Succession

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Bolivian President Luis Arce recently told the Associated Press that his mountainous South American country is not struggling in an economic crisis. Many Bolivians and most economists would disagree.

Commercial activity in the capital of La Paz ground to a halt recently, for example, after Arce deployed troops into the streets to counter a supposed coup d’état that the president claimed was occurring.

Gen. Juan José Zúñiga Macías, now relieved of his command, brought soldiers to central Plaza Murillo in front of the Bolivian Congress and presidential palace. “A Reuters witness saw an armored vehicle ram a door of the presidential palace and soldiers rush in,” wrote the news agency. Speaking to journalists, Zúñiga said the country’s leaders needed to “stop destroying, stop impoverishing our country, stop humiliating our army,” noted the Economist.

But the plot fizzled. During the ruckus, Arce, 60, clasping a ceremonial baton that symbolized his rank as head of state, and his cabinet ministers confronted the general. “I am your captain … withdraw all of your troops right now, general,” Acre said to Zúñiga, according to the Guardian.

The soldiers left the presidential palace a few hours later. Police then took control of the palace and arrested Zúñiga. He’s one of 21 military officers and others associated with the coup behind bars.

Arce’s political enemy, former President Evo Morales, meanwhile, accused Arce of organizing a “self-coup” with the aim of cementing his control over the government and claiming extraordinary powers in an emergency that only he knows is happening.

As World Politics Review explained, Arce and Morales were once close allies. Arce served as finance minister under Morales, who won an unconstitutional fourth consecutive term, but resigned in 2019 under pressure from the army amid widespread protests against election meddling. Morales supported Arce’s 2020 candidacy. But he now might challenge Arce as the ruling Movement for Socialism party’s candidate in 2025. Arce has made clear his intent to remain president, however.

This tension in the runup to next year’s presidential poll comes as the economy is cratering despite Bolivia’s many natural resources, wrote Agence France-Presse. The country has natural gas fields and mines of lithium, a vital mineral for future technology manufacturing. Yet the country needs more investment in these sectors to truly capitalize on them. Now the country has slipped into a recession that is making it harder to recover, wrote the Wilson Center, adding, “Worryingly, the real crisis has not yet begun.”

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