Armed soldiers force their way into Bolivia’s government palace in brief putsch

Armed soldiers broke by force on Wednesday into one of the two buildings that make up the Bolivian government palace and held it for a few hours before returning to their barracks, in an insurrection headed by a disgruntled general who had just been fired over controversial comments.

Calling the insurrection a coup attempt, President Luis Arce asked the people to take to the streets to defend its government.

“I am here at Casa Grande,” he said, referring to the other interconnected building of the palace, “to confront all coup attempts and all attempts against our democracy. We need the Bolivian people to get organized and to mobilize against this coup attempt.”

Following the failed attempt, Arce changed the members of the armed forces’ high command.

There are no indications that the rebel group managed to enter into the other building, where Arce was located. They left two hours later alongside General Juan José Zúñiga, the leader of the insurrection who had one day earlier been fired as chief of the Bolivian Army.

While Zuñiga’s whereabouts were not immediately known, government officials declared his actions as a high crime that will have consequences. “He will soon be arrested,” the vice minister of Interior and police, Johnny Aguilera, told reporters.

Zúñiga was relieved of command on Tuesday after declaring on television the day before that former President Evo Morales can not be allowed to return to power. Morales, a socialist leader who had been Arce’s mentor before the two had a falling out, aims to run in next year’s presidential election.

“Legally he is disqualified, that man can no longer be president of this country,” Zúñiga said in the interview. The general added that he would arrest Morales if the former leader insists on running for president and ignoring the fact that he has already been disqualified by the electoral justice system.

While Zuñiga did not capture the president, the former Army chief took control of the immediate surrounding of the old section of the government palace, known locally as the burned palace, and knocked down its main gate by ramming it with an armored vehicle.

Once the gate was down, he entered the building alongside soldiers and stayed inside for about an hour before stepping out. Before he left, he accused Arce of heading a dictatorship and pledged to replace the cabinet. He also said he would free all of the country’s political prisoners.

“The Armed Forces intend to restructure democracy, to make it a true democracy. Not from a few, not from some owners who have already been running the country for 30, 40 years,” he said outside the palace.