Bolivian police arrest prominent opposition leader

Governor of the Santa Cruz region, Luis Fernando Camacho, was detained following weeks of protests in the region.

A line of police advances in a street in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where tear gas has been used to disperse protesters
Tear gas fills the streets of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, as police and demonstrators clash in the wake of census-related protests [File: Ipa Ibanez/AP Photo]

Bolivian police have arrested Luis Fernando Camacho, the governor of Santa Cruz and a prominent opposition leader, Bolivia’s interior minister said on Wednesday.

Authorities have not explained why Camacho was detained but he recently helped lead weeks of protests that blocked streets and halted trade in the relatively affluent farm hub of Santa Cruz, the largest of the nine departments in Bolivia.

The protests relate to the national government’s delay in carrying out Bolivia’s population census, which is expected to show population growth in Santa Cruz, resulting in more tax revenues and seats in Congress for the region.

But Santa Cruz – led by Camacho, a member of the Christian conservative coalition Creemos – has long butted heads with Bolivia’s highland political capital La Paz, under left-wing President Luis Arce.

Camacho was taken to a local airport to be flown to La Paz, local media reported. Video of the arrest shared by news outlets showed Camacho handcuffed on the side of the road and the windows of the car he was travelling in broken. It was not immediately clear who recorded the video.

Several of Camacho’s allies, including politicians Paola Aguirre and Erwin Bazan, said firearms were used in the arrest. Others, including former President Carlos Mesa, called the arrest a “kidnapping.”

“The operation to kidnap the governor was carried out in the streets near his home, as he was returning from his duties,” the Santa Cruz government said in a statement. “In these moments, the governor’s whereabouts are unknown.”

Bolivian interior minister Carlos Eduardo Del Castillo said on Twitter that police had detained Camacho, without giving further details.

The Bolivian police did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Protesters entered two airports in Santa Cruz, video showed, in an apparent attempt to prevent Camacho from being transported to another location. It was unclear whether Camacho had already been taken to La Paz.

Opposition Senator Erik Moron said in a video Camacho had been taken by helicopter to an unknown location.

Source: Reuters