Protesters in the agricultural center of Santa Cruz province block highways amid continued calls for the release of Luis Fernando Camacho.

Protesters in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz province have blocked highways in and out of the region as tensions continue to rise after the arrest of opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho last week.

“We have a mandate from our assembly that nothing leaves Santa Cruz and that’s what we’re going to do,” Romulo Calvo, head of the powerful Pro Santa Cruz civic group, said of the blockades on Monday.

Marcelo Cruz, president of the International Heavy Transport Association of Santa Cruz, also confirmed that routes were blocked so no trucks could leave the province, a center of agricultural production and conservative opposition to the government of leftist President Luis Arce.

“No grain, animal or stock from the factories is allowed to leave Santa Cruz for the rest of the country. The blockades are being strengthened,” Cruz said.

Camacho, the conservative governor of Santa Cruz, was arrested on Dec 28 for his alleged role in the 2019 political unrest that resulted in the forced ousting of Bolivia’s democratically elected former president, Evo Morales.

Camacho has denied the allegations, and his detention on charges of “terrorism”. has sparked protests and deepened the rift between lowland Santa Cruz and the capital La Paz, which have long butted heads over politics and state funds.

Critics have accused the Arce government of trying to silence the opposition.

“We are no longer a rule of law state, we are an outlaw state,” said Erwin Bazan of the right-wing Creemos party, arguing that the charges against Camacho are politically motivated.

But Arce supporters have said Camacho’s arrest is a step towards accountability for the 2019 violence that killed at least 37 people and resulted in the installation of the right-wing interim president Jeanine Anez.

Morales, a leftist leader and Bolivia’s first indigenous presidentand its allies have described the unrest as a right-wing coup and prosecuted opposition members accused of taking part in the events.

In June last year Anez sentenced to 10 years in prison for her role in what happened.

Tensions in Santa Cruz were already high after a government decision to slow down the country’s census until 2024.

Local authorities had predicted that the county would receive more money and representation in Congress after the count because of population growth.

Santa Cruz is the country’s main producer of agricultural products such as soy, sugarcane, wheat, rice, corn and livestock, and experts have said the region’s productivity could be stifled by the unrest and roadblocks.

“Santa Cruz is Bolivia’s economic stronghold,” said Gary Rodriguez, general director of the Bolivian Institute of Foreign Trade. “All of these great private productive efforts are now in jeopardy.”

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