Bolivian police have detained prominent opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho on charges of “terrorism” in a move that significantly escalates tensions between the national government and Camacho’s Santa Cruz base.
Bolivia’s state attorney’s office confirmed the detention on Wednesday of 43-year-old Camacho, the governor of Santa Cruz who unsuccessfully ran for president in 2020.
The office said the arrest was connected to the toppling of former leftist president Evo Morales in 2019. An October arrest warrant accused Camacho of “terrorism” without giving more details. The rightwing governor, often seen in protests with a Bible in his hand and a rosary around his neck, led some of the demonstrations demanding that Morales leave power in 2019.
Camacho’s communications team released a statement in which he said the accusations against him lacked truth and credibility.
He said he had been “brutally kidnapped” by police and that he was proud of his part in the fight for “freedom and democracy” in Bolivia, according to the statement, which his team posted on his Twitter account.
Camacho, who was transferred from the city of Santa Cruz to a police station in La Paz, is the second high-profile political figure linked to Morales’ ousting to be detained. Ex-president Jeanine Áñez was jailed earlier this year after being found guilty of orchestrating a “coup”.
Video of Camacho’s arrest shared by local news outlets showed him handcuffed on the side of the road with broken windows in the car he was travelling in. It was not immediately clear who recorded the video.
Following Camacho’s arrest, road blockades quickly emerged in parts of Santa Cruz, where the prosecutor’s office was set on fire and protesters assembled, some waving the region’s green-white-green flag and throwing firecrackers. Protesters had also gathered at Santa Cruz’s Viru Viru airport in an apparent attempt to prevent Camacho from being transported.
Media footage showed security forces using tear gas. In El Alto, protesters also came out against Camacho demanding justice be carried out.
The arrest follows week of unrest in Santa Cruz, led by Camacho. Protesters blocked streets and halted trade, angered over the national government’s delay in carrying out Bolivia’s population census. A new census would likely result in Santa Cruz – an affluent farming region that has long butted heads with La Paz – securing more tax revenues and seats in Congress.
Camacho has long been at odds with the leftist government of the president, Luis Arce, and has sought a federal model of governance. Rising soy and beef exports have given Santa Cruz the status of a top export hub, which has brought calls for in increase in its share of tax revenues.
Camacho’s detention comes the same month that former Peruvian president Pedro Castillo was ousted, arrested and placed in pretrial detention for 18 months for attempting to illegally dissolve Congress.
Several of Camacho’s allies, including lawmakers Paola Aguirre and Erwin Bazán, said firearms were used in the arrest. Others, including former president Carlos Mesa, called the arrest a “kidnapping”.
“The operation to kidnap the governor was carried out in the streets near his home, as he was returning from his duties,” the Santa Cruz government said in a statement.
The state attorney’s office rejected the allegations that the arrest was a kidnapping or political persecution.
A US state department spokesperson said the department was aware of the arrest of Camacho and monitoring developments.
“We urge the Bolivian government to refrain from excessive use of force against its opposition, including those elected democratically and their supporters. We also call upon the authorities to respect the due process of law against those charged,” the spokesperson said.
The Bolivian interior minister, Carlos Eduardo Del Castillo, said on Twitter that Camacho had been instructed to undergo a medical assessment and said his health was “stable”, rejecting claims he had been injured.
Source : The Guardian