President Luis Arce’s career has mirrored Bolivia’s economic trajectory from boom to bust

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — The president of Bolivia, who was the target of a failed coup Wednesday, is a 60-year-old leftist whom many see as an opponent of Washington-backed free-market and neoliberal policies.

Luis Arce, who studied economics in London, was economy minister under President Evo Morales, whose time in office from 2006 to 2019 made him an icon of the Latin American left.

After Morales left office, Arce became president in November 2020, following Jeanine Añez’s short time in office.

Bolivian television showed Arce confronting the apparent leader of the rebellion — the general commander of the army — in the hallway of the government palace Wednesday night.

“I am your captain, and I order you to withdraw your soldiers, and I will not allow this insubordination,” Arce said.

Arce named a new army commander, who immediately ordered the troops to stand down. Their retreat ended the rebellion after just three hours.

Arce’s career has mirrored Bolivia’s economic trajectory from boom to bust. He worked in the Central Bank from 1987 to 2006 and worked for Morales administering a bonanza in metals and hydrocarbons prices that came to be known as the “Bolivian Miracle.”

But by the time Arce took office, Bolivia was hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and social tensions set off by Morales’ 2019 departure after street protests and extreme pressure from the military.

Neoliberal reforms in the 1990s helped Bolivia become a significant energy producer, and it moved from a low-income to a middle-income nation, according to the World Bank. The percentage of people in extreme poverty fell to 15%, the state built highways and cable cars, and cities grew.

But incomes began to fall in 2014.

Assuming the presidency, Arce described his country’s recession as the worst in 40 years.

He recently said gasoline and diesel production no longer covered national consumption, and that the country had to import 86% of its diesel and 56% of its gasoline because of a lack of exploration and production.

Households also have been forced to grapple with high food prices.

Meanwhile, tensions between Morales and his party continued to rise.

In November, Arce criticized his opponents and said they “dreamed of new coups d’état.”

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