Bolivia: Spanish, Chilean lawmakers meddled in local affairs

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Aymara men protest outside the Chonchocoro prison where opposition leader and governor of Santa Cruz Luis Fernando Camacho is being held, in El Alto, Bolivia, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023. The Indigenous group is asking for justice and that Camacho be imprisoned for 30 years. Prosecutors in Bolivia on Dec. 29, 2022, remanded Camacho into custody for four months while he faces terrorism charges. (AP Photo/Gaston Brito)

LA PAZ – A Spanish lawmaker said Wednesday he was formally kicked out of Bolivia as he was getting ready to leave the South American country after he had traveled there to demand the release of opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho.

The foreign affairs ministry said it filed diplomatic complaints against the Spanish lawmaker and a Chilean counterpart accusing them of meddling in Bolivia's internal affairs. They came to demand the release of Camacho, the governor of the Santa Cruz region who was detained a week ago on “terrorism” charges.

Víctor González, a right-wing lawmaker from the Spanish party Vox, published on Twitter the document he allegedly received from Bolivian authorities moments before he was set to depart.

“When I was already inside the plane, two agents very politely informed me that I had been expelled from Bolivia,” González wrote on Twitter. “Cuba, Nicaragua and now Bolivia are the countries that deny me entry.”

González and a conservative Chilean lawmaker, Luis Fernando Sánchez of Chile's Republican Party, arrived in Bolivia over the weekend and were first in Santa Cruz and then the capital of La Paz.

Sánchez’s whereabouts Wednesday could not be determined.

The Civic Committee of Santa Cruz invited González and Sánchez to Bolivia to get a first-hand look at the situation following the detention of Camacho.

A judge on Friday ordered four months of pre-trial detention for Camacho after prosecutors alleged the governor in 2019 orchestrated what they describe as a coup while leading mass protests following elections that the Organization of American States said were marred by fraud. The unrest resulted in 37 deaths.

The opposition, which characterizes Camacho’s detention as a “kidnapping,” has long disputed the government’s characterization of the 2019 unrest as a coup. It argues that the events were legitimate political protests that led to the resignation of then-President Evo Morales.

Camacho’s detention has sparked protests and clashes with law enforcement. Leaders in Santa Cruz, the country’s wealthy agribusiness center that is widely considered to be Bolivia’s economic engine, have called for a blockade to prevent goods from reaching the rest of the country.

Gónzalez and Sánchez attempted to visit Camacho in the Chonchocoro jail outside La Paz but were denied entry.

The two foreign lawmakers entered Bolivia as tourists but later claimed they were part of a special mission, although “they didn’t have authorization from their congresses,” Freddy Mamani, Bolivia’s deputy foreign minister, said Wednesday.

“We formalized a communication yesterday via diplomatic channels to formally elevate this complaint,” Mamani said, adding that the lawmakers “took on a political role of intrusion in domestic affairs.”

The lawmakers were not the only ones denied entry to see Camacho.

Fátima Sánchez, Camacho’s wife, traveled to the maximum security prison with a committee of Santa Cruz leaders but was also initially denied entry, with authorities claiming the opposition leader was in isolation.

“I’ve come to visit him, to see what kind of conditions he’s in, to check up on his health,” Sánchez told reporters at the airport.

Later in the day, the head of Bolivia's prison system, Juan Carlos Limpias, said Sánchez was allowed inside the prison and would be able to spend the night.

Camacho’s family and allies have raised concerns about the governor’s health due to pre-existing chronic conditions but the government insists he is receiving the necessary treatment.