Members of the Conservative opposition have accused the government of silencing dissent as tensions continue to escalate.

A judge in Bolivia has sentenced opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho to four months in pre-trial detention amid rising tensions in the country.

Judge Sergio Pacheco ordered Camacho, governor of the Santa Cruz region of the country, to be taken into custody on terrorism charges at a hearing on Friday. Shortly afterwards, Camacho was transferred to a prison 25 km from the capital La Paz.

During the virtual hearing held at the La Paz police station, Camacho punched a defiant note stating that he would “never give up this fight for democracy in Bolivia”.

Prosecutors have alleged that Camacho played a key role in Bolivia’s post-election political turmoil in 2019, which resulted in the forced removal of left-wing President Evo Morales, whom some described as a right-wing coup.

Groups such as the Organization of American States (OAS) claimed that election was riddled with fraud, and protesters took to the streets in protests that killed 37 people and resulted in the installation of right-wing Jeanine Anez as interim chairman.

Morales was the first member of Bolivia’s large indigenous community to become president. After his removal, some Indigenous peoples feared setbacks for their rights and accused Anez of anti-Indigenous racism.

Subsequent investigations have cast doubt on the allegations of fraud used to justify Anez’s installation, and Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) party won a resounding victory in the 2020 election, elevating MAS candidate Luis Arce to the presidency.

Divisions have continued to exist ever since. While Morales and his allies have said the Camacho’s arrest is a step towards accountability for what they describe as a violent coup, members of the opposition have accused the government of using the courts to suppress dissent.

Deysi Choque, a lawmaker at MAS, called the ruling “an act of justice for the victims who are still crying for their loved ones who died in the coup”.

Former President Carlos Mesa took to social media to denounce what he called “the violent and illegal kidnapping” of Camacho.

Tensions are already high and protests broke out in November in the Santa Cruz region over the government’s decision postpone the census until 2024.

Members of the Conservative opposition have said the postponement is politically motivated and have predicted that the census would have resulted in increased representation and tax revenue for the region, a stronghold of the Conservative opposition.

The government cites complications from COVID-19, the integration of Bolivia’s indigenous languages, and the fact that many workers travel in November for the sugar cane harvest.

Camacho was jailed after refusing to appear before prosecutors to answer questions and is accused of helping lead a 36-day anti-government fall strike in Santa Cruz.

A spokesman for UN chief Antonio Guterres has said he is concerned about the situation in Bolivia and has called for “all political and social actors to exercise maximum restraint”.

Trucks block a street as part of a "general strike" after the detention of opposition governor Luis Fernando Camacho of Santa Cruz
Trucks block a street as part of a ‘general strike’ following the detention of Santa Cruz opposition governor Luis Fernando Camacho, in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia [Lesly Moyano/Reuters]

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