|67th President of Bolivia|
8 November 2020
|Jeanine Áñez (interim)|
|Minister of Economy and Public Finance|
23 January 2019 - 10 November 2019
|José Luis Parada Rivero|
23 January 2006 - 24 June 2017
|Waldo Gutiérrez Iriarte|
Luis Alberto Arce Catacora
28 September 1963
La Paz, Bolivia
|Political party||Movement for Socialism|
|Spouse(s)||Lourdes Brigida Durán Romero|
|Alma mater||Institute of Banking Education|
Higher University of San Andrés
University of Warwick (MEc)
Luis Alberto Arce Catacora (born 28 September 1963), also known as Lucho Arce, is a Bolivian politician serving as the 67th President of Bolivia since 2020. He served as Minister of Economy and Public Finance from 2006 to 2017 and in 2019 during the administration of Evo Morales. He is a member of the Movement for Socialism (MAS-IPSP) political party.
Arce was born in La Paz to a middle-class family. He graduated as an accountant from Institute of Banking Education in La Paz in 1984 before obtaining degrees in economics at the Higher University of San Andrés and the University of Warwick in England. He spent most of the 1990s as a public official in a succession of posts and teaching economics at various universities. In 2006 he was appointed Minister of Finance by the newly elected president, Evo Morales. Arce oversaw a period of economic growth in Bolivia, and as a member of MAS gained a reputation for being a technocrat.
Arce was chosen as the presidential candidate for the Movement for Socialism in the 2020 general election, which he won in the first round with 55.1% of the vote.
Luis Arce was born on 28 September 1963 in La Paz. He is the son of Carlos Arce Gonzales and Olga Catacora, both teachers. Arce grew up in a middle-class family, beginning his school studies in 1968 and graduating from high school in La Paz in 1980. He studied at the Institute of Banking Education in La Paz, initially graduating as an accountant in 1984. In 1991, he received a bachelor's degree in economics from the Higher University of San Andrés before completing his studies abroad at the University of Warwick at Coventry, United Kingdom, where he graduated in 1997 with a master's in economics. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of los Andes (UNANDES) and the Franz Tamayo Private University (UNIFRANZ) in Bolivia.
Arce has spent most of his working life as a public official, beginning in 1987 at the Central Bank of Bolivia, where he spent much of his professional career. From 1992 to 2005, he worked in the International Operations Management of the Central Bank of Bolivia as Deputy Manager of Reserves. Between 1994 and 1995, he was promoted to head of the Department of Information and Publications, of the Research and Analysis Sub-management, under the Management of Economic Studies of the Central Bank of Bolivia.
Arce also started working in academia as an undergraduate and postgraduate professor at various Bolivian public and private universities. He has given lectures at universities in Europe, North America, and Latin America, including Columbia University in New York, the University of Buenos Aires, and Harvard University.
On 23 January 2006, President Evo Morales appointed Arce Minister of Finance. Three years later, he assumed command of the new Ministry of Economy and Public Finance. Some Bolivian media called Arce the mastermind of Bolivia's economic resurgence. He oversaw Bolivia's nationalization of hydrocarbon, telecommunications, and mining companies, as well as the creation of BancoSur. He oversaw the rapid expansion of the Bolivian economy, with GDP increasing by 344% and extreme poverty reduced from 38% to 15%.
In 2011, the American Economy Magazine ranked Arce the region's 8th-best minister of the economy out of 18. Crowded International Organization has highlighted Arce's work driving the Bolivian economy. Ahead of the 2014 Bolivian general election, The Wall Street Journal considered him the calling card in Morales's reelection.
On 24 June 2017, Arce was forced to give up his position and travel to Brazil to undergo surgery to treat severe kidney cancer. He remained there for a mandated recovery period before returning to his post as Minister of Economics on 23 January 2019.
As the Minister of Economics, Arce maintained a relatively low profile. Christopher Sabatini, a senior researcher fellow for Latin America at Chatham House and founder of Americas Quarterly, called Arce "one of the few technocrats in MAS". "He's level headed" and "doesn't engage in inflammatory rhetoric", Sabatini wrote. Bolivian media often credited Arce with steering the nation through a period of economic growth. His policies were salient in slashing Bolivia's poverty rate during his terms and facilitating large amounts of economic growth as a result of rising gas exports.
After the 2019 Bolivian political crisis that saw President Evo Morales's resignation, Interim President Jeanine Áñez called new elections. On 19 January 2020, Morales announced that after eight hours of meetings in Argentina, Arce and former Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca were the Movement for Socialism (MAS) candidates in the 2020 elections.
Some MAS opponents decried Arce as a puppet of Morales but Arce distanced himself from Morales during the campaign. A MAS leader from El Alto, David Apaza, said, "Categorically, Evo will not interfere in the government of brother Luis Arce ... [W]e believe our comrade [Morales] should rest, while brother Luis Arce takes the lead". Arce stated that Morales "will not have any role in our government" but will still be the president of the party.
Most public opinion polls showed Arce with a lead, but not one big enough to avoid a November runoff. By election night, the divided candidates of the right had managed to partially consolidate around former president Carlos Mesa as Áñez and former president Jorge Quiroga dropped out. Early results favored Mesa, but polling firm Ciesmori's quick-count of the vote on the morning of 19 October indicated that Arce had won 52.4% of the vote, enough to win the election outright without a runoff. Arce and his party declared victory, which Áñez soon confirmed on Twitter. Carlos Mesa, Arce's primary opponent, conceded the election at a news conference, saying that initial counts showed a "strong and clear" win for Arce. The final tally gave Arce 55.1% of the vote and Mesa 28.8%.
Bolivian newspaper El Deber called Arce's victory "clear and crushing" and praised him for his conciliatory statements after the result, while also stating that the new president will have to appease MAS's radical wing. Writing on Los Tiempos, Oscar Díaz Arnau attributed Arce's victory to MAS's strong support in rural areas, the weakness of Mesa's candidacy, Arce's moderation, lack of connection between the opposition and rural inhabitants and the candidacy of Luis Fernando Camacho splitting anti-MAS voters and weakening the opposition.
Arce officially became president-elect of Bolivia on 23 October 2020, after the completion of the official vote count and an announcement by the TSE.
On the night of 5 November, MAS spokesman Sebastián Michel denounced an attack committed against president-elect Arce. The statement came after a stick of dynamite was detonated at the party's campaign headquarters in La Paz. Though Arce suffered no physical damages, Michel pointed out that Arce still had not yet received state protection.
While Arce was successful in his presidential bid, the general election resulted in the loss of the supermajority of more than two-thirds in both chambers of government which MAS had enjoyed since 2009. In order to mitigate this loss, MAS legislators in the outgoing assembly used their final days of control over both chambers of government to amend regulations governing both bodies so that motions that previously required the agreement of two-thirds would now only require a simple majority, an action Página Siete described as "neutralising the opposition for the next five years".
For his part, Arce endorsed the changes, saying that the decision "wakes up [the government]" for the incoming assembly. "What our Assembly has done is maintain legality. There are many laws that are going to be approved with two-thirds. That is established by the regulations and there should be no concern".
Arce was symbolically inaugurated in Tiwanaku during a private ceremony on 6 November as part of an indigenous ritual. He was officially inaugurated on 8 November. The event was attended by former presidents Eduardo Rodríguez Veltzé and Carlos Mesa as well as various presidents of neighbouring countries. Presidents Mario Abdo Benítez of Paraguay, Iván Duque Márquez of Colombia and Alberto Fernández of Argentina attended the inauguration. King Felipe VI of Spain also attended and was honored as the most "illustrious guest". Presidents Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Sebastián Piñera of Chile announced their intention to attend but shortly thereafter declined, sending their foreign ministers in their place.
Notably not present was still-president Jeanine Áñez who had already left La Paz and settled in her home department of Beni a day prior. Evo Morales was invited but did not return from exile in Argentina until the day after the inaugration.
Sixteen members of the ministerial cabinet were inaugurated on 9 November. Arce's cabinet comprises thirteen men and four women. A Minister of Energy remained unappointed until 13 November when the position was merged with that of Minister of Hydrocarbons. Both Ministries are managed by Franklin Molina Ortiz.
Bolivian indigenous politician Felipe Quispe criticized Arce for creating a cabinet that did not contain any indigenous members. However, the addition of Sabina Orellana, who is Quechua, to head the Ministry of Cultures would mean that there would be one indigenous representative. By decree on 20 November, Arce reinstated the Ministry of Cultures which had been merged with the Ministry of Education by Áñez in June. The office was renamed from Ministry of Cultures and Tourism to Ministry of Cultures, Decolonization and Depatriarchalization with the expanded task of combating "inequality between nationalities, as well as between men and women".
Arce also returned the official residency of the president and his ministers to the Casa Grande del Pueblo. The building had been constructed during the presidency of Evo Morales to replace the historical Palacio Quemado but the Áñez government had refused to use it. Arce's government indicated plans to convert it into a museum.
As part as his first diplomatic act, Arce restored diplomatic relations with Iran and recognised the government of Nicolás Maduro, reverting the previous administration's recognition of Juan Guaidó. In a ceremony on 11 November at the Plaza Murillo in La Paz, ambassadors Mortessa Tabreshi of Iran and Alexander Yánez of Venezuela presented their credentials to the Bolivian president. Áñez had granted diplomatic distinctions to José Cumare, sent by the Guaidó government just two weeks prior.
Arce also directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to reinstate the country's membership in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) from which the previous government had withdrawn. In terms of regional integration, Arce stated that the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was the "best way" to integrate Latin America. He also proposed "the recovery of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations)" which in 2018 and 2019 saw most of its members either withdraw or suspend their membership amid growing concern about Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.
On 13 December, Arce flew to Brazil for a routine medical check-up related to his previous treatment for kidney cancer. Vice President Choquehuanca became acting president for 3 days until Arce's return on 15 December. Notably, Arce chose to take a commercial flight from Bolivia to Brazil and not use the presidential plane that Morales used, arguing issues of savings and efficiency.
Visa requirements for United States and Israeli citizens were reinstated by Supreme Decree on 2 February 2021. The requirements had been put in place by the Morales administration in 2014 but repealed by the Áñez administration in December of 2019. The government argued that the measure "unilaterally benefited Israeli and US citizens, without their countries granting similar benefit, within the framework of the reciprocity principle, for Bolivian citizens".
In March 2021, the Arce government had its first diplomatic clashes with the United States after Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the immediate release of former interim President Jeanine Áñez and her ministers. The Arce government denounced U.S. meddling in internal Bolivian affairs.
On 23 March 2021, the date of Día del Mar commemorating Bolivia's loss of coastal access to Chile in the War of the Pacific, Arce reiterated the country's maritime claim as an "open and pending" issue. Arce presented a nine-point "road map" regarding continued negotiation with Chile towards the goal of sovereign sea access with the first point being the resumption of a "bilateral approach with Chile through dialogue and negotiation, in order to identify formulas of understanding and integration between brother peoples". The second and third points hoped to create "a climate of peace and mutual trust" between the two countries while promoting free transit and decreasing trade barriers faced by exports and imports in Chilean ports. Other avenues for maritime integration were also discussed. These included the development of the Paraguay-Paraná waterway project "to make our access to the Atlantic Ocean effective" and the expansion of Bolivia's presence in the "free ports" granted to it by neighbouring countries, particularly as regards to the port of Ilo, Peru which Arce claimed could enable an alternative trade route to the Pacific.
Hours after, Chilean Foreign Minister Andrés Allamand replied that while his country was "willing to resume dialogue with Bolivia without delay," he also affirmed that the issue of sovereign sea access had been "definitively resolved" by the International Court of Justice. On the same day, President of the Senate Andrónico Rodríguez announced that Arce would travel to Chile to reestablish cordial relations. In terms of a date for such a visit, Rodríguez stated that there was " absolutely nothing scheduled, but surely between this month and next, it will be announced". On 7 May, Allamand announced that the two states had agreed to reopen dialogue for the first time since 2010 in a move towards reestablishing formal diplomatic relations which had been suspended in 1978. Critically, the agreed upon road map did not include Bolivia's maritime demand.
At the invitation of Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Arce made his first foreign visit to Mexico on 23 March 2021, with official acts beginning the following day. Presidential spokesperson Jorge Richter stated that the Mexican invitation had been made "about two months ago" and that it was "fundamentally protocol visit". Ahead of the visit, Arce outlined his agenda stating that the governments would discuss foreign debt relief, the importance of CELAC as it relates to the integration of its member states, as well as scientific cooperation, trade, investments, and the strengthening of cultural ties.
Another topic of discussion was the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) which played a major role in the 2019 political crisis and just weeks prior had condemned the imprisonment of former president Jeanine Áñez as well as members of her cabinet on charges of terrorism, sedition, and conspiracy. Days prior on 17 March, the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs had called on the OAS to stop its interference in Bolivian foreign affairs. Bilateral relations between the two states were officially reestablished on 24 March. Arce, who in 2019 joined Evo Morales in taking asylum in Mexico, expressed his happiness to return to the country "no longer as a refugee".
On 23 December 2020, meetings were held between Arce and the governors of the nine Departments of Bolivia in the Casa Grande del Pueblo to coordinate actions against the coronavirus pandemic. In his Christmas address, Arce praised "the heroes of the health personnel who, from the front line of combat against the pandemic, saved so many Bolivians". On 30 December, the Arce government granted emergency approval for the use of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine based on Phase III clinical trials in Russia. Both governments signed a contract to acquire 5.2 million doses in order to vaccinate 2.6 million people.
On 28 December it was announced that Minister of Defense Edmundo Novillo had tested positive for COVID-19 followed soon after by Foreign Minister Rogelio Mayta on 4 January 2021. Presidential spokesman Jorge Richter also stated that multiple deputy ministers had tested positive but that President Arce and Vice President Choquehuanca had both tested negative. Minister of Public Works Edgar Montaño became the third cabinet minister to contract the virus on 11 January 2021 followed four days later by Minister of Health Édgar Pozo who as a result resigned due to his advanced age. On 29 November, Pozo had been criticized for stating that the government would be conducting a study of the benefits of chlorine dioxide as a treatment for COVID-19. Chlorine dioxide is a toxic substance with no known efficacy in treating COVID-19 and its use as medicine has been condemned by the World Health Organization. Several hospitalizations in Bolivia had been reportedly linked to ingestion of the substance.
Arce faced criticism for his comments asking the population to "hold out" until vaccines could arrive, with former president Jeanine Áñez calling him "irresponsible and incapable" of dealing with the second wave of the pandemic. Former presidential opponent Luis Fernando Camacho called Arce's comments hypocritical when he himself had weeks earlier travelled to Brazil to receive medical care. At the swearing-in of new Health Minister Jeyson Auza on 16 January, Arce stated that "the solution is vaccination. [...] That is the country's strategy, and we are doing it". He further outlined that "holding out now means applying a strategy in all sub-national instances" and to "not resist without a strategy, which we have been announcing for a long time, including in meetings with governments and municipalities". Arce referred to the previous administration, stating that "we have endured a de facto government and we have resisted until democracy is restored, today we have to endure the coronavirus". He blamed the Áñez government for causing a delay of four months in vaccine acquisition negotiations.
On 24 May 2021, Arce received his first dose of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine and announced a plan to vaccinate school teachers who have to be present at schools during the school year. He stated that he had ordered health minister Jeyson Auza to coordinate the vaccination program.
The Ley de Emergencia Sanitaria (Sanitary Emergency Law) was promulgated by Arce on 17 February 2021 with the stated purpose of "protect[ing] public health and prevent[ing] its loss or deterioration". The article had been opposed by representatives of the health sector who on 5 February voiced their rejection of the law, claiming that "it violates the Political Constitution of the State". The dispute centered on three sections; those which set a basic rate for hospitalization services and medical treatment, regulations restricting the hiring of foreign medical personnel only to instances where there are none available in the country, and the prohibition on the suspension or interruption of health services during the health emergency. The latter was especially resisted by the health sector as it was viewed as a restriction on their right to protest.
On 10 February, the Bolivian Workers' Center (COB) and the Pact of Unity met with the Ministry of Health and issued a demand that Arce enact the new law within 24 hours. They also denounced the doctors groups as responding to corporate interests and supporting the "commercialization of health". The following day, the National Health Council (Conasa), a union of doctors and health workers, issued its own 24 hour demand that the government meet to discuss the law or face protests. With the enactment of the law on 17 February, Conasa announced the following day a general strike lasting from 19 to 28 February. The Bolivian Ombudsman's Office stated that "While the health sector's right to protest is recognized as a vulnerable group against COVID-19, its demands must be reasonable and all avenues for dialogue must be exhausted". It also warned that the strikes would pose a health risk to Bolivians needing medical attention due to COVID-19.
The first six months of Arce's presidency coincided with regional elections for governors, mayors, and municipal assemblies within the nine departments of Bolivia. Despite the challenges faced by MAS in consolidating support after the 2019 crisis, Arce remained notably separate and silent from the many campaigns, especially as compared to ex-president Evo Morales who was viewed by many outside and within the party as intervening far too heavily, particularly in regards to the selection of candidates. Arce's seeming lack of interest in the subnationals led to the political analyst Marcelo Arequipa dubbing him "a neutral actor" and a "managing president" who "presents himself as someone who does not care about the internal political dispute of the MAS" but rather is more interested in governing nationally and carrying out his agenda. Pando Senator Luis Adolfo Flores said that "I have not seen the president in a political campaign," adding that "Electorally, some candidates take the opportunity to shake hands, to take a photo. But the president's visits are not necessarily for campaigning". In this way, while Morales remained the face of political actions on the ground, Arce maintained his focus on carrying out his national agenda.
Arce has published several books and articles on economics, including The Bolivian Economic Social Communitarian Productive Model (2015), "Uncertainty and Dollarization in Bolivia", "Is the Mechanism of Bolsin Appropriate (Central Bank's currency market)?", "Brief Assessment of Bolivian Exchange Rate Regime", "Contribution to the Debate on Dollarization", "Demand for Money in Bolivia", and "Financial Liberalization and Concentration in the Banking System".
Arce was married to Jéssica Mosqueira with whom he had three children; Luis Marcelo, Rafael Ernesto, and Camila Daniela. His current[when?] wife is Lourdes Brigida Durán Romero. She is the first First Lady of Bolivia to be the wife of the president since 2006. Evo Morales was never married with his sister Esther Morales serving as First Lady while Jeanine Áñez's husband Héctor Hernando Hincapié Carvajal served as the First Gentleman. Having studied in the United Kingdom, Arce is fluent in English as well as Portuguese.