Bolivia: Luis Arce: “Evo Morales questions the failed military coup because of his personal political aspirations”

Luis Arce (La Paz, 60 years old) does not look like the president whom only three days ago he tried to overthrow in a coup. He looks relaxed, dresses casually and does not hide his good humor. He receives EL PAÍS on the 23rd floor of the Casa Grande del Pueblo, a brutalist-style collective inaugurated during Evo Morales’ third government (2006-2019) that serves as the president’s office. Arce says he already has some things clear about that violent day when the head of the army, Juan José Zúñiga, tried to storm the Palacio Quemado, the government’s headquarters, with the help of tanks. He assures that behind it were “foreign interests” who were trying to take over Bolivia’s natural reserves. He also talks about his political mentor, Evo Morales, whom he has accused of being “willing to do anything” to become a candidate for president in 2025 under the ruling party, the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).

Ask. Why has the coup in Bolivia been possible?

Answer. We really have to talk about the circumstances that did not allow a coup to take place. In Bolivia, objectively, this type of situation has no economic or social purpose. It is clear that there are foreign and national interests that want to somehow gain power in Bolivia. These interests seek our natural resources. Bolivia is the world’s leading lithium reserve; it also has rare earths, which the planet needs today. How could they not love them!

Why. Do you see the dark hand of these foreign interests behind General Zuniga?

R. Of course. They have been the operators, but there was a meeting at the General Staff on the morning of the coup. There was not only the military there, there were retired soldiers involved in the 2019 coup and civilians as well. There is something else behind these retired military personnel and civilians, which we are investigating.

Why. When you talk to economic analysts, they agree that problems like the dollar shortage or the fiscal deficit need to be addressed. Do you agree with these lessons?

R. But I am the one who comes forward to explain where the problems are! It is not known to anyone that Bolivia is a gas exporter, but under the government of Evo Morales there was not as much investment in gas exploration as it should have been. The problem is that today we do not have enough gas to increase export volumes for Argentina, Brazil or the domestic market.

This June 26, military personnel gathered in front of the Bolivian government headquarters during an attempted coup in the country's capital.
This June 26, military personnel gathered in front of the Bolivian government headquarters during an attempted coup in the country’s capital.Luis Gandrillas (EFE)

Why. Is he capable enough to resolve this in the remaining year and a half of his term?

R. We have been doing this since day one. Evo only did six exploration projects; we have done 43, that is the difference. Not only that, because I know what is going on in the minds of right-wing economic analysts. Bolivia is entering a clear process of industrialization, not only of natural resources. Bolivia imported everything, even soap, and now we are producing them. The problem of diesel and gasoline (which is scarce in Bolivia) is not going to be solved by just exporting more gas, because today we are a net importer of liquids. If we get the wells, and I think we will get good results, we will solve 60% of diesel imports. What does the right care? We will be able to show results in 2025, because things have a moment of maturity. The right wants to hijack our work so they can say they did it.

Why. Interannual inflation was 3.5% in May and has accumulated 2% since January. Are you not worried about the data?

R. We are the economy with the greatest price stability in the region. Look at what is happening in Chile (4.1%) or Argentina (276%), where it is better not to mention it. Can anyone say there is a crisis here? We are a country with economic growth (the government’s estimate for 2024 is around 4%) according to ECLAC, so that they don’t say I am saying it.

Why. He brought up Evo Morales several times. Were you surprised he was talking about a self-coup?

R. This doesn’t surprise me, because we know what Evo wants.

Why. And what does Evo want?

R. He wants to be the presidential candidate in 2024 at any cost. He said this: ‘I am going to be the candidate at any cost.’ He has embroiled us in conflicts here, with threats of blockades, he is inciting the regions to go out and create conflicts in the country so that later the coca growers of the tropics (Cochabamba in the center of the country) gather and demand his candidacy.

Members of the military police stand in front of protesters who came to demonstrate against the occupation of the headquarters of the Luis Arce government in La Paz (Bolivia) last Wednesday.
Members of the military police stand in front of protesters who came to demonstrate against the occupation of the Luis Arce government headquarters in La Paz (Bolivia) last Wednesday.Luis Gandrillas (EFE)

Why. Are you saying that Morales works to do things wrong?

R. Of course, or there is any doubt about it.

Why. Could a military coup be a good excuse to unify MAS, especially considering next year’s elections?

R. We have seen what the founders of MAS, the social organization that supports the government, are doing. At that time they called comrade Evo to a meeting, as the law says, on four occasions to convene a congress between the national leadership and the owners of the political apparatus. He was never heard, nor was there any response.

Why. Have you never spoken to Evo Morales again?

R. No, I only called him on the day of the coup to warn him of the situation.

Why. Were you surprised by his reaction?

R. This doesn’t surprise me, because all of us who know him know what he wants. And he is going to use everything, including questioning the failed coup, for his personal political aspirations.

Why. Morales has been declared ineligible to be a candidate by the judiciary. Is there any chance of this being reversed?

R. That was the problem in 2019. He himself was authorized by the Constitutional Court saying that re-election is a human right. The IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) has said it is not a right. For us the situation is clear, but go tell it to someone who is sure he is a candidate.

Bolivian President Luis Arce addresses the crowd after the coup attempt in La Paz on June 26.
Bolivian President Luis Arce addresses the crowd after the coup attempt in La Paz on June 26.Anadolu (Getty Images)

Why. Would you be willing to meet them if there was an offer for talks?

R. It’s not just me, there are also social organizations that own political resources. They tell Evo not to take it from them. And I agree with them, because he is the founder. Evo was not there when MAS was founded.

Why. What now awaits Bolivia after this failed coup?

R. We have to be vigilant. Knowing the history of Latin America, we know everything that has happened to undermine popular governments, especially those of us who have natural resources. We have instructed to take steps to take control of all institutions, especially the police and the armed forces.

Why. Do you trust the armed forces after what happened?

R. We have done coordinated work. The government has never interfered in the armed forces but has only interfered in what is established within the institutional framework.

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