Bolivian police detain the country’s main opposition leader

la paz – Police on Wednesday detained Luis Fernando Camacho, Bolivia’s main opposition leader and governor of the Santa Cruz region, in a dramatic move that quickly sparked fresh social unrest.

The attorney general’s office said Camacho was detained because he was accused of leading a 2019 case that the government called a coup. Opposition leaders questioned the coup label, arguing the events were simply protests that led to the resignation of then-President Evo Morales.

Allies of the governor quickly took to the streets, blocking roads in Santa Cruz and highways linking the area to the rest of the country. Photos posted on social media showed long queues at petrol stations amid fears the new unrest could lead to shortages.

It took hours for officials to say what charges led to the detention of Camacho, who is in Bolivia’s wealthiest region and a stronghold of the opposition.

Earlier, government minister Carlos Eduardo del Castillo simply wrote on social media, “We inform the people of Bolivia that the police have executed the detention order for Mr. Luis Fernando Camacho.”

Shortly after the operation, the governor of Santa Cruz said in a news release that Camacho “was kidnapped in a decidedly irregular police operation and taken to an unknown location.”

Camacho was detained near his home, the release said.

Several opposition leaders were also quick to speak out against the detention, including former President Carlos Mesa, who called it a “violent and illegal kidnapping”.

The attorney general’s office has denied that the detentions were any type or political witch hunt, saying it was carried out pursuant to an order issued in October and stemming from proceedings that began in 2020 with the governor’s “full knowledge.”

Camacho has repeatedly denied all allegations against him, saying he is the victim of political persecution. He refused to be questioned by prosecutors, saying there was a lack of guarantees of fair treatment.

Video of the arrest posted on social media showed the conservative Camacho handcuffed to the side of the road alongside law enforcement officers armed with guns.

The governor’s lawyer, Martín Camacho, told local newspaper El Deber that his client would be taken to the capital, La Paz, to answer questions in the case filed against him.

Videos posted on social media showed dozens of his supporters flocking to two local airports in an attempt to block the governor’s transfer, but it was unclear if he was still there.

The government launched several judicial actions against Camacho, including a call in November to strike President Luis Arce’s state administration, which lasted 36 days. He faces charges of sedition, treason and corruption.

Camacho is the leader of the opposition alliance Creemos (“We Believe”).

In November, he led strikes against the government, cementing his status as opposition leader. 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.

Camacho was also a leader of massive protests in 2019 that forced Morales to step down after the Organization of American States called the election fraudulent. Morales is seeking a fourth consecutive term.

The 2019 protests unleashed social unrest, killed 37 people and pushed Bolivia into its worst institutional crisis in recent years.

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Politi reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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