Bolivia Foils Military Coup Attempt: Key Details You Need To Know

On Wednesday, June 26, 2024, Bolivia’s President Luis Arce thwarted an attempted coup when soldiers in military vehicles entered Plaza Murillo, a historic square in the capital city of La Paz where The Presidential Palace and Congress are located. The attempted coup was led by Bolivian Army Commander Juan Jose Zuniga, who was arrested hours after he tried to storm the presidential palace and the capital. Army Commander Zuniga has argued that President Arce is impoverishing the country, as he has faced challenges in tackling the economic difficulties affecting the nation of 12 million. In addition to a shortage of US dollars, foreign reserves have decreased and Bolivia’s fiscal deficit has grown during Arce’s tenure. The current economic situation in Bolivia is critical, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting a modest growth of just 1.6 percent, compounded by global financial tightening and ongoing conflicts. Arce appointed Zuniga as general commander in 2022, and he has previously held high-ranking military positions. However, their relationship deteriorated, and Zuniga publicly criticized Arce in the week following the coup attempt. Video footage from Wednesday, June 26, reveals an intense confrontation between President Arce and Commander Zuniga, who was surrounded by soldiers. 

The attempted coup in Bolivia is a stark reminder of the fragility of democracy and the severe repercussions of political and military unrest. This event, though ultimately thwarted by President Arce, raises several critical issues that merit detailed examination. Zuniga claimed the army was attempting to free political prisoners, asserting that the coup would reinforce true democracy. Following Zuniga’s arrest, Bolivia’s Justice Minister Ivan Lima announced criminal charges against Zuniga for armed uprisings, incitement of troops, and attacks against the president and state dignitaries. The coup attempt drew widespread condemnation from international leaders, including those from Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela. They emphasized the need to preserve democracy in Bolivia. Domestically, former president Morales and even conservative ex-president Jeanine Anez, who remains in jail, condemned the coup. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed deep concern, urging all actors to protect constitutional order and maintain peace. The attempted coup represents a blatant violation of democratic principles. In a democratic society, changes in leadership and government policies should be achieved through legal and peaceful means, such as elections and legislative processes, not through military force. General Zuniga’s actions undermine the rule of law and set a dangerous precedent that could encourage similar attempts in the future, further destabilizing the country. Such attempts at seizing power by force led to both chaos and destruction. The attack in La Paz was a devastating loss to the citizens’ feeling of stability and security. It disrupts governance, instills fear among citizens, and can lead to loss of life and property. The five-hour standoff created a climate of fear and uncertainty, which can have lasting impacts on societal trust and cohesion. The involvement of high-ranking military officials like General Zuniga in a coup attempt severely damages the integrity and reputation of the armed forces. The military’s primary role is to protect the nation and its democratic institutions, not to subvert them. Such actions could lead to a loss of confidence in the military among the populace, potentially causing long-term damage to its credibility and effectiveness. The coup attempt exacerbates an already dire economic situation. Political instability can deter investment, disrupt economic activities, and exacerbate financial crises. The coup attempt, coupled with existing economic challenges, could plunge the country into deeper economic turmoil, making recovery even more difficult.

The international condemnation that Bolivia is facing could potentially lead to international isolation, with countries potentially imposing sanctions or reducing diplomatic and economic ties. Bolivia must prevent this from happening, as it could further harm its economy as well as its international standing, making it harder for the country to receive aid, investments, and support from the global community. The coup attempt highlights and exacerbates deep political divisions within Bolivia. The strained relationship between President Arce and General Zuniga, along with the broader tensions between Arce and former President Evo Morales, reflects a fractured political landscape. This division is not just a matter of personal animosity but represents a broader ideological and factional struggle within the country, which can lead to further unrest and hinder effective governance if the relationship is not mended. The recent attempted coup in Bolivia underscores the urgent need for systemic changes to prevent such events in the future. One such strategy is strengthening democratic institutions by ensuring the judiciary operates independently from political influence, implementing reforms to guarantee free and fair elections, and strengthening legislative checks and balances. Strong democratic institutions can act as a buffer against power grabs by ensuring that authority transitions occur through legal and peaceful means. This can prevent military figures from exploiting weaknesses in the system to stage coups. Promoting economic stability is an additional aspect of Bolivia that needs to be addressed immediately. It would be beneficial to diversify the economy to reduce dependence on a few key exports by investing in various sectors; as well as engaging with international organizations for economic assistance and negotiating favourable trade agreements to boost the economy. Economic stability reduces public discontent and the likelihood of unrest that can be exploited by those seeking to destabilize the government. A robust economy can also provide the resources needed for strong governance and social programs. It would benefit Bolivia greatly to enhance civil-military relations, as a military that respects and adheres to its role within a democratic framework is less likely to engage in coups. There are multiple ways Bolivia could strengthen its civil-military relations, such as having a clear chain of command, implementing training programs that emphasize the military’s role in protecting democracy, and establishing mechanisms to hold military personnel accountable for misconduct. Bolivia is a country like many that is experiencing political polarization, and addressing this issue is key. This issue can be remedied by facilitating dialogues between political factions to find common ground, potentially through coalition governments or power-sharing agreements that ensure all major political groups have a voice in governance. These strategies could work in reducing political polarization and can mitigate Bolivia’s adversarial environment.


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