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Bolivian judge puts opposition leader in pretrial detention

Members of the conservative opposition have accused the government of silencing dissent as tensions continue to rise.

A Bolivian judge sentenced opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho to four months in pretrial detention amid growing tension in the country.

Judge Sergio Pacheco ordered the preventive detention of Camacho, governor of the country’s Santa Cruz region, on terrorism charges during a hearing on Friday. Camacho was transferred to a prison 25 km (15 miles) from the capital city of La Paz soon after.

Speaking during the virtual hearing that took place at the La Paz police station, Camacho launched a defiant note by stating that he “will never give up on this fight for Bolivia’s democracy.”

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Prosecutors have alleged that Camacho played a key role in political unrest in Bolivia after the 2019 election, which resulted in the forced removal of leftist President Evo Morales in what some described as a right-wing coup.

Groups like the Organization of American States (OAS) alleged that those elections were riddled with fraud, and protesters took to the streets in protests that killed 37 people and resulted in the installation of right-winger Jeanine Añez as interim president.

Morales was the first member of Bolivia’s large indigenous community to become president. After his dismissal, some indigenous people feared setbacks in his rights and accused Anez of racism against the indigenous people.

Subsequent investigations have cast doubt on claims of fraud that were used to justify installing Anez, and Morales’ Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won a resounding victory in the 2020 election, elevating MAS candidate Luis Arce, for president.

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The divisions have persisted ever since. While Morales and his allies have called Camacho’s arrest a step toward accountability for what they describe as a violent coup, members of the opposition have accused the government of using the courts to suppress dissent.

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Deysi Choque, a MAS deputy, described the ruling as “an act of justice for the victims who still mourn their loved ones who died in the coup.”

Former President Carlos Mesa took to social media to denounce what he called “the violent and illegal kidnapping” of Camacho.

Tensions are already high, and protests broke out in November in the Santa Cruz region over the government’s decision to delay the census until 2024.

Members of the conservative opposition have said the delay is politically motivated and predicted the census would have resulted in higher representation and tax revenue for the region, a stronghold of the conservative opposition.

The government has cited complications stemming from COVID-19, the incorporation of Bolivia’s indigenous languages ​​and the fact that many workers travel in November to harvest sugarcane.

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Camacho was jailed after refusing to appear before prosecutors to answer questions and is accused of helping lead a 36-day fall strike in Santa Cruz against the government.

A spokesman for the head of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has said that he is concerned about the situation in Bolivia, and has called on “all political and social actors to exercise maximum restraint.”

Trucks block a street as part of a "General strike" The opposition governor of Santa Cruz, Luis Fernando Camacho, is arrested
Trucks block a street as part of a ‘general strike’ following the arrest of opposition Santa Cruz Governor Luis Fernando Camacho in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. [Lesly Moyano/Reuters]

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