LA PAZ, Bolivia President Evo Morales announced Tuesday that soldiers have arrested an opposition governor on suspicion of directing a massacre of the leftist leader's supporters as Bolivia's political crisis continued to unfold.
The political unrest and the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador prompted the United States to suspend the Peace Corps program in Bolivia, evacuating its estimated 130 volunteers to neighboring Peru. The Embassy also advised other Americans to leave Bolivia as well if they can.
American Airlines temporarily suspended flights between Miami and Bolivia because of the political unrest.
Morales said soldiers dispatched to the northern province of Pando have detained Governor Leopoldo Fernandez on charges of "genocide" allegedly organizing an armed ambush of pro-Morales demonstrators last week that left at least 15 dead and 37 injured.
"I hope...that I never feel unaccompanied by Bolivian justice," said Morales, defending the arrest as a "legal and constitutional" action by troops holding Pando under martial law.
Anti-Morales protesters in Pando and three other eastern provinces seized national government buildings last week to block a vote on his proposed new constitution, which would allow him to run for reelection while granting greater power to Bolivia's poor indigenous majority.
Last week, Morales declared U.S. ambassador Philip Goldberg persona non grata, triggering an evacuation of all non-emergency personnel from the American Embassy in La Paz. The Peace Corps pullout was accomplished over the weekend and announced on Tuesday.
"Our first priority is the safety and security of our volunteers," said Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter in a statement.
Since 1962, more than 2,500 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Bolivia. The current volunteers who worked in agriculture, business development, environment, health, and youth development will be given a choice between continuing their service in another country, or returning home, he said.