Bolivia’s President Thwarts Coup Attempt by Rallying Citizens

Failed coup in Bolivia sees government supporters defend square from tanks and troops

Bolivian Gen. Juan José Zúñiga arrested after apparent failed coup attempt as government faces new crisis

Bolivia’s President Luis Arce successfully quashed an attempt to overthrow his left-wing government after a tense afternoon in which heavily armed troops, seemingly led by a top army general, stormed the government palace before retreating and seeing their alleged leader detained.

On Wednesday, Arce called on citizens to defend democracy from an apparent coup attempt, as troops seized a central square in La Paz housing government buildings. In a video message from the Great House of the People, the official presidential residence, Arce said, “We need the Bolivian people to mobilize and organize themselves against this coup d’état and in favor of democracy.”

Joined by cabinet members, Arce declared, “We cannot allow, once again, attempted coups to claim Bolivian lives.” The ministers chanted, “Long live the people of Bolivia! Long live democracy! Long live our president, Luis Arce!”

These statements followed claims from other administration members and Latin American leaders that an army-led coup was underway. Vice-President David Choquehuanca tweeted, “We denounce to the international community that a coup attempt is happening against our democratically elected government.”

As disturbing images circulated on social media, former president Evo Morales urged supporters to oppose the alleged coup attempt, blaming it on the recently dismissed army commander, Gen Juan José Zúñiga. Morales wrote, “We will not allow the armed forces to violate democracy and intimidate the people.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Bolivia’s democracy appeared threatened as television footage showed masked military police forcing their way into the Palacio Quemado. However, as the day progressed, Arce seemed to regain control, confronting Zúñiga and ordering him to stand down his troops.

By late afternoon, Arce had appointed a new military high command, and reports suggested troops and armored vehicles were withdrawing from Plaza Murillo. The new army chief, José Wilson Sánchez Velásquez, ordered the rebellious troops to return to barracks on state television.

Later that evening, Zúñiga was detained on suspicion of terrorism and armed uprising. Tensions have been rising in Bolivia ahead of the 2025 general elections, with Morales planning to run against Arce, creating a significant rift in the ruling socialist party.

As the crisis unfolded, Latin American leaders from across the political spectrum denounced the attempted power grab. Mexico’s left-wing president-elect, Claudia Sheinbaum, expressed “unconditional support to President Luís Arce and his people.” Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, urged Bolivians “to defend their democracy, their constitution and their president.”

Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stated, “I want democracy to prevail in Latin America. Coups have never worked out.” The head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said they would not tolerate “any kind of rupture of the legitimate constitutional order in Bolivia.”

European leaders also condemned the coup attempt. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted, “Spain strongly condemns the military movements in Bolivia.” The British ambassador in Bolivia, Richard Porter, said, “The United Kingdom condemns any attempt to take power by unconstitutional means.

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