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Bolivian police arrest prominent opposition leader who led weeks of protests

Police on Wednesday detained Luis Fernando Camacho, the main opposition leader in Bolivia who is also the governor of the Santa Cruz region, in a dramatic move that is bound to increase political tensions and could lead to renewed social unrest.

The government of the South American country did not release any details on what charges faced Camacho, whose region is Bolivia’s wealthiest and a stronghold of the opposition’s detention.

Government Minister Carlos Eduardo del Castillo wrote on social media only, “We inform the Bolivian people that police have fulfilled a detention order against Mr. Luis Fernando Camacho.”

Shortly after the action, the Santa Cruz governorship said in a news release that Camacho was “kidnapped in an absolutely irregular police operation and was taken to an unknown location.”

Camacho was detained near his home, the news release said.

People gathered outside a small airport, with something on fire in the foreground.
Supporters of Luis Fernando Camacho block the entrance of El Trompillo Airport during an attempt to prevent Camacho from being transported to another location after being detained by Bolivian police Wednesday. (Andrea Martinez/Reuters)

Supporters try to block airports

Video of the arrest posted on social media showed Camacho handcuffed on the side of the road alongside law enforcement officers who were holding firearms.

Martin Camacho, the governor’s lawyer, told the local newspaper El Deber that his client was being taken to the capital of La Paz to answer questions in cases opened against him.

Video posted on social media showed dozens of his supporters descending on two local airports to try to impede the governor’s transfer, although it was unclear whether he was still there.

Protesters carrying colourful flags a dna sign that calls for the imprisonment of Camacho.
People gather to support the detention of Luis Fernando Camacho, outside Bolivia’s attorney general office in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday. (Claudia Morales/Reuters)

Led strike against government

The government has launched several judicial actions against Camacho, including one for having called for a strike against the national administration of President Luis Arce in November, which lasted 36 days. He is facing accusations of sedition, treason and corruption, among others.

Camacho is the leader of the opposition alliance Creemos, which translates to “We Believe” in English.

His role as head of the opposition was cemented in November, when he led the strike against the government. The action pressed demands that a national census be carried out in 2023, which would likely give Santa Cruz more tax revenue and seats in Congress and therefore more influence in the country’s political decisions.

Camacho was also a leader in the big protests in 2019 that forced then president Evo Morales out of power following elections that the Organization of American States said were marred by fraud. Morales was seeking his fourth consecutive re-election.

The 2019 protests led to social unrest that resulted in 37 deaths and pushed Bolivia into its most serious institutional crisis of recent years.

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