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Bolivia: The coup that was not

La Paz (27/6 – 66.67).            Led by a top general vowing to “restore democracy,” armored vehicles rammed the doors of Bolivia’s government palace Wednesday in what the president called a coup attempt, then quickly retreated — the latest crisis in the South American country facing a political battle and an economic crisis. 

Early indication of the coup not going anywhere was the announcement by the European Union leader Von Der Leyen who condemned the coup in an unusual swift response to the crisis.

Juan José Zúñiga and former navy Vice Adm. Juan Arnez Salvador was taken into custody. Both men were dismissed by President Luis Arce and replaced after the uprising began.

Iván Lima said Juan José Zúñiga, who was arrested earlier Wednesday after the apparent coup attempt fizzled, was lying and trying to justify his own actions, for which he will face justice.

Lima also said via the social platform X that prosecutors will seek the maximum sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison for Zúñiga, “for having attacked democracy and the Constitution.”

Armored vehicles rammed into the doors of Bolivia’s government palace on Wednesday as President Luis Arce said his country faced an apparent attempted coup.

In a sense, the uprising was the culmination of tensions that have been brewing in Bolivia for months, with protesters streaming into the nation’s capital amid a severe economic crisis and as two political titans battle for control of the ruling party.

Within hours, the nation of 12 million people saw a rapidly moving scenario in which the troops seemed to take control of the government of President Luis Arce. He vowed to stand firm and named a new army commander, who immediately ordered the troops to stand down.

Soon the soldiers pulled back, along with a line of military vehicles, ending the rebellion after just three hours. Hundreds of Arce’s supporters then rushed the square outside the palace, waving Bolivian flags, singing the national anthem and cheering.

Zúñiga referenced that paralysis during the rebellion, telling reporters the military was tired of the infighting and was seeking “to restore democracy.”

As the crisis unfolded Wednesday, Arce confronted Zúñiga in the palace hallway, as shown on video on Bolivian television. “I am your captain, and I order you to withdraw your soldiers, and I will not allow this insubordination,” Arce said.

The incident was met with a wave of outrage by other regional leaders, including the Organization of American States, Chilean President Gabriel Boric, the leader of Honduras, and former Bolivian leaders.

Bolivians have increasingly been suffering the pains of slow growth, surging inflation and scarcity of dollars — a stark change from the prior decade that some called an “economic miracle.”.

The country’s economy grew by over 4% nearly every year in the 2010s until pitching into the abyss with the coronavirus pandemic. But trouble began earlier, in 2014, when commodity prices plunged, and the government dipped into its currency reserves to sustain spending. Then it drew on its gold reserves and even sold dollar bonds locally.

Bolivia has had more than 190 coup attempts and revolutions since its 1825 independence in a repetitive cycle of conflict between political elites in urban areas and disenfranchised by mobilized rural sectors.

Shortly after the stand-off the coup plotters were arrested and led away. Bolivia has experienced for the first time a coup that wasn’t.