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Explainer: Who is Luis Fernando Camacho, the opposition leader arrested in Bolivia?


Luis Fernando Camacho, a Santa Cruz civic leader and major opposition figure, speaks to his supporters in La Paz, Bolivia, November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello/File Photo

Prominent Bolivian opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho was arrested on Wednesday, exacerbating tensions between the government in La Paz and opposition centered around the affluent farming hub of Santa Cruz.

What do we know about Camacho’s background?

The 43-year-old governor of Santa Cruz is a lawyer and former civic leader who ran for the presidency in 2020 during the first elections held after the ousting of President Evo Morales but he failed to drum up enough support and ended up in third place.

The right-wing governor, often seen in protests with a bible in his hand and a rosary around his neck, led some of the demonstrations demanding that Morales leave power in 2019, gaining popularity with some parts of the electorate.

Bolivia’s state attorney said on Wednesday Camacho’s arrest was connected to the toppling of Morales in 2019.

More recently, he has backed a series of protests in Santa Cruz that started in late October, demanding the national government proceed with a delayed census. A new census would likely give the wealthy farming region more tax revenues and seats in Congress.

The government has said Camacho has the support of elites and economic groups seeking to take control of Santa Cruz.

What is Camacho’s view on the government?

Camacho has long been at odds with the leftist government of President Luis Arce and has sought a federal model of governance for Bolivia in order to avoid “abuses of power by the central government,” he said in a video message published on Tuesday on social media.

“We are going to promote the federal path. We want federalism to unify Bolivia … A federalism so that (the ruling party) MAS respects the way of being of each province,” Camacho said.

Minister of Public Works Edgar Montano accused Camacho of planning more protests and human rights violations that would hurt the people of Santa Cruz.

“The prayers of all the victims of the 2019 coup d’état and the protests of Mr Camacho were heard, and now … we hope that he will answer for the crimes he is accused of,” Montano wrote in a post on Twitter after Camacho’s arrest.

Why is Santa Cruz the center of opposition?

Santa Cruz, one of Bolivia’s most affluent and populous regions, has long butted heads with its political capital of La Paz.

Rising soy and beef exports have given Santa Cruz the status of a top export hub over metal producing areas such as La Paz and Potosi, which has brought calls for in increase in its share of tax revenues.

The protests calling for the census have halted the transport of goods from the region, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Acre’s government has said protesters were led by Santa Cruz’s elite and damaged an economy already hit by the impact of the war in Ukraine.