Bolivian judge orders pretrial detention of opposition leader

la paz – A judge in Bolivia sentenced opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho to four months of pretrial detention on terrorism charges earlier Friday, a move that is set to further divide the country and turmoil.

After a virtual hearing that lasted more than seven hours, Judge Sergio Pacheco ordered the remand of Camacho, who is also the governor of the Santa Cruz area, agreeing with prosecutors claims that he was a flight risk could hamper ongoing investigations.

Shortly after the ruling, video showed Camacho being transferred to a high-security prison in the Bolivian capital La Paz, as the governor’s lawyer vowed to appeal.

By the time the judge issued his ruling, a 24-hour strike called by Camacho’s allies in Santa Cruz had begun and road blockades had been imposed across the wealthy region, widely regarded as Bolivia’s economic engine.

The judge rejected Camacho’s lawyer’s argument that the governor’s detention was illegal.

“I will never give up fighting for democracy in Bolivia,” Camacho said during a virtual hearing as he was being held in a La Paz police station prison cell. “I say to the Bolivian people, we cannot allow them to impose dictatorships like Venezuela and Cuba.”

Camacho, the leader of the opposition alliance Creemos (“We Believe”), was detained on terrorism charges and taken to La Paz on Wednesday, a move that sparked protests that led to clashes with law enforcement, with some public offices and cars was set on fire. A minister in President Luis Arce’s government also said his house had been set on fire.

Allies of the right-wing opposition leader characterized the detention as “kidnapping”, a claim rejected by prosecutors.

Protesters also took to the streets to celebrate Camacho’s arrest, saying it was a crucial step towards justice for victims of the 2019 political unrest that led to the resignation of then-President Evo Morales.

As tensions mount in Bolivia, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “concerned” about the situation in the South American country.

“He called for calm and for the utmost restraint by all political and social actors. He reiterated the importance of respecting the rule of law and ensuring due process and transparency of the legal process,” said Florencia Soto, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General Nino Martinez said.

Prosecutors accused Camacho of orchestrating what they called a coup after a 2019 election that American national groups said was fraudulent.

Morales, who leads the ruling leftist Socialist Movement (Towards Socialism), praised Camacho’s detention and said “the courts should also prosecute Camacho’s accomplices so these coups are not repeated.”

Camacho was detained after repeatedly failing to appear for questioning by prosecutors, saying he was a victim of political persecution without guarantees of fair treatment.

The opposition has long questioned the government’s characterization of the 2019 protests as a coup, arguing instead that the events were legitimate political protests.

More than 20 days of protests in which 37 people were killed on the streets led to the appointment of Jeanine Áñez, who now faces 10 years in prison, as interim president. Some opposition and military leaders have also been jailed and faced terrorism charges.

The opposition leader accused Arce’s government of using the courts to persecute political opponents.

Camacho faces multiple misconduct charges, including his leadership of a 36-day strike against the government in Santa Cruz this fall. The action calls for a national census in 2023, which could bring Santa Cruz more tax revenue and congressional seats, giving it greater leverage in political decision-making in the country.

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Politi reports from Buenos Aires, Argentina

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