Families say Bolivia coup detainees ‘tricked’; president says it’s not his problem

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Death threats have been coming in shortly after Jimena Silva’s husband was arrested on charges of participating in a failed coup in Bolivia.

“They call us and tell us that if we do anything or say anything they will disappear. They threaten not only us but also our children,” Silva said. “They call us from unknown people and tell us that they will kill our children.”

Now, Silva, a mother of three, sits with her mother and brother at the prison gates, waiting for any news about her husband, Luis Domingo Balanza.

Balanza, a military major for more than 15 years, was among 21 people arrested after a group of military vehicles and armored vehicles attempted what the government called a “failed coup.”

Families appeared confused and anxious in the prison where their loved ones were being held on Friday, saying they had no knowledge of any plot in the lead-up to Wednesday’s scene. Many of the detainees’ families say their loved ones were simply “following orders” or were told they were doing a “military exercise.”

On Friday, the government announced additional arrests of its soldiers, bringing the total number to 21, including the former general. Juan Jose Zunigawho led the failed coup. Among those arrested are also retired soldiers and a person involved in

Bolivian President Luis Arce has washed his hands of families’ claims that the detainees are innocent or “deceived.” In an interview Friday with The Associated Press,.

“It is the problem of those who participated, not the government’s problem,” he said.

Images from Bolivia shocked the world on Wednesday when an armored car stormed the government palace in La Paz, the country’s seat of government, and military officers fled after embattled President Luis Arce said his government would not back down.

See also  What we know about the deadly Morbi Bridge collapse in India in Gujarat

The general, who was fired by Arce amid the chaos, claimed he had stormed into government office as a favor to Arce to gain political support at a time of deep economic discontent in Bolivia, raising suspicion among many.

Zuniga’s lawyer, Steven Orellana, told The Associated Press that prosecutors planned to charge Zuniga with terrorism and initiating an armed uprising, adding that he could not provide further details about the case.

Bolivia’s ambassador to the Organization of American States announced Thursday that about 200 military officers participated in the coup attempt.

“These people ordered the destruction of Bolivian heritage,” senior cabinet member Eduardo del Castillo said at a news conference.

Hundreds of protesters chanted del Castillo’s slogans and marched outside the prison and other government buildings on Friday, carrying signs reading: “Zuniga, traitor, coup leader, respect the state.”

Inside, weeping families were telling another story.

Silva and her mother, Daniela, said their family had become economically “devastated” without the income to care for their three children. The family was among those who said their father was simply following orders, telling him to step away from the online training course and head to the square outside the government palace. Silva said her husband later turned himself in.

“How will we be able to feed our family?” says Daniela, who asked that her last name not be revealed because of the threats. “I can’t think of the future, what future someone who was involved and treated like this could have.”

“My son is not evil… he is just a subordinate. He preserved his legacy and they exploited it,” she added.

See also  Insight: The row over China's embassy in London is straining relations with Britain

Families and lawyers of the accused interviewed by The Associated Press could share few details about their family members’ cases and legal arguments because they were in the midst of legal proceedings, but most said they were seeking “justice” for those detained.

Others, such as Nubia Barbieri, said her husband, Colonel Raul Barbieri Moiba, was instructed by Zuniga to conduct “military exercises.” Upon entering the arena, Barbieri said he left, told Zuniga he had been “tricked,” and called her shortly thereafter.

The families’ claims add an extra layer of confusion to the doubts Zuniga had already sewn Wednesday night about the validity of the coup.

Upon his quick arrest, he claimed, without providing any evidence, that Arce had ordered him to carry out the rebellion, prompting the political opposition to describe the case as a “self-coup.”

Zuniga claimed the acquisition was just a ploy to boost Arce’s sagging popularity while he struggles to manage Rising economyDeepening political divisions and increasing public discontent. Arce on Thursday strongly denied the accusations. He told the Associated Press that Bolivia is not suffering from an economic crisis, and that the government is “taking measures” to address the economic hardships of the Bolivian people.

The embattled president is competing with former strongman President Evo Morales over who will be their party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election. Arce said his government had been subjected to a “political attack” by Morales, which had hindered his government from addressing economic turmoil.

The escalating political dispute has left Bolivians feeling disappointed and confused about what really happened during those three chaotic hours on Wednesday when armored vehicles rolled into downtown La Paz and Arce came face to face with the coup plotters and ordered them to retreat.

See also  Putin is scheduled to visit Iran next week

It remains unclear whether Zuniga’s allegations about Arce are true — or whether the disgruntled general simply sought to exploit Bolivia’s escalating crises for his own benefit.

Many, like Cynthia Ramos, are still angry about Wednesday’s chaos.

“Zuniga should pay the maximum penalty for attacking the Bolivian people,” said Cynthia Ramos, 31, one of the protesters in prison.

Families may say their loved ones are innocent, but Ramos said: “This cannot be done by just one person. This person had allies, high-level allies. … They should also be given the maximum penalty.”

Police could be seen leading Zuniga through the jail in handcuffs Friday morning.

Shortly before, his wife, Graciela Arzacibia, kept her eyes downcast as she waited for the general to emerge from the police station. Carrying a small bag of snacks, she worried about her 6-year-old son, who, she said, believed his jailed father was simply away at work.

“I ask them to take into account the families,” she told the AP. “We didn’t do anything.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *