Protests against the recent arrest of right-wing Bolivian opposition politician and Santa Cruz governor Luis Fernando Camacho continued this week in the Santa Cruz district, stoking fears that Bolivia’s cycle of political retribution will continue. Human Rights Watch (HRW) Associate Director, Americas Division César Muñoz said on Tuesday that “The crime of terrorism has been used by left- and right-wing governments in Bolivia as an instrument to persecute opponents.” Former Bolivian president Jeanine Áñez, who took over from controversial Bolivian leader Evo Morales in 2019, is alleged to have targeted her political opponents with “baseless charges,” and current president Luis Arce has voiced support for what HRW calls “unsubstantiated and excessive charges of terrorism and genocide” against Áñez.Camacho was arrested on December 28, 2022, on charges of terrorism and almost instantly sentenced to four months of pretrial detention. Speaking on condition of anonymity from Bolivia’s capital, a longtime resident of La Paz told JURIST earlier this week that although he himself was generally “not involved in political issues”, there had been “a lot of tension in the country” for the past several years. Camacho, he said, “had a problem in 2019, when the ‘coup’ [against former president Evo Morales] took place. I remember that he [Camacho] did not give statements for fear of being unfairly judged and there was never any evidence to prove that he acted against the law.”He said that most of the protests against Camacho’s arrest have been in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s largest city that is also its commercial center, “there are people who are for and against Camacho’s arrest” in other parts of the country. He explained:Santa Cruz was always a department very different from the other departments in Bolivia. It is considered a fairly prosperous department and the people who usually live there enjoy a good economic position. For this reason, it is a department that has not been in agreement with Evo Morales or his political ideology focused on supporting the poor. Camacho has been very critical of the current government, but he has always been respectful, so I was also very surprised by his arrest. I think that his arrest was more than anything as a threat to the entire province of Santa Cruz, so that the population of Santa Cruz does not dare to express their disagreement with Morales in the future.  However, there were many protests and destruction in the city of Santa Cruz when Camacho was arrested.While the State Attorney General’s Office in La Paz has said all proceedings against Camacho will respect Bolivia’s constitutional rights and procedural norms, our source told JURIST that he hopes “that the whole process is carried out in accordance with the law and that it is not a tool to scare the people of Santa Cruz.” He called Camacho’s arrest “surprising” given that “there was no evidence” to support terrorism charges. “I want to clarify that I am not in favor of the current government, but I am not in favor of Camacho either,” he added, concluding: “Personally, I just hope that the whole process is carried out in accordance with the law and that it is not a tool to scare the people of Santa Cruz.” 

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