Protesters in Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s relatively prosperous farming region, destroyed buildings, torched cars, and blocked highways on Friday as part of a 24-hour strike in response to the arrest of the regional governor, a right-wing opposition leader.
As night fell, demonstrators set tires and automobiles on fire and threw fireworks at police, who then deployed tear gas to attempt and disperse the gathering.
In a Twitter post, Pedro Vaca, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), claimed he was hearing reports of “serious attacks” on the media, which he linked to police deployments.
“I call on the authorities to give public instructions to their agents on the duty to guarantee freedoms of press, peaceful assembly and association,” he said.
Peaceful protestors had blocked roads with tires, rocks, and flags stretched across streets throughout the city during the day.
The protests represent the most recent confrontation between the socialist government of President Luis Arce and Santa Cruz, which is being led by Governor Luis Fernando Camacho.
Due to his alleged involvement in the 2019 political disturbances that caused then-President Evo Morales to depart the country, Camacho was arrested on Wednesday on a charge of “terrorist.”
He was moved to a maximum security prison early on Friday morning after being sentenced to four months of pretrial custody late on Thursday.
Insisting on his innocence, Camacho described his detention and transfer to La Paz, the nation’s capital, as a kidnapping. Prosecutors denied that the arrest had any political or abduction undertones.
As a civic figure who demanded Morales’ resignation in 2019, the governor rose to prominence as the face of the right-wing opposition movement. The Camacho administration said on Twitter on Friday morning that the aftermath of the contentious election “was not a coup, it was fraud.”
In addition, Camacho organized weeks-long demonstrations that disrupted trade in the area through last month, demanding that the government postpone a census that would presumably increase Santa Cruz’s political representation and tax income.
Though some military soldiers were dispersed across Santa Cruz late on Thursday, the administration has not yet indicated how it will react to the blockages on Friday. Government-allied gangs and Camacho supporters engaged in deadly combat during the most recent round of protests.
While Camacho was still in jail, numerous businesses declared they would halt sales.