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

A judge in Bolivia has sentenced opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho to four months in pre-trial detention amid growing tension in the country.

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

Speaking during the virtual hearing that was held in the La Paz police station, Camacho struck a defiant note stating that he would “never give up on this fight for Bolivia’s democracy”.

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

Groups such as 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-wing Jeanine Anez as interim president.

Morales was the first member of Bolivia’s large Indigenous community to become president. Following his removal, some Indigenous people feared setbacks for their rights and accused Anez of anti-Indigenous racism.

Subsequent investigations have cast doubt on the claims of fraud that were used to justify Anez’s installation, and Morales’s Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party won a resounding victory in the 2020 elections, elevating MAS candidate Luis Arce to the presidency.

Divisions have persisted ever since. While Morales and his allies have said that the arrest of Camacho is a step towards accountability for what they describe as a violent coup, members of the opposition have accused the administration of using the courts to suppress dissent.

Deysi Choque, a lawmaker with MAS, called the ruling “an act of justice for the victims who still cry over their loved ones who died in the coup”.

Former President Carlos Mesa took to social media to decry 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 that the delay is politically motivated, and have predicted that the census would have resulted in greater representation and tax revenue for the region, a bastion of the conservative opposition.

The government has cited complications stemming from COVID-19, incorporating Bolivia’s Indigenous languages, and the fact that many labourers travel in November for the sugar cane harvest.

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

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

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



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