Apparent coup attempt in Bolivia fails as president urges people, workers to mobilize against it

A soldier gestures for journalists to leave in La Paz, Bolivia.
A soldier gestures for journalists to leave Plaza Murillo as troops gather near the presidential palace in Plaza Murillo in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday.
(Juan Karita / Associated Press)
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Armored vehicles rammed into the doors of Bolivia’s government palace Wednesday in what appeared to be a failed coup attempt, as President Luis Arce said the country stood firm against attacks on democracy and urged people to mobilize.

In a video of Arce surrounded by ministers in the palace, he said: “Here we are, firm in Casa Grande, to confront any coup attempt. We need the Bolivian people to organize.”

Arce confronted the general commander of the army — Juan José Zúñiga, who appeared to be leading the rebellion — in the palace hallway, as shown on video on Bolivian television. “I am your captain, and I order you to withdraw your soldiers, and I will not allow this insubordination,” Arce said.


Before entering the government building, Zúñiga told journalists in the plaza: “Surely soon there will be a new Cabinet of ministers; our country, our state cannot go on like this.” Zúñiga said that “for now” he recognizes Arce as commander in chief.

Zúñiga did not explicitly say he’s leading a coup, but in the palace, with bangs echoing behind him, he said the army was trying to “restore democracy and free our political prisoners.”

In a message on his X account, Arce called for “democracy to be respected.” It came as Bolivian television showed two tanks and a number of men in military uniform in front of the government palace.

“We cannot allow, once again, coup attempts to take the lives of Bolivians,” he said from inside the palace, surrounded by government officials, in a video message sent to news outlets.

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An hour later, Arce announced new heads of the army, navy and air force amid the roar of supporters. Video showed troops setting up blockades outside the government palace. He said the troops who rose against him were “staining the uniform” of the military and vowed that democracy would be respected.

“I order all that are mobilized to return to their units,” said the newly named army chief, José Wilson Sánchez. “No one wants the images we’re seeing in the streets.”


Soon after, troops and armored vehicles started pulling back from Bolivia’s presidential palace.

The leadership of Bolivia’s largest labor union condemned the action and declared an indefinite strike of social and labor organizations in La Paz in defense of the government.

The incident was met with a wave of outrage by other regional leaders, including the Organization of American States; Gabriel Boric, the president of neighboring Chile; the leader of Honduras and former Bolivian leaders.

Bolivia, a country of 12 million people, has seen intensifying protests in recent months over the economy’s precipitous decline from one of the continent’s fastest-growing two decades ago to one of its most crisis-stricken.

The country also has seen a high-profile rift at the highest levels of the governing party. Arce and his onetime ally, leftist hero and former President Evo Morales, have been battling for the future of Bolivia’s splintering Movement for Socialism, known by its Spanish acronym MAS, ahead of elections in 2025.

Flores writes for the Associated Press.