Bolivian leaders issued condemnations Wednesday after rival lawmakers came to blows on the floor of parliament during a debate over the fate of a jailed governor described as a political prisoner by the opposition.
Chamber of Deputies leader Jerges Mercado, for his part, said the brawl, which happened Tuesday, was “regrettable” and “an embarrassment.”
The lawmakers, all women, threw punches and kicks after pro-government MPs sought to snatch placards held up by opposition members with messages such as: “With political prisoners, there is no democracy.”
But some of the lawmakers sought to defend their actions, blaming one another for starting the fight. At least one announced she would pursue legal action.
The incident highlighted worsening polarization in the Andean country, where the opposition claims there are some 180 political prisoners behind bars.
The brawl happened during a session where Minister of Government Eduardo del Castillo presented a report on the December arrest of Luis Fernando Camacho — the conservative governor of the Santa Cruz region and a leading opposition figure.
Del Castillo, a minister in the government of leftist President Luis Arce, defended the legality of the arrest and branded members of Camacho’s party “radical, thieving, violent groups that came to steal the wallets of the Bolivian people.”
As he spoke, some opposition lawmakers displayed the banners and placards, including those labeling Del Castillo the “minister of terror.”
As others sought to grab the signs, a fight broke out between about 20 lawmakers.
Blows were traded for several minutes but the fracas ended without serious injuries.
Vice President David Choquehuanca, who is also the president of Congress, announced that he would call the two political blocs for a meeting to try to ensure such scenes are never repeated.
Camacho, the conservative governor of the country’s economic powerhouse region of Santa Cruz, was arrested on terrorism charges for his alleged role in the ouster of leftist president Evo Morales in 2019.
Morales stepped down after losing the support of the military amid strikes and protests in response to his disputed election to a fourth term.
Camacho’s detention sparked countrywide protests.
He had come in third in presidential elections in October 2020 that were won by Arce, a Morales protege.
The charges against Camacho echoed the 2021 arrest of former president Jeanine Anez, who was given a 10-year prison term in June 2022 for allegedly plotting the toppling of Morales, her predecessor.
The alleged plot is dismissed as fictional by many, and Anez has consistently denounced what she calls political persecution.