Bolivian prosecutors: Opposition leader is a flight risk

December 29, 2022 GMT
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FILE - Opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho gives a thumbs up outside the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, after President Evo Morales announced his resignation to the presidency on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Government authorites said on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, that Camacho had been aprehended and arrested by the police. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, File)
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FILE - Opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho gives a thumbs up outside the presidential palace in La Paz, Bolivia, after President Evo Morales announced his resignation to the presidency on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. Government authorites said on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, that Camacho had been aprehended and arrested by the police. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, File)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Prosecutors in Bolivia on Thursday called for Luis Fernando Camacho, the country’s main opposition leader, to be remanded in custody for six months in prison while he faces terrorism charges.

Camacho, who is also the governor of the Santa Cruz region, was detained Wednesday, sparking a night of clashes between Camacho supporters and law enforcement officials as protesters torched several public offices and vehicles.

Some roadblocks set up by Camacho allies in Santa Cruz continued to be in place Thursday amid widespread uncertainty in the region over what would become of the opposition leader.

Camacho spent the night in a cell in a police station in the capital of La Paz after he was detained. Authorities have said Camacho took part in a coup when he helped lead mass protests in 2019 that eventually led to the resignation of then-President Evo Morales following elections that the Organization of American States said were marred by fraud.

The opposition has long disputed the government’s characterization of the 2019 protests as a coup and instead argue that the events were legitimate political protests.

Prosecutors argue Camacho should be held in a La Paz prison because he is a flight risk and could affect an ongoing investigation. A judge will now have to decide whether Camacho will be remanded in custody and, if so, whether he will be sent to prison or face home detention.

Camacho was detained for his repeated failure to appear for questioning by prosecutors, saying he is the victim of political persecution and there is a lack of guarantees of fair treatment.

The leader of the opposition alliance Creemos (“We Believe”) declined to answer questions from prosecutors Wednesday but said he was “proud” of “having taken part in the biggest fight in the history of Bolivia for liberty and democracy and in defense of our vote that they were stealing from us.”

The opposition leader also said that “the police kidnapped me in a brutal fashion.”

Several Camacho allies were quick to characterize his detention Wednesday, in which police forced him out of a car near his home and quickly flew him to La Paz, as a “kidnapping.”

Martín Camacho, Camacho’s lawyer, said he has so far been unable to file an appeal for the release of the opposition leader.

“The incredible thing about our judicial system right now is that no one wants to receive this appeal for release,” the lawyer said in a video posted on social media. “The judiciary is washing its hands and is preventing this constitutional right that could favor Luis Fernando after his kidnapping.”

The powerful Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, which led anti-government protests that lasted more than a month earlier this year, called for a meeting Thursday to issue “a resounding response” to the “political persecution” that Camacho is suffering, according to Rómulo Calvo, the group’s president.

Morales, who leads the left-wing Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Toward Socialism) praised Camacho’s detention and said “the courts should also indict Camacho’s accomplices, so these coup efforts won’t ever be repeated.”

In a little more than 20 days of protests in 2019, 37 people were killed in the streets in a process that led to the installation of interim president Jeanine Áñez, who is currently facing a 10-year prison sentence. Several opposition and military leaders are also behind bars and facing terrorism charges.

More recently, Camacho’s profile rose after he led a 37-day strike in Santa Cruz against President Luis Arce’s government this fall, demanding that a national census be carried out in 2023, which would likely give Santa Cruz more tax revenue and seats in Congress and therefore more influence in the country’s political decisions. Santa Cruz, an agribusiness center in the eastern lowlands, is the country’s wealthiest region and is widely considered to be the motor of Bolivia’s economy.

Analysts say Camacho’s detention is related to a fracture within the ruling MAS coalition between a wing led by Morales and another led by Arce, which has affected governability.

“Arce needs to show he is being severe with the opposition in his dispute with Morales,” said Carlos Borth, a political analyst and former lawmaker.

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Politi reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.