolivian newspaper El Deber, citizens who attempted to enter the square were dispersed with tear gas as General Juan José Zúñiga and his army rammed vehicles into the government headquarters in Murillo Square, La Paz. 

President Arce stood with ministers in a video, per the Associated Press, and asked Bolivians to stand against the attack.

“The country is facing an attempted coup d’état. Here we are, firm in Casa Grande, to confront any coup attempt. We need the Bolivian people to organize.”

Bolivia’s 2019 coup d’etat, which installed Jeanine Áñez and her right-wing government, occurred after opponents of Morales accused him of election interference. In the 2020 race, Arce and Morales’s socialist party won over 55% of the vote in a U.N.-observed tally.

Many pointed to industry nationalization and pressure from foreign investors as key instigators in that coup, though Zúñiga’s motives appear to be related to his own election doubts.

Zúñiga was removed from his post as commander of the nation’s army before the attack yesterday after making threats against former President Morales, per Spanish newspaper El País.

Arce ordered Zúñiga and the troops to stand down, minutes after the general told reporters that “surely soon there will be a new Cabinet of ministers . . . our country, our state cannot go on like this.”

Per El Deber, Zúñiga retreated from the square at around 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday. He was arrested after 7 p.m., a moment which TV news captured on camera.

Outside the palace, supporters of Arce and his government rallied. “Thank you to the Bolivian people,” he told the crowd, per the Associated Press. “Let democracy live on.”

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