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  • Luis Fernando Camacho, a Santa Cruz civic leader and major opposition figure, speaks to his supporters in La Paz, Bolivia, November 10, 2019.

    Luis Fernando Camacho, a Santa Cruz civic leader and major opposition figure, speaks to his supporters in La Paz, Bolivia, November 10, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 November 2019

Camacho’s family has constantly been related to secessionist and far-right anti-democratic movements in the country.

Virtually an unknown political actor outside Bolivia, in the last couple of weeks Luis Fernando Camacho has risen to the international spotlight as the main opposition figure leading the coup against President Evo Morales.

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Under a racist, far-right discourse against the Indigenous leader and his legitimate government, the 40-year-old businessman from the resource-rich department of Santa Cruz represents the anti-thesis of the plurinational State of Bolivia built by Morales in the last 13 years. 

Camacho’s family has constantly been related to secessionist and far-right anti-democratic movements in the country.

In 1981, Camacho’s father founded the Committee Pro-Santa Cruz and organized the first strike in the department demanding the government to halt a sugarcane project in the north of La Paz, alleging that Santa Cruz's production would be affected. 

Luis Fernando Camacho himself began activism when he was 23 years old as vice president of the civic organization Cruceñista Youth Union (UJC), which has been described by the International Federation for Human Rights as “a kind of paramilitary group” that performs acts of racism and discrimination against indigenous inhabitants and institutions in the area.

These “civic” organizations played a key role during the secessionist attempt in 2008 lead by far-right Branko Marinković, a Bolivian leader of Croatian parents, and Eduardo Rózsa-Flores who organized and financed an armed paramilitary group with mercenaries from the Balkan wars to fight for the “independence” of the departments of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija.

The Camachos were part of the attempt and closely related to Marinković, whose family is part of the directive board of Camacho’s stepbrother’s company. 

Now it is Luis Fernando Camacho who leads the Committee Pro-Santa Cruz, under the same pretense of “defending” the department from considered threats. The organization brings together different neighborhood, zone, and business entities of workers from one of the richest areas in Bolivia. 

The Bolivian Bolsonaro

Known as “El Macho,” the opposition leader is openly racist, misogynist and unapologetically represents the interests of the elites in his department and the country. Using religion, especially evangelical belief, Camacho talks with a Bible in his hand and pulls on the Bolivians religious beliefs to argue that Morales is against them.

This has also been instrumentalized to push for political persecution under the name of God, repeatedly saying they will “punish” their political adversaries, going as far as tweeting on Oct. 30 that like former drug kingpin Pablo Escobar they will “write down the names of the treacherous people of this town," in order to carry out such punishment. 

But the Camachos’ animosity towards Morales goes back to his first election in 2006 and is mostly related to the economic prosperity that the Indigenous leader promoted for all Bolivians instead of a small elite.

They have maintained that Santa Cruz has been affected by Morales’ government but since 2010, Santa Cruz's GDP growth rate has been higher than in Bolivia.

The southeastern department of Santa Cruz produces 70 percent of the country's food and has an enormous energy and hydrocarbon potential that, after the nationalization of Morales in 2016, is now in the hands of the State. The last president from that region being dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez.

The Camacho Family: The Money Behind it All

In contrast with Morales humble beginnings, Camacho comes from a wealthy family, whose money came from the capitalization and contracts with the state made since 1989 linked to insurance companies and pension funds, been an active figure in the formation of the private Administrators of pension funds (AFP) in 1995, during neoliberal regimes.

Subsequently, Camacho’s father Jose Luis Camacho Parada founded the company SERGAS that signed an exclusivity agreement with the mayor of Santa Cruz in 2003 to make 5,000 gas connections in the city. While his stepbrother, Jose Luis Camacho Miserendino, leads a large corporation regarding life insurance and investments, with hundreds of accusations of defrauding clients. 

The whole family, including Luis Fernando Camacho, has been involved in the Panama Papers scandal through the registry of three offshore companies: Medis Overseas Corp., Navi International Holding, and Positive Real Estates. 

A 2017 Bolivia’s legislative committee that investigated the issue reported that the companies operated as an intermediary to "help people and companies hide their fortunes in offshore entities, wash money and establish tax evasion schemes."

After the Oct. 20 elections, in which Morales was reelected, President. Camacho quickly rallied up the “civic” committee and as his father before him began a violent crusade against the government. 

Weeks of right-wing violence and a coup plan, Morales was forced to resign Sunday as senior army and police chiefs called on him to do so.

“I decided to resign from my position so that Carlos Mesa and Luis Camacho stop abusing and harming thousands of brothers ... I have the obligation to seek peace and it hurts a lot that we face Bolivians,” the former president of Bolivia said in a press statement.

Now Bolivia faces uncertainty as the is a power vacuum since all top officials from Morales’ government also resigned. Camacho and opposition presidential runnerup Carlos Mesa have continued to call for unrest and violence without a clear project or expected end in sight. 

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