Bolivia government says Haiti-linked group planned 2020 plot against President Arce

FILE PHOTO: Bolivia's President Luis Arce reacts before the annual state of the nation address at the inauguration of the Congress in La Paz, Bolivia, August 6, 2021. REUTERS/Manuel Claure/File Photo

LA PAZ (Reuters) - Members of a group involved in killing Haitian President Jovenel Moise in July had conspired to assassinate Bolivian President Luis Arce in 2020, Bolivia's interior minister said on Monday.

Eduardo del Castillo said at a news conference that the government had seen emails, audio recordings, immigration data and hotel stays that proved the failed plot against Arce, a socialist who swept to power last year after a divisive period of right-wing interim government.

"We are talking about the fact that days before the (Oct. 18 2020) elections, paramilitaries who would later kill the president of Haiti and mercenary contractors... were in Bolivia," said del Castillo, showing some of the materials.

"The intention was ending the life of the president."

Del Castillo made some of the data available to media. Reuters was not able to immediately confirm his accusations.

Bolivia has been deeply polarized since 2019, when long-term socialist leader Evo Morales won a disputed election to seal a fourth term in office, despite term limits and a nationwide referendum that voted against him running.

The election was later annulled after the Organization of American States (OAS) said there had been electoral fraud. Amid widespread protests, the military withdrew its support for Morales, who resigned and fled the country, decrying the events as a coup.

Morales' Movement to Socialism eventually returned to power under Arce in November 2020. Jeanine Anez, who had taken over in the power vacuum after Morales resigned, was arrested in March and is in pre-trial detention, charged with terrorism, sedition and conspiracy, which she has called political persecution.

Del Castillo accused Luis Fernando Lopez, the former defense minister under Anez, of being the man behind the failed conspiracy to assassinate Arce in 2020. He said the conspirators had aimed to recruit Colombian mercenaries who have since been implicated in the assassination of Moise.

Reuters could not reach Lopez for comment. Government officials have said they believe him to be in hiding in Brazil.

Arce's government is facing possible protests by Bolivians allied to the right-wing opposition and in particular conservative figurehead Luis Fernando Camacho, governor of Santa Cruz, the richest region in the country.

Camacho said at a news conference in Santa Cruz that the government was seeking to make President Arce into a "victim."

"He (Arce) is totally fine, there is nothing going on. There are no murderers here or people who want to make an attempt on the life of absolutely anyone," he said.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Rosalba O'Brien)

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